All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Who’s Afraid by Maria Lewis

Who's AfraidWho’s Afraid
Maria Lewis
Hachette AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is the story of Tommi, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. The sudden appearance of a dark, mysterious (and very attractive) guardian further confuses her as her powers begin to develop and she begins to understand that her life can never be the same again. The reader will be swept up in Tommi’s journey as she’s thrown into the middle of a centuries-old battle and a world peopled with expert warriors and vicious enemies – this is the start of a series – and a world – you will fall in love with.

Tommi lives in Scotland, having been raised by her mother and her grandparents. She’s never known her father, only been told that he didn’t treat her mother well. After her mother’s death, Tommi decides to travel to New Zealand, where her father lives and find out what she can about him. He may not be what she’s looking for, but she’d like to know about him. And so she flies across the world on her own to track him down.

What she doesn’t expect, upon meeting members of her extended family, is for strange things to start happening…. to be told that she’s a werewolf and now the proximity to her family, other members of a pack is enforcing her change. Tommi flees into the forest, away from her family after getting some pretty bad vibes. She’s alone, she’s halfway through something she doesn’t understand and she doesn’t know what to do. Fortunately (maybe?) it seems as though the universe has lent a hand, sending Tommi a guardian to help her through her transition and to adjust to her new role as a supernatural being. Upon arriving back in Scotland, Tommi discovers that someone seems to have followed her back….a rogue werewolf hunts her, killing savagely and threatening to reveal an existence that is kept hidden. Tommi needs to train – her guardian will help with that – because she might just be the only one that can end the murder.

Tommi is a pretty amazing character and one thing I loved about this book was although she needs to train in order to improve her strength, fitness and fighting ability, she’s the sort of character that is never going to be the damsel in distress, the one that needs someone to come and help her. Tommi is the sort of woman that can handle herself, that will fight her own battles and win. She’s had a lot to deal with – her mother dying, attempting to track down her father and discovering that not only was he a werewolf, but so is she. And her mother took her away to protect her, the time isolated from others of her kind delaying her first change into wolf form.

When she does change, Tommi quickly learns that she seems to have some remarkable talents, such as total awareness when in wolf form. Her guardian is surprised and it definitely seems like something certain people would be interested in. The relationship between Tommi and her guardian is well developed and evolves nicely throughout the course of the novel. Tommi starts off very wary of him, escaping him in New Zealand not quite sure if he can be trusted. Slowly they do develop a bond, a bond that deepens into something more. I have to admit that although I enjoyed the burgeoning romance, I feel as though I could’ve written the script for what would happen between them. This is the first in a series and so often, the end of the first book is always the same….they agree to just ‘be friends’ or ‘guardian and mentor’ because anything else is too complicated. That frustrated me because it was something I could’ve picked from the very first time the two of them met on the page.

I loved the descriptions of Tommi’s change into a werewolf – they are definitely no holds barred and takes you right there with her, almost like experiencing it yourself. It’s violent and messy, everything that you’d think bones changing and reshaping into something else would be. I also really liked Tommi’s mental character, the way she deals with and processes this new information about herself. She’s strong but she has her moments of utter terror and misery and questioning not just who and what she is but everything around her. Her thought processes felt really genuine and believable and I also liked her friendships. Fair warning though, this seems like a series that might take no prisoners. There are some pretty big shocks at the end of this book, and the final ‘fight/showdown’ is pretty damn awesome. But I did not think that the author would take the steps she did.

Overall – good fun. Promising start to an interesting paranormal series and I’ll definitely read the next one to see what’s next for Tommi and her interesting abilities.

7/10

Book #205

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Who’s Afraid was book #91 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Headed For Trouble by Shiloh Walker

Headed For TroubleHeaded For Trouble (The McKays #1)
Shiloh Walker
St Martin’s Press
2015, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

SHE’S A SMALL-TOWN GIRL WITH BIG DREAMS.

Nine years ago, Neve McKay fled her small Southern town and disapproving family to seek a career in the big city. Now she’s finally coming home – and hoping for a fresh start. But the relationship that shattered her world still haunts her. And even among her nearest and dearest, she doesn’t feel safe.

CAN THIS BAD BOY BE THE ANSWER TO HER PRAYERS?

Ian Campbell is a pure Scottish muscle – as hard and handsome as they come. But when Neve walks into his bar, his heart melts . . . and he vows to have this gorgeous and somewhat vulnerable woman in his life – for better or for worse. What is Neve’s tragic secret? And how can Neve expect Ian to protect her, when doing so could put his own life at risk? The only thing Ian knows for sure is that he will do whatever it takes to keep her out of harm’s way – and in his loving arms.

Shiloh Walker has been on my radar for a couple of years now but I’ve never gotten around to reading one of her books so when I saw this on NetGalley I nabbed it without really knowing what to expect. Headed For Trouble is a surprisingly multi-layered romance with a troubled protagonist, a rather lovely hero and a dysfunctional family trying to find their way back to some sort of harmony and closeness.

