All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

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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Review: Tarin Of The Mammoths: The Exile by Jo Sandhu

Tarin Of The Mammoths: The Exile
Jo Sandhu
Puffin Books
2017, 288p
Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Tarin longs to be a hunter, but his twisted leg means he is feared and bullied. After a disastrous mishap, Tarin is forced to leave his family and travel alone across wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan. Battling the hostile and savage Boar Clan, a deadly illness and treacherous terrain with twins Kaija and Luuka and their wolf cubs, Tarin realises that if they are all to survive he must conquer his greatest fear – his true self – and embrace the magic that is hiding within him.

I have to admit, I have never read a lot of middle grade fiction. I skipped a lot of it growing up, moving on to Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams romances when I was probably about 7 or 8. However now that I have kids and that both of them are strong readers for their age, it’s something I want to encourage and I want to have a bit of an idea of what they might be reading, or what books might be good for them. My 8yo well exceeds the maximum level of readers they can bring home so he is given free rein to choose his own books and books like this would probably be about his level.

This is the first in a series and introduces the reader to Tarin, a young boy born with a twisted leg that means that he cannot do what the others of his clan do. Men are supposed to grow up to be strong hunters, to provide meat for the clan but Tarin’s leg means that he cannot be fast, or stealthy as he is often clumsy. He is mostly made tend gardens with the women or left to his own devices. His clan tend to fear what is different and when a hunt goes wrong because of Tarin, they declare him bad luck and want him banished. Tarin sees a chance to redeem himself by taking a gift from the various families in his clan to the Earth Mother, in order to appease her and hopefully change the clan’s luck. The journey will be very difficult and it’s quite likely that Tarin will never see his family again – indeed most in the clan expect him to fail and perish.

To me, Tarin is still very young but to his clan he’s on the cusp of manhood and about the age where boys should be joining their first hunt and making their first important kill to provide food. Tarin, with his disability, has always struggled to fit in, to really discover his place within the clan and he cannot really see a role for him. The ways seem to be quite clearly defined and as a young male and the son of the leader of the clan, Tarin’s place should be secure with a bright future ahead of him. But anyone who cannot play a role is a liability, a weakness that the clan can ill afford during a tough winter. A mouth to feed that doesn’t contribute in return is one more mouth than they need.

And so Tarin, desperate to prove himself as useful in some way, any way, volunteers to carry a gift to the Earth Mother. I think he perhaps fears that he has brought shame on his family, that they are embarrassed and he’s desperate to do something to make them proud, even if it might take his life. On his journey he meets a girl named Kaija, who has fled her clan with her brother Luuka and they are forced to make alliances and rely upon each other for survival and it is with them that Tarin perhaps discovers what his true path will be in life.

I enjoyed the setting and the characters – Tarin is smart and thoughtful and has many abilities that could be appreciated but the conditions under which the clan live mean that had he stayed with them, he might never have been able to explore them. I liked the resourcefulness of Kaija as well, she’s a girl who can take care of herself but she also values the importance of family and was willing to put herself in danger in order to save her brother. The three of them make up a very interesting trio and I think this had the beginnings of a fun series. I do have admit a lot of the spirit stuff wasn’t my sort of thing but seems consistent with the setting and the beliefs of the clans.

I’ve passed this onto my oldest son and I’m really curious to see what he thinks of it.

6/10

Book #46 of 2017

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile is book #15 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

fifth-letterThe Fifth Letter
Nicola Moriarty
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 319p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How do you know if your friends actually like you?

Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina try to catch up once a year for some days away together. Now in their thirties, commitments have pulled them in different directions, and the closeness they once enjoyed growing up seems increasingly elusive.

This year, determined to revive their intimacy, they each share a secret in an anonymous letter to be read out during the holiday. But instead of bringing them closer, the revelations seem to drive them apart. Then a fifth letter is discovered, venting long-held grudges, and it seems that one of the women is in serious danger. But who was the author? And which of them should be worried?

THE FIFTH LETTER examines the bonds of women’s friendship groups, and the loyalty and honesty they demand, along with letting go of relationships that once seemed essential but are now outgrown.

This is Nicola Moriarty’s third book and having read and loved her previous two it was one of my highly anticipated early 2017 releases. Her sister Liane has obviously made some huge leaps in popularity with her most recent releases but I think this book could easily stand alongside any of those.

