All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review & **GIVEAWAY**: Between The Vines by Tricia Stringer

Between The VinesBetween The Vines
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2015,
Copy courtesy of the publisher/Morey Media

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

She’s given up everything for love: it could be the biggest mistake of her life…

Taylor Rourke wants to change her impulsive ways when it comes to romance and not fall for any man on a whim, but then on a hen party trip to a Coonawarra vineyard, she meets Edward Starr. Gorgeous and charismatic, Edward is enough to make any girl give up her flat and job in Adelaide and move to the country.

So it’s something of a shock that when she gets there, Edward is nowhere to be seen. Not wanting to admit she may have made a mistake and return home in disgrace, Taylor accepts the job that Edward’s younger brother Pete offers her and throws herself into her work, keen to learn as much as she can about the wine trade.

Taylor is thrilled when Ed returns, but she quickly discovers he may not be the man she thought he was. Her growing friendship with Pete causes tension between the brothers who have fallen out over a woman in the past. That’s not the only source of conflict: Pete has a dream to save the family vines, Edward’s dreams lie elsewhere.

As the lies and deceit grow, matters come to a head in the vibrant and demanding vintage season. Will Taylor’s dream of a new life and love between the vines come true? Or is there only heartbreak ahead?

It’s weird, because I don’t really like or drink wine, even though I’ve tried several times to get into it but I love reading books set in vineyards. I find the process really interesting and this book takes place mostly around a family vineyard and it makes for a really incredible setting.

Taylor is kind of stuck in a rut when on a hens trip with her friends, she meets the handsome and charming Edward Starr. To be a bit honest, I found it a bit of a stretch she would head back down to stay (?) with Edward after really just a couple of dates, although she did have limited options at the time. It felt a tiny bit flimsy but everything that came after that felt much stronger as Taylor found her niche in the vineyard and began to navigate the tricky dynamics between Edward and his brother Pete as well as the other workers.

Edward and Pete have different visions for the vineyard – Pete wants to focus on developing a certain wine, making it into their signature vintage. This will take time though, whereas Edward wants to expand and not put all of their eggs in one basket. The brothers have been at odds since the loss of their parents and they really struggle to see each other’s point of view, rarely even finding the time to sit down and have a proper conversation. They project their views at each other, not to each other and it’s up to Taylor, with her degree in marketing, to make them sit down and work out how they might be able to achieve the things that they both want.

The situation becomes awkward when it becomes clear that Taylor and Edward’s initial attraction isn’t going anywhere and that her attention now seems focused on Pete, the quieter brother. It adds another element to the already simmering sibling rivalry. Add in some potential sabotage and this book is a melting pot of tension. Both Edward and Pete are suspicious of each other and they are both doing things behind the other’s back. Edward is also torn between not really wanting Taylor in the way that he thought he did, but also not wanting her to be with Pete either. Taylor sees what she can do and she does it, despite the fact that there isn’t always as much support for her working there as there could be.

As I mentioned, I really loved the setting! Learning about the winemaking aspect was really interesting. When I went to my first university, it was located on the western outskirts of a capital city and offered a degree in viticulture and winemaking, which two of the people from my floor in the residential hall were doing. It was a small degree and the university grew its own grapes and made its own wine and when they needed to pick grapes, they got the students to rope in a few friends, so one year I got to spend the day grape picking. I wasn’t around for the actual process that came after that, which was a bit of a pity because it did sound really fascinating and I loved a lot of the explanations in this book – they weren’t too involved but they gave you enough of an idea.

I really enjoyed this book, getting to know the characters and the intricate workings of the winery. I kind of hope that Tricia Stringer revisits in the future, maybe gives one of the other characters their own book at some stage. It makes for a great lazy summer read, preferably whilst sipping a nice wine if you’re into that sort of thing! I will keep trying to find the one for me – so far I only really like one wine, a chilled red made by a local family vineyard up near where my parents live. I’m heading that way next week, so I think a visit to there is in order and after reading this, I think I’ll look at it with very different eyes.