Neve hasn’t been home in nearly ten years. For the last several, she’s been on the run, moving around living in shelters and cheap accommodation, running from something. Even though she’s had no contact with her family for quite a while, home is where she’s headed. She has no where else left to go, she needs help and she needs support. She just hopes that she’s going to get it from her estranged older siblings, Brannon and Moira. There’s a lot of complication going on in these familial relationships and Shiloh Walker does a masterful job not only taking the reader into Neve’s mind to live her experiences growing up without parents but to also show a little of the side of her siblings, charged with the care of a child when they were barely adults themselves.

When she rolls into town, Neve meets bar manager Ian Campbell, a Scottish ex-pat who works for Brannon and has no idea that Neve is his baby sister. The two of them have some sparks from the get go but as Neve’s dangerous situation begins to unfold, it’s clear Ian is becoming serious about Neve. She wants security with him too but her past makes her a flight risk, tending to bolt whenever things look like they might be getting too serious or too comfortable. As Neve’s horror story spills out, it is obvious why she feels this way and how it might take her time to learn to trust Ian, to realise that he is different. Before she can though, her past catches up with her and places not only her life but the lives of those she cares about in danger.

I really enjoyed the suspense element in this story – Neve was being hunted and although you knew that it was coming, there were some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming and the level of evilness was, in its own way, a surprise. What Neve is experiencing is for me, adds a good element of suspense to a book but for a lot of people it’s a sad and dangerous reality that seems to be more and more prevalent these days. I felt that Neve’s determination and strength came through but there was also very much a fragile vulnerability to her, a streak of fear that probably kept her one step ahead, kept her alive. She also knew when she was basically beaten and to head to where she hoped she could get protection and reinforcement.

This is the first in a series and I think the groundwork for the next installments was laid very well in this one. Brannon and Moira are both given page time and enough fleshing out here to really make their own books seem interesting – Moira in particular. I’m really keen to find out much more about her backstory with her former boyfriend and what really happened there. Brannon is a bit of a hothead who needs to chill out a bit but I’ll definitely read his book too and I’ll be curious to see if they take a suspenseful turn like this story or if they’ll be a little more straightforward romances.

Headed For Trouble is a smart, tightly paced story with genuine characters and a twisted scenario that is all too believable. It’s well written and takes the time to construct complicated family relationships as well as the small town setting. I’m looking forward to the next book to see what’s next for some of these characters as well as presumably, being able to catch up with Neve.

7/10

Book #208 of 2015

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Review: Desert Flame by Janine Grey

Desert FlameDesert Flame
Janine Grey
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

{Blurb from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When her beloved father dies, Eliza Mayberry’s privileged world comes crashing down around her ears. On the verge of losing the business that has been in her family for generations, she has no option but to take over the last remaining case: tracking down the elusive Fingal McLeod in outback New South Wales and bringing him back to Sydney.

Fin, however, has other ideas. Determined to find the legendary Dark Flame, a rare opal that has eluded opal-hunters for decades, he has no intention of leaving his mine, Rebel’s Ruin, to reunite with the family of the man who abandoned him – even for the beguiling Miss Mayberry.

Drawn to the people and starkly beautiful landscape of the desert, Eliza discovers the new start that she’s been seeking in this unlikely place and with a man who is as infuriating as he is intriguing. But as passion blooms under the scorching outback sun, secrets from the past and present are bubbling below the surface – secrets that could destroy both the fragile trust between Eliza and Fin, and the bright promise of the future.

Eliza Mayberry has had a very rough couple of months – losing her father, breaking up with her wealthy boyfriend, realising that sort of life was not for her. She also has to face vacating her beautiful family home and the possibility of financial ruin after discovering how badly her father had mismanaged the family business and funds. The business researched genetic descendants, often tracking down errant or unknown heirs for deceased estates. Intrigued by one last case that her father had, Eliza decides to take it on.

Eliza is a tough character and I had a lot of admiration for her. She’d been raised amid wealth and privilege, living in an amazing house in a beautiful area of Sydney. Having lost both of her parents, she doesn’t have many people left in her world. The last case she decides to work for her father’s business fires her enthusiasm for the work – and leads her to the enigmatic Fingal McLeod.

Fin is a man on a mission, determined to find an opal that is more a myth than anything else. Already this opal has cost him and his family dearly but he needs it and the payday it will bring to desperately help his mother. Suspicious of Eliza’s sudden appearance in the remote area near his stake, Fin is at first dismissive of her but it isn’t long before Eliza comes back to have another go at convincing Fin to follow through on her request for him to come to Sydney as part of the job she is working.

Fin and Eliza are both quite stubborn and determined and that means quite a lot of clashing of wills. The sexual tension between them is off the charts and that’s punctuated by moments of discord which I found to be extremely well balanced. There’s quite a thread of suspense running through the book as well and I found myself getting really into that part of the plot. I think that what it revolves around is something that’s quite pertinent at the moment, and it’s actually something that doesn’t come across as too far fetched.