At 12 years of age, Joni befriended Deb, Trina and Eden because they were all in the same homeroom, had surnames beginning with the same letter and were the same star sign. It started off on shaky ground but over the years became a friendship that survived Eden moving interstate for a while, the transition between school and university/careers as well as marriages and children. Every year it falls to Joni to organise an annual getaway where they leave partners and children behind and just catch up properly, the way that they can’t leading busy lives.

The story is told in several timelines – firstly the girls meeting in high school, and also various moments throughout as well as the time spent in a holiday home where the titular fifth letter is written and also Joni confessing to a priest, talking out the situation that had unfolded after the letter was found but before the author was identified. I actually really enjoyed those passages and thought they added a bit of light humour to the situation.

The idea of the letters seemed disastrous before anyone even wrote one and perhaps alcohol was the reason they all agreed. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for twenty years, Joni guesses several of the authors of the letters incorrectly but the others all seem to guess which letter is Joni’s right away. What started off as a bit of a joke turns serious very quickly when the anonymous letters reveal some disturbing things that could easily fracture the friendships – but those are nothing compared to the contents of a the fifth letter, a letter one of them wrote and then attempted to destroy. That letter suggests that one of them could be truly dangerous, thinking thoughts of harm and hatred.

I have to say, I loved the way that this unfolded. Nicola Moriarty really kept me guessing with who wrote the fifth letter and at one stage I was sure I had it figured out – but of course I was wrong. Slowly the book unpicked the friendship piece by piece until you were left wondering how and why they were still friends at all. Was it simply because Joni’s tenacity, which started in forming the group at 12 years of age, never went away? Joni even mentions at one stage that the other women seem to have friends away from this core group – work friends, mothers group friends, etc. As the only one without children, Joni doesn’t seem to have other friends other than these 3 women that she went to school with, whom she formed a relationship with based on the fact that their surnames all began with the same letter and they were the same star sign.

I’m about the same age as the women in the novel – perhaps one or two years older and it made me think about my own friendships. I’ve moved interstate since I finished school and so I wouldn’t say I’m still good “friends” with anyone from my high school group. We all live in very different places – my best friend from school currently lives in Nice after stints in New Zealand, Sydney and country NSW. Her husband has a job that takes them all over the world. Through facebook we are able to stay vaguely in touch with each other’s lives – a marriage here, new baby there, new job etc and it’s the same with my other high school friends. Facebook keeps us up to date with each other but we are no longer what I would call friends. If we were all together still, living in the same place, I wonder how long the friendships would’ve lasted, or would we have just slowly drifted away one by one – or cut people loose as we evolved and changed as adults. Or would there have been a Joni, someone to shepherd the friendship along so that it survived?

I enjoyed everything about this – especially the characters. To be honest, I didn’t really like any of them as such, but I thought that they were so well written with flaws, secrets, jealousies, etc all the ugly little things that we all keep hidden underneath. I loved the mystery of who wrote the fifth letter and the way that it kept me guessing until pretty much the end.

8/10

Book #40 of 2017

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The Fifth Letter is the 13th book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Daughter Of Mine by Fiona Lowe

daughter-of-mineDaughter Of Mine
Fiona Lowe
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When your world falls apart the only person you can depend on is your sister.

The three Chirnwell sisters are descended from the privileged squattocracy in Victoria’s Western District — but could a long-held secret threaten their family?

Harriett Chirnwell has a perfect life — a husband who loves her, a successful career and a daughter who is destined to become a doctor just like her.

Xara has always lived in Harriet’s shadow; her chaotic life with her family on their sheep farm falls far short of her older sister’s standards of perfection and prestige.

Georgie, the youngest sister and a passionate teacher, is the only one of the three to have left Billawarre. But is her life in Melbourne happy?

Despite all three sisters having a different and sometimes strained bond with their mother, Edwina, they come together to organise a party for her milestone birthday — the first since their father’s death. But when Edwina arrives at her party on the arm of another man, the tumult is like a dam finally breaking. Suddenly the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are flooded by scandal. Criminal accusations, a daughter in crisis, and a secret over fifty years in the making start to crack the perfect façade of the prominent pastoral family.