8/10

aww-badge-2015

Between The Vines is book #72 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

***GIVEAWAY***

And now for the exciting bit! Thanks to the publisher/Morey Media I have three print copies of Between The Vines to give away! This is open to Australian residents only please. Simply fill in the form below to enter. Entries close Christmas Eve at 9pm AEDST.

**Please note: I will be interstate on holiday between December 16 and January 10. Books will be shipped out on my return**

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Review: No Room For Error by Julie Moffett

No Room For ErrorNo Room For Error (Lexi Carmichael #7)
Julie Moffett
Carina Press
2015, 276p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Trouble follows me, Lexi Carmichael, like a little black cloud. At least according to my boyfriend, Slash: brilliant hacker, national treasure and vault of secrets. Even I have to admit he could be right. 

After a series of high-profile cases at my cyberintelligence firm, I was looking forward to a simple job. All I had to do was personally deliver a revolutionary microchip to a manufacturing plant in Indonesia. Easy, right?

Wrong.

Someone else wants the design and is willing to kill to get it. A failed
hijacking attempt lands me, my best friend Basia and our boss, Finn, in the middle of the jungle. Our mission is clear: protect the microchip design from the hijackers on our tail…and survive. But how can a geek girl like me survive without access to my beloved technology? I’m about to find out. And this time, there’s no room for error. 

This is the 7th book in the Lexi Carmichael series and I’ve been reading from the very beginning. I do enjoy them but I have to say, I feel as though this one and the previous one have really kind of stepped the ‘danger’ element up a gear with Lexi travelling to Africa to rescue one of the Zimmerman twins in the previous book and being in a plane crash in a remote jungle in this book. I enjoyed the African element but I’m not sure I really found a connection with the level of danger that Lexi, Basia and Finn found themselves in during this adventure. In many ways, it felt a bit of a stretch of the imagination to settle in, more of a stretch than I was really capable of. I enjoyed parts of it but other parts….it just didn’t work for me.

The gist is Lexi’s friends the Zimmerman twins have invented some whackadoodle piece of technology I don’t really understand for someone somewhere and it has to be flown personally to some factory somewhere where it can be manufactured. Neither Xavier nor Elvis are well enough to travel with it due to the injuries they sustained in the previous adventure so they ask Lexi to accompany the technology for them on a private plane. Finn goes as well despite the fact that he really hasn’t had an active role in these books for a while now and of course, Basia goes along because of course, she speaks every language they ever seem to need when doing some sort of job. Her character has never resonated with me but never more so than in this book. I feel like so much of the time she’s dropped into the plot to save the day in some way but mostly she just seems incredibly unnecessary.

I really like Lexi and the way she approaches problems. She knows she’s smart and can solve work related things and she also knows that she’s socially awkward and that she needs to ‘conduct research’ generally to find out what is the accepted behaviour or whatever, in certain situations. This can have a charm about it but sometimes it does verge into awkward territory and it does in this book and I think I have to blame Basia for that too actually. I love Slash, he’s really grown on me throughout the books and I love the way that the author has developed his relationship with Lexi. He’s clearly light years ahead of her in many things but he’s also utterly charmed with her too and it’s really obvious to the reader, even when Lexi isn’t picking up on the clues. The two of them have been moving toward more serious territory and mostly it’s a lot of fun to read as Lexi settles into a proper relationship and learns to navigate and express her feelings. However the character of Slash is getting a little close to jumping the shark with all these different things that keep getting revealed about him. Slash’s most interesting feature for me isn’t his mysterious job or his unusual upbringing or his surprising random skills but the way in which he relates to Lexi and the way in which he simply accepts her. Even when she does crazy things out of (seemingly) no where. I was in two minds about the lengths he went to in order to attempt to keep her safe in this story – was it caring and probably well thought out or was it a bit creepy? I suspect on anyone else, it might’ve been a bit creepy. But Lexi is Lexi and people keep attempting to kill her so really it was probably just clever thinking and attempting to take all possible precautions!