I was also really interested in Eliza’s job – I love the whole idea of researching family trees and various branches and tracking down people who may have inherited something (no matter how big or how small) and had no idea. It sounds like an unusual sort of job and I really enjoyed reading about the sort of different cases that she ended up getting throughout the course of the novel after she decided to take over her father’s business permanently. She could basically work anywhere, even out in the small towns around Lightning Ridge and was flexible so long as she had her laptop, the internet and a phone handy.

I don’t really know too much about opals but there’s always been that feel of ‘maybe’ around them, like there’s always a big one still out there. I know a few people who have gone out there to try and find a few and every so often you read about a decent size stone being unearthed. Although I did like that component of the story I have to admit I did pick a lot of the mystery quite a long way out – a very long way out actually, which did make it a bit slow as I waited for everyone else to catch up to where I was at!

Overall I found this book a very easy and enjoyable read, something that kept me engaged when I was tempted to put it down and head out to the pool! I was really into the setting – I actually haven’t read too many books set up around that part of the country before and it was nice to visit somewhere new for a rural. The suspense aspect was well woven into the romance and the two of them worked well together without fighting for dominance. Fin and Eliza also went well together with just enough flaws in both of them to make their journey believable and not too easy.

7/10

Book #209 of 2015

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Desert Flame is book #93 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Grand Slam by Kathryn Ledson

Grand SlamGrand Slam (Erica Jewell #3)
Kathryn Ledson
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Erica Jewell can’t worry about hunky hired gun, Jack Jones, and his commitment-phobic ways right now. She’s flat out managing Dega Oil’s sponsorship of the Australian Open tennis tournament, and doing a pretty good job. That is until a devastating oil-rig explosion sends Dega’s reputation and share price plummeting.

Public outrage over the incident upsets Emilio Méndez – the Open’s biggest drawcard – and he wants to cut all ties with Dega. When Erica is sent to calm him, superstitious Emilio becomes convinced he needs her by his side to win. He demands she stay close, and the media annoyingly misinterprets their relationship, much to Jack’s irritation. Meanwhile danger lurks, threatening Emilio and Erica, and she must race against time to discover: Who’s trying to kill them and why?

From the elite inner sanctum of the Australian Open to the packed halls of Chadstone Shopping Centre, can Australia’s favourite accidental heroine save her job, Emilio, and her so-called relationship with Jack Jones?

Grand Slam is the third book in the Erica Jewell series, which seems amateur investigator Erica embroiled in yet another mystery that could possibly (will probably, ok definitely) threaten her life. In this installment Erica is back close to home as Melbourne gears up for the Australian Open, its tennis grand slam event. The company Erica works for is sponsoring one of the hottest players, Emilio Mendez and through a strange series of events, suddenly taking care of him falls to Erica. And he is a lot of work.

I do have to admit, I have struggled with this series. I see bits and pieces within it that I really like and I loved the way that the first book was set up…the idea of it. But for every bit that I do see potential in, there are others that I just can’t really get into. I’m not a fan of making characters irritating for comedic relief and Erica’s mother seems to revolve around this premise. I find myself grinding my teeth almost every single time she’s on the page and as Erica is staying with her parents in this book, that’s often. The irritating, overbearing mother and mostly invisible father isn’t a new idea and the Australian spin on this one isn’t enough.

And then there’s Jack. There are times when I like Jack but I’m not sure that he knows what he wants to be. Is he that enigmatic black ops type? Is he a wounded soul with a tragic past? Is he a commitmentphobe who enjoys jerking people around or is he just afraid to love again? His character tends to flip-flop back and forth between all of those things but at the same time, isn’t really given enough page time to create depth for each of those facets of his character. He kind of flits in and out of the story, a cranky voice on the other end of the phone when Erica does something stupid or dangerous and there’s a few interactions here, mostly spoiled by his ‘room mate’. Jack is annoyingly clueless in this – or just an ass, I can’t decide. He has a beautiful woman staying with him, a former colleague whom Erica is clearly worried and insecure about. I mean she spends half the book attempting to decide if Jack is sleeping with this woman when Erica isn’t around. Jack knows that she’s insecure about it, she drops enough hints. But he doesn’t actually attempt to reassure her or explain their friendship in anything other than a deliberately vague way. He smirks and brushes her off and ignores her obvious concern, especially as it’s because of Jack and his commitment issues that Erica doesn’t know where she stands in the first place. I know Erica is at times, comically insecure but I think most people would be thrown off balance by the surprise arrival of a beautiful former colleague in their…whatever Jack is to Erica’s, house. In a way, this woman Sharon embodies everything Erica isn’t. She’s trained, clearly possessed of good skills and she works out with a killer body. Erica fell into everything more by accident than skill or design. She’s muddling through and has some pretty good instincts but I think she feels she’s a long way behind where Jack is (and she is), which this other woman is obviously not.