A thought provoking novel about family expectations, secrets and lies.

I’ve never read Fiona Lowe before but she is the winner of multiple awards (including a RITA) so I was pretty intrigued by this one. It’s quite a complex story line featuring several generations of the same family who hail from wealthy, privileged and respected landowners – the “squattocracy”.

Harriett, Xara and Georgie couldn’t really be more different. Harriett has always been the rigid one, very driven and dedicated. Not only does she push herself hard to always be successful and almost perfect in a way, but she also pushes her daughter hard as well.  Xara has had to learn to be adaptable – as the mother of a child with a lifelong debilitating disability and also twin boys, her life is total chaos where they’re always just scraping buy compared to Harriett’s organised life and quiet wealth. Georgie is a primary school teacher (seemingly stuck with a “difficult” sort of class) and the only one to have made her home away from the local area where they all grew up and their names are an integral part of the history and make up of the town. Who they are and where they came from is of varying importance to them – unsurprisingly Harriet is the most attached the family name and reputation and it is her that reacts in the worst way when she is first betrayed and then confronted with some unexpected news.

In a way I felt for Harriett because the more rigid someone is, the harder it is for them when terrible things happen. And there’s no doubt that Harriett’s life implodes. Someone she loves, someone she respected, does something utterly horrible and she is blindsided by it and then the response to her hurt is perhaps even worse. She is also ostracised, shunned, labelled as a co-conspirator by the locals and her practice suffers greatly as a result. But it was hard to completely sympathise with Harriett because so much of what happens after that first betrayal is of her own making. She’s so rigid and so demanding on what must be done that she overlooks so many important things. She’s concerned with image and how things look and the fact that things like this just don’t happen in their family. Because they are better than that and that was an attitude that I couldn’t sympathise with at all. Despite people attempting to reason with her, she really did stay frustratingly stubborn and judgemental for the longest time. Harriett for me felt like a very interesting study for “nature vs nurture” – there’s no doubt her fractured relationship with Edwina was a product of the distance between them when Harriett was very young and also Edwina’s illnesses. However Harriett also aspired to be very much like her father, wanted to emulate him in every way. She adored him clearly and it’s very difficult for her when she’s forced to confront some of his faults, long after his death. It did make me wonder how much of her nature was because she wanted to be that way, that she thought being that way was more superior than being more like Edwina.

I don’t have a sister but everyone I know with one says that it’s a very complex relationship and these three definitely have that. Georgie and Xara are more mellow personalities, more alike probably and more able to sit and just chat. Harriett is always doing something or going somewhere and she doesn’t seem like she’s as close to the other two as they are to each other. They do rally around in times of crisis, but it’s a lot of things that pile on top of one another – Edwina’s new man friend, the betrayal Harriett experiences and resulting fall out (it also affects Xara and her husband Steve quite personally as well) as well as what happens after that and it isn’t long before fractures in the relationships Harriett has with everyone are showing.

I really loved Edwina’s story, which is told in bits and pieces throughout and I actually think that could’ve made a great book on it’s own – following her from a teenager up until the age she is at the beginning of this novel. She’s experienced a lot of heartache juxtaposed with a lot of privilege and the Edwina that is presented to the world is different from the Edwina that lies beneath the surface. Loved the character of Doug and I loved the fact that they were able to reconnect after so many years and still find something there. There were many surprises that came out of that which made for very interesting reading and added many layers to the complexity of the story.

For the most part, this is a really engaging multi-generational family story with plenty of drama, intricate relationships (some connections are very intricate!) and intriguing reveals. However there were times when for me, it felt a little bit long and Harriett’s hysteria and stubbornness over something was quite irritating. I don’t really know much about the whole squattocracy thing but sometimes the family reputation thing felt a little outdated, something that people would’ve focused on earlier but shouldn’t really seem as relevant now.

Those are little things though and this is still an excellent read.

7/10

Book #38 of 2017

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Daughter Of Mine is book #12 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Blog Tour Review: Country Roads by Nicole Hurley-Moore

country-roadsCountry Roads
Nicole Hurley-Moore
Allen & Unwin
2017, 303p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The compelling story of a grief-stricken man reeling from tragedy and a hard-working female farmer dealing with betrayal who may just find love and healing with each other.