Erica’s instincts are I think, the strongest feature in these books and it is rather good watching her put pieces together. She’s never afraid to jump in with both feet, even when it looks like it’s going to be extremely dangerous. Jack puts a minder on her in this book and she becomes remarkably adept at slipping away from him in order to attempt to investigate things that are happening. I get the feeling that if they took the time to actually train Erica a bit more, she could become quite good, but this would probably cut down on how much humour could be included within the story because she would probably avoid getting into so many scrapes. And I think that might be my issue – I’d prefer to read about how she trains and becomes more skilled rather than how she staggers from one disaster to the next. It was the thing that got on my nerves in the end about the Stephanie Plum series. Twenty-something books and Stephanie is still as much as a loser as she was in the first book. I love to see progression and development otherwise it just feels like you’re reading the same book over and over again.

I just think that unfortunately for me, this particular humour isn’t my sort. I like the character of Erica and the way in which she’s putting herself out there and I think that her relationship with Jack could eventually become something I get on board with, once it develops further. I’m just not sure if the other characters – ones like Erica’s mother and the tennis player – are so easily overlooked that I can focus on the stuff that I do enjoy.

5/10

Book #206 of 2015

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Grand Slam was book #92 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015

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Review: The Grass Is Greener by Loretta Hill

Grass Is GreenerThe Grass Is Greener
Loretta Hill
Random House AUS
2015, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The grass always seems greener on the other side . . . until you get there.

For generations Bronwyn Stevenson’s family has thrived in the legal profession and a position at their prestigious firm is hers by right. Only problem is: she doesn’t want it.

Her best friend Claudia has always dreamed of being a lawyer, but tragedy struck and she took up the reins of her father’s vineyard instead. It was supposed to be temporary . . . now there’s no end in sight.

Bronwyn wants Claudia’s life so badly. Claudia can’t imagine anything better than Bronwyn’s job. So the friends hatch a crazy plan to swap places.

Both are determined to be the person they always thought they could never be. But achieving your dreams isn’t easy – and falling in love with the men who oppose them isn’t a good idea . . .

The Grass is Greener is a captivating novel about best friends, family and fighting for what you want, against all odds.

Bronwyn and Claudia are friends, living very different lives none of them particularly satisfying. Bronwyn comes from a family of formidable Perth lawyers but finds herself not really suited to the cut-throat industry and one difficult client too many ends up costing her her job. Claudia is desperate to put her law degree to good use but instead finds herself trapped on her parent’s vineyard in the Margaret River, trying to pull it out of the financial hole it’s found itself in as well as keeping the peace in her fractious household.

When they meet for lunch, it somehow seems a good idea that Claudia should attend an interview for a job at a law firm instead of Bronwyn. Instead Bronwyn will head down to Oak Hills Winery and see if she can take over from Claudia there, perhaps finally finding something that fulfills her. Both knew that each of their roles will not be easy – Claudia will have to deal with accusations of nepotism and fraud as well as cutting her teeth in a world she’s not quite used to. Bronwyn doesn’t have much experience in winemaking other than helping during her university days but she needs to convince Claudia’s family that this is something that she’s passionate about. It’s their livelihood and they feel very strongly about it. There’s also the added complication of the impending return of the prodigal son, Claudia’s brother Jack. Bronwyn has never quite gotten over her teenage crush on him and having Jack around is going to make things more difficult than ever.

I had some really high hopes for this book, I love Loretta Hill and the premise sounded fun. However upon reading it, I have to admit that it didn’t engage me quite as well as I’d hoped. I think that essentially both Bronwyn and Claudia were fine on their own but it was when they were thrown in with other people that it felt a bit tired.

I didn’t warm to either Jack or Sebastian Rowlands, the lawyer Claudia works under for the firm that employs her. Jack was laughably arrogant and cocky in a way that was quite unappealing to me and treated Bronwyn quite badly. He seemed to enjoy making her feel uncomfortable, such as in their first interaction when he returns and his devil-may-care attitude tends to make it difficult to sympathise with him about his mistakes in the past, including the one that injured his brother. The two of them didn’t really strike me as a realistic couple and their interactions didn’t do much for me. Sebastian was more interesting (although a bit of a dick in his first scene as well) but I think ultimately his character was really only skimmed over and would’ve benefited from a more thorough exploration. Both romances felt a little underdeveloped and although romance isn’t the primary focus here, it didn’t feel like it took up enough of the plot so when it happened it left me feeling a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to experience it fully.

I enjoyed the strong friendship between Bronwyn and Claudia and the family relationships the best I think. Both Bronwyn and Claudia have some family problems -Bronwyn struggles to live up to the expectations placed on her by her mother and doesn’t really fit into the lifestyle carved out for her. She doesn’t want to be a lawyer but can’t seem to find the way to best articulate this, instead fleeing Perth to the winery. Claudia’s family has been struggling for years, even since the events that led to Jack’s departure. The family dynamics were all very well written and I liked the exploration of how family members can become estranged and how things can escalate and wires can be crossed and it becomes such a tangled web to unravel. For me this was by far the novel’s strength and the process of working everything out so that Bronwyn and Claudia could ‘keep’ each other’s lives was well done.

Overall I enjoyed this but I didn’t love it as much as I did her other books.

7/10

Book #203 of 2015

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The Grass Is Greener was book #90 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Emergency Response by Nicki Edwards

Emergency ResponseEmergency Response (Escape To The Country #2)
Nicki Edwards
Momentum Publishing (Pan Macmillan AUS)
2015, 276p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Running away didn’t solve anything … at least, not the first time.

Intensive care nurse Mackenzie Jones is no stranger to running. As a teenager she fled her family home, leaving tragedy and loss in her wake. Now, after fifteen years alone in Sydney, with the strain of working in a city hospital wearing her thin, she’s tempted to run again.

Mackenzie jumps at the chance to work in a mining town in the Western Australian desert – anything to lift her spirits. Though she barely dares to hope, she wonders if she might find the kind of love that can ease her loneliness.

In the outback, Nathan Kennedy is at a loose end. He’s been making money in the mines for years, and pressure from his family to return to the east coast, settle down and get married is reaching fever pitch. The problem is, he hasn’t met the right woman.

When Mackenzie turns up in town, there’s an instant attraction between her and Nathan, maybe even true love. But tragedy’s not done with Mackenzie Jones – the past is about to catch up with her in more ways than one.

Can Nathan convince Mackenzie to stop running, or is this just another tragedy in the making?

This is the second of Nicki Edwards’ Escape to the Country series and focuses on a friend of Kate’s from the first novel, Mackenzie Jones, who works in a big city hospital, and Kate’s brother Nathan who works in the mines in Western Australia. Mackenzie and Nathan enjoy some good conversations when they come together for a special occasion and Mackenzie finds herself applying to work in the Pilbara in the Emergency Department of the local hospital. Not only does it give her a chance to broaden her skills and deal with a different type of hospital, but it also allows her to spend some more time with Nathan and get to know him a little better.

In the last 12 months my husband has spent some time in hospital having two operations and so I’ve become pretty interested in books that deal with nursing and the role of care giving in hospital. I’ve read the first in this series and enjoyed the role that Kate’s job as a nurse played and this one was exactly the same. Mackenzie’s job in the Pilbara sounds really interesting and quite broad – you would face quite a few different scenarios in a remote hospital in the Pilbara than you would in a hospital in Sydney and I thought all of that was awesome to read. All of the procedures and situations are well explained and you get equal parts the sense of urgency but also the rationality and levelheadedness that must prevail in difficult situations.

Mackenzie has a job that can be busy and stressful and although she’s a 35yo woman there are times when she honestly felt like a much younger character than that – like someone fresh out of university. She has some hang ups about her physical appearance, so different to her five younger sisters and she carries a lot of insecurities about her upbringing and her role within her family. This spills over into her fledgling romance with Nathan, which gets off the ground in the Pilbara with several dates and a camping trip. The both of them are clearly attracted to each other but there are a few misunderstandings and stop-starts in their relationship culminating in Mackenzie having to return home after a family incident. She’s very adamant against a long distance relationship and doesn’t seem to really want to let Nathan in – in fact she seems quite willing to write the relationship off very easily despite the fact that he seems keen to support her or wait for her. I kind of wanted to shake her a bit at times, because she seems to rehash the same things over and over in her head and instead of confronting her issues (which, to be honest, would clear up a lot of things in about three minutes) she buries her head in the sand and pretends that they don’t exist.

The romance in this series is quite chaste and very low key – closed bedroom doors and very little detail which tends to work well with the overall tone. I enjoyed Mackenzie and Nathan together and particularly liked the way that Nathan was kind of the one to tackle the issues and conflict that cropped up in their burgeoning relationship. I liked him when he was introduced in the previous book and I think he made a good transition to hero in this novel. I prefer my romance novels with a little more spice but a change is as good as a holiday and I’ve burned through this series pretty quickly. This one is I feel, the best of them.

7/10

Book #202 of 2015

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This is book #89 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Dashing Through The Snow by Debbie Macomber

Dashing Through The SnowDashing Through The Snow
Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books
2015, 244p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ashley Davison, a graduate student in California, desperately wants to spend the holidays with her family in Seattle. Dashiell Sutherland, a former army intelligence officer, has a job interview in Seattle and must arrive by December 23. Though frantic to book a last-minute flight out of San Francisco, both are out of luck: Every flight is full, and there’s only one rental car available. Ashley and Dash reluctantly decide to share the car, but neither anticipates the wild ride ahead.