Rebecca Duprey is working day and night to keep the family sheep station, Bluestone Ridge, afloat. But Bec’s father, who’s been in a wheelchair since a farming mishap, keeps second-guessing her decisions. Now, to add Bec’s woes, her unfaithful ex-boyfriend has started lurking around, and the adjoining farm she’d hoped to buy has been snapped up by a guy from the city called Matt Harvey.

After leaving his job in advertising, Matt became a bestselling novelist. But since the death of his fiancee in a car accident, he’s had severe writer’s block and is desperately hoping his move to the country will help him deal with his grief and allow him to focus on completing his next book. Problem is, he seems to have started off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour, Bec Duprey.

Bec isn’t quite sure when she started feeling attracted to Matt, but she’s determined not to succumb to his charms. And Matt isn’t sure when his feelings changed about Bec; all he knows is he can’t get her out of his mind. Can Bec and Matt overcome their fear of loss to find love and happiness with each other…?

This absolutely compelling novel deals with betrayal, tragedy, love – and how first impressions aren’t always right.

Author Matt Harvey is new to the small mostly farming town of White Gum Creek. Having experienced a devastating loss he has sold his city pad and bought a small parcel of land complete with a cottage that needs a bit of work, hoping the peace and tranquil surroundings will help with his writers block. Encouraged by his sister to interact with his fans more, Matt is taking the step of vlogging his move and his settling in, sharing the videos online.

Matt gets off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour Bec Duprey. Firstly the land he’s bought she’d hoped to acquire for her family farm and secondly she finds Matt doing things like burning things in a bonfire on a hot and dry day and being careless where he films. The entire town of White Gum Creek definitely needs rain. The land is in desperate need of it and some families are already struggling, either selling off land or stock, or getting out all together. Bec doesn’t want that – and her frugal father’s ways ensure that there’s a safety net of money behind them. But that frugality causes friction when Bec desperately wants to upgrade things, like the farm machinery. Although she now runs the farm, her father seems to have the last say, dismissing her suggestions and ultimately overruling her. She’s frustrated and short tempered, even more so when her ex suddenly begins showing some renewed interest in her.

Matt is interested in Bec pretty much right away and he wants to make amends for doing the wrong thing in the country and kind of improve himself in her eyes so that she doesn’t think he’s quite a fool. Bec seems like the sort of person who doesn’t really suffer fools that much and she wasted no time launching into Matt and telling him what an idiot he was being – where she could’ve perhaps educated him in a slightly less aggressive way. Matt was unaware what he was doing was dangerous, he was not deliberately flouting rules. However he does kind of get her to give him a bit of a second chance and they do become friends with a strong undercurrent of attraction. Bec’s friends and a few of the locals seem a bit keen to play matchmaker as well, drawing Matt into their little social circle.

A lot of the conflict for Bec revolves around her father, who although has been forced to hand the reins over to her somewhat earlier than he would like due to an accident, still makes all the decisions. He dismisses her ideas, won’t let her buy new machinery or equipment and seems to make all of the decisions on his own despite Bec running the farm. This continues on for a lot of the book but then is basically all resolved after one conversation. It was a bit of a low key ending to something that had been such a large part of the story and had probably damaged the relationship Bec had with her father. The whole thing makes Bec’s father look quite unreasonable and like he doesn’t even want Bec in charge or think she can do anything for herself and then that just vanishes. He’s also against the idea of Bec forming a relationship with Matt as well and seems to not mind the idea of Bec reuniting with her former fiance, despite the fact that it’s the last thing Bec wants.

This was a pleasant read – I liked it but I didn’t love it. The conflict felt a little too contrived and although the romance between Matt and Bec was nice, it was just that – nice. There’s a friend of Bec’s that features in this book who has a crush on a reclusive man who sort of befriends Matt in this novel. Their story would be really interesting and I do hope that’s a book that I get to read in the future though.

6/10

Book #16 of 2017

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Country Roads is book #6 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Shadows Of Hunters Ridge

shadows-of-hunters-ridgeShadows Of Hunters Ridge (Hunters Ridge #2)
Sarah Barrie
Escape Publishing
2016, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Something’s not right in Hunters Ridge…

Ebony Blakely has her life nearly exactly where she wants it. She’s a country vet with a successful business in Hunters Ridge, a town that she loves, and has a close group of friends. The only thing missing is romance. Unfortunately, the man she wants treats her as a good friend, and no matter how much she tries to change that perception, he just won’t get it.