At first they drive in silence, but forced into close quarters Ashley and Dash can’t help but open up. Not only do they find they have a lot in common, but there’s even a spark of romance in the air. Their feelings catch them off guard—never before has either been so excited about a first meeting. But the two are in for more twists and turns along the way as they rescue a lost puppy, run into petty thieves, and even get caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Though Ashley and Dash may never reach Seattle in time for Christmas, the season is still full of surprises—and their greatest wishes may yet come true.

This was another Christmas title I downloaded and ended up reading almost right away because I thought it sounded really cute. Both Ashley and Dash are trying to get to Seattle at one of the busiest times of the year and Ashley is mysteriously refused a flight and stand-by status. She storms off to the car hire place only to find the obnoxious man in the line at the ticket desk has followed her too. Even worse she needs him because the car hire place cannot hire a car out to someone under 25 and Ashley is 24. After a quick phone call to Dash’s mother to make sure he’s not an axe murderer, they agree to travel together to Seattle from San Francisco, about a 14 hour drive.

Now this could’ve been awesome. It had all the groundwork of being a really cute way to get a couple to get to know each other – after all, they’re sharing a car and it would be pretty awkward to sit in silence with someone for so long so naturally, you’d start talking, etc. The problem with this is, Dash and Ashley are just…..irritating.

They fight. All the time. And not in a cute way either. More like in a brother-and-sister-going-to-kill-each-other sort of way. A snarky, squabbling, annoying sort of bickering that because quite tedious very quickly. The beginning was promising and I rather liked Ashley’s phone conversation with Dash’s mother. However when the two of them actually got in the car, it just changed. Ashley was pretty immature and annoying but the fact that Dash left her in the middle of no where at a gas station/convenience store or whatever it was when they had a disagreement was pretty poor. Yes, he did come back for her but leaving her in the first place was a bit of a dick move, even if she was being a pain.

There’s just no chemistry between the characters, it was kind of like reading about my children taking an extended road trip and they’re 7 and 4! The side plot about why Ashley couldn’t get a flight was quite amusing to begin with but the way it fizzled out and was resolved “off the page” just felt lazy and like the author couldn’t really decide the best way to undo the knot created so just conveniently moved it away and told the characters everything was fine now. It was a bit disappointing – even though this isn’t a romantic suspense at all, there was quite a bit devoted to developing it and then it just kind of…..died. I’ve read Debbie Macomber books in the past and plenty of them. I’ve enjoyed a lot and liked some, some haven’t been my sort of thing but this felt like it could do with quite an edit. The characters needed to bicker less and connect more. And the whole mess with the FBI just needed…..something better to conclude it.

5/10

Book #186 of 2015

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Review: Modern Heart by Belinda Williams

Modern HeartModern Heart (City Of Love #3)
Belinda Williams
Momentum (Pan Macmillan AUS)
2015, 246p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Limited time only: Dream career! Perfect man! The catch? Emotional availability.

Scarlett Wong has a reputation for toughness. A talented and often feared Creative Director at an award-winning Sydney advertising agency, she doesn’t do relationships, she doesn’t invite men home, and she never stays the night. The only people who see her softer side are her three closest girlfriends, and they’re finally convinced they’ve found her perfect man: John Hart.

Scarlett’s never been one to back down from a challenge and she’s not going to start now. But when John secures Scarlett an invitation from one of New York’s leading galleries to exhibit her artwork, it means putting herself out there like never before. Scarlett’s perfect man wouldn’t interfere in her life like this – would he?

For a woman who thinks she’s not scared of anything, Scarlett is about to discover she’s not as tough as she thinks. Will she take the chance to turn her secret passion into a career, risk the safety of her advertising career, and let John in? Or will old habits die that little bit too hard?

This is the third in the City of Love series, each book focusing on a different girl from a tightknit group of four friends. I really enjoyed the first book….the second book was okay but I thought Scarlett’s story might be interesting as she’s a very different type of character for what would usually present in a romance-type novel. To be bluntly honest, Scarlett is a bit nasty. She has a razor sharp tongue and she’s not afraid to use it, she tends to keep people at arms length and she doesn’t do relationships. I found her somewhat difficult in the earlier novels when she wasn’t the focus. I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d go with her being the main character.

Scarlett’s potential love interest John was introduced in earlier books. He’s 25, so five years younger than her, half-Chinese and half-Australian, surfs and works as an architect. John on paper, doesn’t seem particularly suited to Scarlett and she is attempting to distance herself from him because John seems the ‘type’ to want an exclusive relationship and Scarlett perhaps feels she’d have difficulty being her usual aloof self with John.

I didn’t connect with Scarlett anymore in this book than I did in previous books when she was only a supporting character. I was hoping for deeper meanings behind her abrasive nature and I think the ‘Tiger Mom’ scenes from her childhood were a bit of a start but there were times when Scarlett was just so savage to people that honestly, it made it hard to really see anything from her point of view. She treats people horribly, even her so-called friends and her treatment of John makes you wonder if he was some sort of masochist glutton for punishment, hanging around to be her verbal punching bag. John as a character didn’t do too much for me either unfortunately – he came off as somewhat flawless (apart from his background which felt clumsily executed and lacking in any real genuine explanation) and like this sort of guardian angel, popping at up at random intervals throughout the book to orchestrate or facilitate wondrous things.