Lee Dalton is an ex-cop with a chip on his shoulder about his past. He’s determined to make a success of his building business – and keep his thoughts away from his best friend’s sister, Ebony. But seeing Ebony every day as he works on her surgery renovation makes that almost impossible and soon their hidden feelings begin to complicate their friendship.

When it becomes apparent Ebony’s life is in danger, she is scared but determined not to run. But following an earlier encounter Lee knows what these monsters are capable of and is forced to use everything he’s ever learnt as a policeman to keep her safe.

Because these monsters are serial killers, and they’ll stop at nothing to claim their prize.

Recently I saw the third in this series, which is about to be released and it made me realise that I hadn’t read the second. An oversight on my part but to be honest, it’s one I make more often than I’d like to admit. So many books, there are always ones that slip through the cracks or that I mean to read and somehow just don’t get around to. I really loved the first one in this series so I decided that it was time to tackle the second one so that I could be ready for the third one.

This is Ebony’s story, the sister of Cam from the first novel. She’s a very passionate vet, dedicated to her job and she works long hours and is always looking to do more, to expand and take on even more. She went through a traumatic event in the last book and is still haunted by it, particularly as the perpetrator is still on the loose. Ebony has people around her to watch out for her, especially Lee Dalton an ex-cop, her brother’s best friend and the man she loves. Ebony has so little experience with men though, she doesn’t know how to attempt to take her friendship with Lee to the next level. And Lee is pretty busy out there with a succession of casual girlfriends, although Ebony doesn’t know it’s because he’s convinced himself that Ebony is not for him….there’s definitely a bit of the “your best friend’s sister is off limits” going on as well as a few other complications.

Ebony and Lee do have a very strong friendship and they spend a lot of time together. Lee is helping Ebony with some construction work and they also socialise together with Cam, his wife Ally and Ally’s sister Mia, who travels up from her place in the city to the country town frequently. For Ebony though, these interactions with Lee are becoming harder and harder to endure because she wants so much more from him which he seems to be completely oblivious to. Lee is of course dating someone casually, a stereotypical mean girl who is jealous of Ebony and attempts to ruin their friendship on numerous occasions.

I liked Ebony and I enjoyed her dedication to her job as well as the insight into being a country vet. I feel as though she tries really hard to prove herself and to establish her reputation but when it comes to people, she’s a bit soft and perhaps not as professional as she could be. She allows an employee to walk all over her and is willing to hire someone else very quickly without even really having time to check their references and investigate their previous work. She also occasionally does that thing heroines do where they don’t want to leave their home etc even when there’s a clear threat. I don’t really understand that and as a reader, it kind of frustrates me. Your life is in danger… now is not the time for pride. Thankfully she’s a bit better later on in the book, after a few incidents and she accepts staying with Lee or having him stay with her but this seems more about establishing their relationship at times than actually being safe. It’s not sacrificing strength for someone to accept help when there is clearly a danger.

When it’s known that Ebony is the next “target” of a vicious killer who arranges hunt for sport, everyone steps up to make sure she is protected. However I feel as though they (Ebony, Lee, Cam, even Ben the lead detective) overlooked something pretty big in this story – it’s something that twigged for me right away but it’s not something that anyone else ever seems to really question at all, until it’s way too late. I did appreciate that although I was suspicious of someone from the very first time they appeared on the page, the author did make me go back and forth in my mind a few times in an “are they or aren’t they evil?” sort of way. I would be firmly convinced and then doubting myself and maybe they were just red herring and would end up being a permanent fixture of the town…but then maybe they’re not what they seem…..but then again, maybe they are…. It was quite well done actually. The tension was built very nicely as well and definitely had me on the edge of my seat towards the end.

This was definitely a very good follow up to the first book. It continues to build the overall arc as well as establishing a really solid individual one which was enjoyable and filled with suspense. There were a few small issues that I could overlook for the sake of building the story and the tension and it all came together very well.