The strength was Scarlett’s journey as she learned to embrace who she was truly meant to be and developed the confidence to truly place faith in her art. She’d been pushed, pulled and shaped as a child and had chosen a degree which earned their disapproval, meaning Scarlett was on her own. However, she’d still chosen a degree with financial stability and Scarlett’s upbringing meant that she found it very difficult to let go of that safety net and have confidence that her artistic ability could be enough. Learning that she didn’t have to push people away and that fulfilling relationships did exist – in fact, they were all around her. I also enjoyed the evolution of her friendship with Cate, the fourth woman in the group and I really want to read her story because some interesting groundwork was laid in this story when Scarlett and Cate were confiding in each other. It felt like Scarlett was finally giving something of herself to the friendships, likewise in her interactions with Madeline.

The romance in this just didn’t really do it for me, I found Scarlett too difficult in the beginning to believe that someone would keep patiently hanging around her waiting for the scraps she threw his way. She really had no filter and didn’t seem to care how hurtful some of her words and actions could be. John felt too much of a doormat at times and the one time he did seem to grow a backbone I am not sure I could get behind his reasons for doing what he did.

6/10

Book #185 of 2015

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Modern Heart is book #75 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015

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Review: Pieces Of Me by Jacquie Underdown

Pieces Of MePieces Of Me
Jacquie Underdown
Escape Publishing (Harlequin AUS)
2015, 260
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For Hannah, Mercy Island is a refuge, a new beginning, and a place to find safety in her own skin. Here, in this peaceful, beachside place, she will rediscover all those pieces of herself her abusive ex stole away. 

For Bear, Mercy Island is a prison, a backwater, a place he can’t wait to escape. Away, in the city, he’ll chase his dreams and lose the bad memories haunting him.

When Hannah’s home is damaged in an ugly storm, Bear offers his handyman services to repair it—a last job and a pretty girl to pass the time before he heads out. But Hannah is terrified to lose herself in another relationship, and Bear isn’t in it for the long haul.

However, their simmering sexual attraction refuses to be ignored, and just because love isn’t on the line doesn’t mean sex isn’t on the table. A no-strings-attached brief fling to curb the tension and take the edge off. No ties. No emotions. No pain.

But love has a way of coming in the windows, even when you’ve slammed the door, if only Hannah and Bear can stop looking to the past and find hope in their future.

I’m not succeeding very well with my summer reading list. So far I’ve read three titles off it already and I still don’t leave for my holiday for a few days yet! I’ve never been much good at waiting and these books are all published already, so I guess it doesn’t hurt….right?!

This one was very sweet. Hannah is young, only early 20s and her grandmother has just passed away, leaving Hannah her house on Mercy Island. Hannah spent summers with her grandmother growing up but became estranged from her due to a rift between her grandmother and mother. When the roof collapses in a storm, Hannah discovers not only how much she enjoys the company of local carpenter Bear, who used to mow her grandmother’s lawn when they were teens, but also a chest of her grandmother’s things, which includes a bucket list.

Having recently escaped a very negative situation, Hannah gravitates toward the idea of the bucket list. Her grandmother was able to accomplish many things and have many adventures during her later years before she passed away and Hannah sits down to write her own list of things she wants to do now that she is able to experience some freedom.

Hannah and Bear meet in embarrassing circumstances but become relaxed in each other’s company when he is called out to inspect the collapsed roof and puts together plans to fix it and begin renovating the house. Whereas Mercy Island is a haven for Hannah, for Bear it has kept him feeling trapped. He’s almost free to leave, ready to travel and then move himself forward, escape the chains that have shackled him in a place that’s mostly full of bad memories. Hannah turning up when she doesn’t couldn’t be worse timing – he’s attracted to her immediately but senses the deep scars she has and her fragility. She’s not ready for a relationship and Bear is leaving soon, so they shouldn’t….but their attraction is hard to ignore.

I really enjoyed the progression of Bear and Hannah’s friendship. Bear is a lovely character, he’s very protective (something that he had to learn at a young age). I felt sorry for him, because he’d been stripped of his childhood and innocence pretty young, forced into a role he was too young to have to shoulder. He’d made the most of it, done a spectacular job but there was no doubt that it had left him feeling bitter, cheated of things. He didn’t want to stick around but it took him a while to realise the true reasons he was wanting to leave and whether or not they were really the right ones for him. Hannah has suffered some damage too, she thinks she wants time away from relationships but sometimes the right person comes along when you least expect it!