The third book, Promise Of Hunters Ridge is the story of Mia and Ben and I cannot wait for this one! They’ve had such an interesting dynamic throughout the first two books and it’s bound to be explosive!

8/10

Book #33 of 2017

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Shadows Of Hunters Ridge is book #10 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Immortal Bind by Traci Harding

immortal-bindThe Immortal Bind
Traci Harding
Harper Voyager
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The adventure of a lifetime… or two, or three

When Sara is gifted a beautiful antique chair as a wedding present, she is completely unaware that it is one of a unique pair. On the other side of the world, the chair’s twin is presented to a reclusive artist, Jon, as a birthday gift.

The two new owners are thrust into a mind-expanding adventure through the ages – medieval East Anglia, Scotland, France and India. In each instance they experience significant junctions in their lives past, to remember and redress ripples of karma they set in motion, and thwart an evil entity that still threatens their present day lives.

Their journey exposes a cursed love affair spanning one hundred thousand years and ten thousand miles. Only the full realisation of their own short comings will prevent the tragic reoccurring outcome of their immortal bind.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. But I think most, if not all readers are guilty of it in some way. I know I certainly am and I as soon as I pulled this book out of the packaging, I wanted to read it. Before I’d even glanced at the blurb. The colours are ‘my thing’ – those beautiful greens and blues. It looked mysterious.

In the present day, clothing designer Sara and artist Jon are both gifted antique chairs by the people closest to them. Sara lives in Australia, Jon in England. Both love their new gifts….but are stunned to see that the chairs appear to possess magical powers, causing each to sleep and dream vividly when both are sitting in them. The dreams take place in very different time periods and places but the general story is always the same – star crossed lovers kept apart by an evil character who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. In each dream, Sara and Jon play the roles of the young lovers and they are surprised to recognise people they know playing various bit parts.

Both Sara and Jon soon realise that these are no dreams…..and that they are the current manifestations of an ancient curse. The only way to escape the vicious cycle that repeats every few hundred years is to end the curse. First they will have to discover how to do that…..when they haven’t even met in this life and are separated by thousands of kilometers and pursued by a creature who is determined to finally possess what has eluded him for over thousands of years.

This book definitely lived up to my expectations from its pretty cover! I was hooked from the first page and I found every single part of the story so well constructed and they were all expertly woven together. I know very little about a lot of the background of some of the timeframes but it really didn’t matter. I found that each time Jon and Sara experienced another “dream” I kind of cared little about where and when it was taking place and more about the people within it. Each one is really heartbreaking and frustrating as well. After the first one or two you know that any more ‘dreams’ they experience can really only end one way and that unless they figure out the messages in the dreams and discover a way to break an ancient curse, then their current incarnation will end the same way as all of the previous ones.

There’s something so incredibly romantic about the idea of having a soul mate that you are destined to come across in reincarnation. I am not sure if it doesn’t happen in every lifetime or if there is a gap between everything aligning for the recincarnations…..there are remarks made that there’s a wait of another couple hundred years before it will happen again and in the current life, Jon and Sara couldn’t be more far apart. They aren’t in a relationship, they haven’t even crossed paths. Everything seems stacked against them in this time period, even more so than in all the rest. Of course less romantic is the part of the story that sees someone who will stop at nothing in order to prevent you from being with your soul mate but that adds the suspense element.

With each story showcasing a previous life, I found that I became more and more invested in Jon and Sara finally getting to live a life together, even though these two people hadn’t actually met yet! Both of them had already suffered so much in other lives and when they dream about them whilst sleeping in the chairs, they experience it as if living it all over again. I also really enjoyed the role that their best friends played – both in this life and in the previous manifestations. In each, the role was a little different and it seemed to grow and evolve as well. I appreciated the trust and belief that the friends had in Jon and Sara too, some without even seeing proof of the “weirdness” of the chairs!

This is the first book by Traci Harding that I’ve read and I loved it! It has such atmosphere and so many elements….romance, history, mystery, fantasy, friendship, a bit of suspense. I’m definitely going to have to look for more of her books – she has quite an extensive backlist, some 20 or so books! It’s always good to find an author that you’ve enjoyed and discover that they have so many more books! There are a few series’ too and I love a series so I’m pretty excited. As a reader it’s good to step out of your comfort zone every now and then, try things that you might not normally gravitate towards.

8/10

Book #23 of 2017

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The Immortal Bind is the 9th book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Fearless by Fiona Higgins

fearlessFearless
Fiona Higgins
Allen & Unwin
2016, 392p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Six strangers from across the world converge on the tropical island of Bali to attend a course designed to help them face their fears. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their fears – which range from flying, public speaking and heights, through to intimacy, failure and death…

Friendships and even romance blossoms as the participants are put through a series of challenges which are unusual, confronting and sometimes hilarious. A week of fun in the sun suddenly tranforms into something far more serious, however, when the unthinkable happens – a tragic disaster that puts the group in deadly danger that will test the individual courage of every member…

Shocking, powerful and utterly gripping, Fearless takes you to the edge and makes you look down.

I loved The Mother’s Group by Fiona Higgins and quite enjoyed Wife On The Run so I asked my husband if he might purchase this book for me as my Christmas present from “Santa”. I included it in my February TBR pile and it was the first book I ended up choosing to read.

Mixed circumstances bring 6 strangers to the same group in Bali. Known as ‘Fearless’, it’s a workshop designed to help people confront their worst fears so that they can then move past them. The fears are mixed….fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of intimacy, fear of snakes, fear of failure…..maybe even fear of death. Each of the six participants share a little about themselves as they attempt to overcome the fears that they believe are holding them back in various aspects of their lives.

I’ve never been to Bali and to be honest, I don’t really see the allure. It’s not somewhere I’d ever choose to go and I probably have to revoke my Australian citizenship right now for such an admission. For many Aussies, it’s an ideal holiday destination. It’s close and it’s cheap…..and few things are when you live all the way down here. Each of them are in Bali for different reasons and for some, Bali is a long way from home in terms of living conditions. There’s definitely a bit of culture shock. Fiona Higgins has spent some years living in Indonesia and that definitely showed as there was a lot of information about Bali and the Javanese that come and work there, things that I didn’t really know about before reading this.

As the blurb mentions, there’s a rather shocking incident/disaster that puts the lives of everyone in the group in danger and I have to admit, I’d been reading so long that by the time it occurred I’d kind of forgotten that there was going to be something that happened. It seemed to come up out of no where but also be very late in the story. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of that particular part of the story line…..it just felt like an attempt to be current but without even putting a deeper meaning into it, just picking the easiest most cliche option and going with it. Despite the tragedy there are a large number of things that are incredibly convenient. One of the members of the Fearless group speaks quite fluent Indonesian which ends up being incredibly helpful and there are some other things as well that came across as all being quite a bit too easy despite the seriousness of the situation.

For anyone who has read The Mother’s Group and is curious about what happened to Cara, then Fearless should help in some ways with that. Cara is one of the participants of the ‘Fearless’ group and we do learn quite a bit about how she’s coped (or not) in the years since the incident. And although I admit that I was really excited to discover that one of those participants was Cara, I do have to admit that I found the rest of them kind of lacklustre and a little, well, obvious. The Italian fashion photographer, the dweeby English birdwatcher. There wasn’t a lot of subtlety in the portrayals and in the beginning, they all seemed to fit rather neatly into the stereotypical boxes of their nationality.

The idea of the workshop overcoming the individual fears was interesting and the activities they had to undertake ranged from amusing to truly frightening! I also did really like the look at the leader of the Fearless program and how his attitudes changed after the incident towards the end of the book. That showed a bit more depth to that character. So while I liked the idea of the fear exploring (not sure I’d have the courage to confront my greatest fears!) there were other aspects that I just felt threw the book out. It was almost like reading two separate books: the book about the people exploring their fears and then a book about people who get caught up in a horrible act. I didn’t love this as much as I thought I was going to although I did like it. There were some interesting secondary characters that really helped flesh it out a bit but ultimately I wanted more from the six characters confronting their fears. I wanted them to show something that surprised me instead of doing, saying and feeling things that seemed quite predictable. And to be honest, I don’t even know what to say about Lorenzo.

6/10

Book #22 of 2017

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Fearless is book #8 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

 

 

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Review: Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil by Melina Marchetta

tell-the-truthTell The Truth, Shame The Devil
Melina Marchetta
Penguin Books AUS
2016, 405p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.

Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years ago her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing dozens of people. Her mother, Noor, is serving a life sentence in connection with the incident. But before Violette’s part in the French tragedy can be established, she disappears.

Bish, who was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest, is now compelled to question everything that happened back then. And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more he realises that truth wears many colours.

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago but I’ve put off reviewing it until now. This is the sort of book that makes me wish I was better at this…..that I had a magic way to translate the mess of feelings in my head into this post. That I could better articulate the intricate maze of relationships and issues and events that are taking place in this book.

Reading this cemented one thing for me, if nothing else. Melina Marchetta could write anything and I’d read it. I read her contemporary YA novels first…. Looking For Alibrandi years ago when I was still in high school and then Saving Francesca, Jellicoe, The Piper’s Son. Someone asked me if I’d read Finnikin and I hadn’t because I didn’t think it would be my thing. I’m not a huge fantasy reader but I was urged to and in reading them I realised that it doesn’t matter what genre Marchetta is writing in. Those heartbreaking relationships are still the same. They transcend everything else.

And this book is no different. It’s Marchetta’s first ‘adult’ fiction novel, focusing on a character named Bish. He works with the London Met but is currently ‘taking a break’ after an incident at work. Bish has suffered a terrible loss…..he’s also now divorced and watching his former wife move on in multiple ways. When Bish’s teenage daughter is caught up in a bombing in France, he wastes no time getting over there. He wants to see that Bee is safe but it turns into something else. Bish’s job qualifications mean that he’s able to step in and talk to parents, keep lines of communication open. He is able to take charge in a way that others can’t, including those running the tour his daughter was on. The more Bish learns, the more he becomes almost compelled to find out exactly what happened: who was it that set off the bomb? Does it have anything to do with the daughter and granddaughter of one of the most notorious terrorist bombers in London? Or is there something else to it?

Oh Bish. You poor, poor man. What a wonderfully complex, heartbroken character he was. He’s really got not a lot going for him at the opening of the book. He’s divorced from his wife, who has moved on, his teenage daughter barely speaks to him and he’s still grieving horribly. He drinks way too much and he has nothing to focus him, to occupy his time. As strange as it sounds, the bombing and the fallout gives him something to do. It allows him to showcase his various skills (sometimes reluctantly, as he’s pressured into doing things by a former schoolmate who makes vague noises about his high-up in government boss) and it gives him a mission. He not only wants to find out about the bombing of the bus in France but it also begins making him think  about the bombing that occurred in the London supermarket thirteen years ago.

And there’s the Marchetta factor where all these things – people, events, places etc from the past, come to a point in the present and you begin to realise just how intricate this plot is. How the most innocuous seeming things suddenly come back later on with renewed importance – and the same with characters. The pieces fall together so slowly but in a good way – little bits and pieces are uncovered, things that make you query the most likely scenario and start constructing others in your head.

But as amazing as the plot concerning the bombing is, it’s the relationships where this book truly shines. It’s a book of love in all its varying types…..and of pain. There’s plenty of pain here as well, heart and soul wrenching grief. But there’s also hope…this is a book that never loses hope. You always hope that Bish will find whatever it is he needs to in order to begin to heal, to move forward. I loved Bish, so much so that I wanted to protect him at times, from some of the other characters within the story.

I’m not sure that when Melina Marchetta began writing this story in 2013, she could have foreseen how relevant it would be at the time of its release on so many levels and even more so for me reading it some 6 months after its release. In a world of Donald Trump as president, with five year olds being detained at airports because they flew in from Iran, of conclusions being jumped to every time there is an incident (Bourke St, the Quebecois mosque) this book is a searing look at minorities and the treatment of them in society. There are disturbing incidences in here of teens being beaten half to death for vaguely resembling someone who isn’t even an official suspect in a bombing. And it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine it happening in real life. Perhaps it already is.

As I mentioned I’m not sure that I was able to do this sort of book justice in my review. That I could articulate just how intricate the strands of the plot are and the complex relationships. All I can do is recommend that people read it for themselves, no matter if you’re a fan of Marchetta’s previous works or not. Even if you’ve never read her before, try this one.

9/10

Book #14 of 2017

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Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil is book #4 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

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