Pieces Of Me tackles a couple of tough issues, namely domestic violence and neglect and definitely shows how the emotional scars can be long lasting and shape the decisions people make. Both Hannah and Bear definitely have issues tied up in what they’ve faced but they’re also able to rely on each other for support, understanding and strength. It was nice to see them establish such a strong friendship first – although it was underscored by sexual attraction, it wasn’t totally dominated by it and they spend a lot of time getting to know each other as Bear fixes up Hannah’s new house and teaches her to surf as part of her new bucket list. There was a slow burn which played out really well and kept the mix of sweet and sexy just right.

A very enjoyable read.

8/10

Book #184 of 2015

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Pieces Of Me is book #74 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Outback Promise by Maggie Bolitho

Outback PromiseOutback Promise
Maggie Bolitho
Harper Impulse (Harper Collins AUS)
2015, 203p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can Ros and Grady move on from the past, or will their pain drive them apart?

Six years ago, the Balfours lost their son Cadel to a hit-and-run driver. A few months ago, Ros discovered Grady’s affair. With their marriage fast disintegrating, they decide to take a three-month camping trip into the heart of Australia to try and mend deep wounds and rekindle the fire that once fused them close.

This trip will decide the fate of their relationship: do they have enough strength and enough love left to accept what life has put them both through? But trust and forgiveness don’t come easily, and Ros and Grady have to navigate not only the wilderness of the Outback and the challenges of other travellers, but also the chasm of grief and bitterness they have sunk into over the last six years. Their only hope for survival lies in facing the secrets they have both tried to keep buried …

Woah. This one was a rollercoaster of things I did not expect.

I have to admit, I thought this was a fairly innocuous looking rural romance when I saw the cover. I was compiling a list of summer reads to take away with me – things I could laze around by the pool reading but after I downloaded this to my iPad, I read the description and became intrigued. I am not generally a fan of infidelity in books, mostly because I never find the attempts to justify it or explain it at all believable. It always just seems like selfish, jerky behaviour full of lies and self-indulgence. However, this is the first book I’ve read that presented to me a scenario that where not only could I believe it happening but I also thought it might be possible for a couple to move on from it. So that’s something definitely very new for me.

Ros and Grady had an ideal relationship, secure in their connection to each other and only strengthened by the arrival of their son Cadel. At just four years of age, Cadel was killed and Grady seriously injured in a hit and run accident. In the six years since, Ros and Grady have slowly fallen apart, become strangers. Ros discovered Grady’s affair (now over) but has yet to confront him about it. The two of them exist in separate worlds, revolving around each other but rarely coming together other than to have sex. When Grady talks of finally doing his dream trip, camping in the outback, it isn’t Ros’s cup of tea. But she agrees to go anyway, for three months alone with her husband. Maybe they can finally use that time to connect as a couple, to begin to heal and move forward. Or alternatively, maybe it will be the end of them, once and for all.

My youngest son Rory is four years old so I thought I’d find the parts about Cadel difficult but to be honest, they weren’t the hardest parts to read. Ros and Grady are both certainly still grieving and I think the aching isolation of their grief was by far the most difficult part of this story. This is a book that runs the gauntlet of emotions and they are leaping off every page. The narrative is Ros’s, so it’s her pain and anguish we experience for most of the book – Grady is her distant and then cheating husband. It causes the reader to develop an opinion on Grady early on I think, but there are always two sides to every story and it takes a long time for the bottled up emotions to explode. So long it’s actually a bit frustrating, because Ros is sitting on this knowledge of Grady having an affair and their marriage is barely a marriage and yet day after day they are just getting up and going through the motions in a way, almost like they’re strangers, but strangers who are intimate physically, because that seems to be the one area of their marriage that hasn’t suffered.

The thing that struck me most about this book was the reality of it. I had absolutely no trouble placing myself in Ros’s shoes and I could understand how such a devastating, senseless loss could cause a rift in the strongest of relationships. Both Ros and Grady feel guilt, that they didn’t/couldn’t do more to protect Cadel even though what happened wasn’t in any way either of their faults and almost killed Grady as well. The author perfectly captured the slow and steady disintegration of a marriage simply through the two of them just…..drifting. Not talking or connecting in any meaningful ways, just going through the motions each day, living as though in a haze. I was able to see, whilst I don’t condone, what might have driven Grady to latch onto anything that might have been able to make him feel. When Grady’s story comes spilling out, you get to see the other side, to realise that it wasn’t all as Ros has presented. She’s an unreliable narrator simply because she’s too emotionally invested, she’s only articulated what she has experienced and because she and Grady hadn’t ever spoken properly she hasn’t understood what he experienced. I think when you experience a tragedy like this, it’s hard to see and understand another person’s grief. All you can see and feel is your own and you can understand how couples become islands, just drifting in the same sea but never touching. Grady and Ros had no other children to focus and anchor them

I thought this book was fantastic. Amazingly well written and a deep and sensitive exploration of what must be a parent’s greatest tragedy.

9/10

Book #183 of 2015

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Outback Promise is book #73 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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