This one isn’t my favourite of the series, but I still liked it. I look forward to each new installment and I’m really enjoying Lexi’s character progression. Thankfully she is evolving and changing because there’s nothing worse than reading books in a series where nothing ever changes. Lexi is always learning and moving forward and trying to navigate new situations both personally and professionally and I do really appreciate that.

6/10

Book #143 of 2015

 

 

 

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Review: Give It Up by Lori Foster

Give It UpGive It Up
Lori Foster
Zebra (Kensington Books
2015, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Some Like It Hot
Family practitioner Cary Rupert wants Nora Chilton so badly he can barely keep a hold of his stethoscope. Now he’s out to prove that when it comes to loving her forever, he’s just what the doctor ordered…

Playing Doctor
Dr. Axel Dean likes his women with sensual moxie, not virginal innocence. But when Libby Preston won’t take no for an answer, Axel is more than willing to administer the cure…

He Sees You When You’re Sleeping
What Booker Dean wants for Christmas isn’t under the tree, it’s right next door. Frances Kennedy is everything Booker desires…and the gift he has planned for her involves a lot of delicious unwrapping…

Give It Up is a bind-up of three novellas revolving around three males – two, Axel and Booker are brothers. The third Cary is friends with both and like Axel, a doctor although he’s a GP whereas Axel is an OB-GYN.

The first story was probably the best in terms of establishing a connection between the two characters. Booker, despite having a girlfriend (who bizarrely hits on his brother and he is okay with it because it saves him having to dump her. Hmm) is in love with his neighbour Frannie and desperate to be with her. I liked the two of them together in their interactions but I think it would’ve been a bit more fun if we’d had a bit more of pining Booker, something to really establish why they cared about each other. It’s pretty hard to really get into them as a couple when you know so little about them.

The second story revolves around Cary and his infatuation with Nora Chilton, who works at the office of his friend Axel. Cary has been attempting to get Nora to go out with him for a long time but she always refuses him. A chance overhearing of a conversation between Nora and another employee finally gives Cary the reason why – and the ammunition he needs to be able to take things to that next level. This one was the one I wanted to read the most and it was just okay to be honest. The biggest problem with it (and the rest of them too) is that they’re just so short which really doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for showing. Instead we have lots of telling and a lot of instalove. The author attempts to navigate this in two of the stories by having the characters already in love with each other before the stories begin but to be honest, because as a reader you don’t get to experience it, it falls a bit flat. I thought Nora’s reasoning for avoiding Cary at least made sense but once Cary seemed to know her reason, it was like her protests had never existed and everything just fell into place like magic in about three minutes.

The third story was a bit of a mess, to be honest. I think with time to actually develop, had it of been a full length romance novel, it could’ve been a decent story. There was definitely some good conflict – Axel is significantly older than Libby and I always like to see those stories done well, rather than just a catalyst for having a relationship fail. He’s a self-confessed manwhore and Libby was a virgin which has been super overdone but Libby had motivations that had probably seen her put any romance etc on the backburner. Those reasons also gave her strength of character and determination and I think she was probably by far the most interesting female character included here. However because they met at the beginning of this story, it felt even faster than the rest of them and my head was spinning at the speed of which Axel went from basically boning anything that moved and being gone in the morning, to forsaking all others for a girl he hadn’t even physically been with yet. It needed more time.

This was a super quick read and if you were after stories you can read in an hour or so that aren’t too deep, they’re probably perfect. If you like more depth and character development then you’re likely to find these quite wanting.

6/10

Book #175 of 2015

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Review: Cherry Season by Trish Morey

Cherry SeasonCherry Season
Trish Morey
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Dan Faraday is too busy for love. With the long hours running the family orchard, he doesn’t have time to date. If he did, he would be looking for someone that fits into his ten year plan. Someone traditional, reliable and dependable – someone like him.

Someone the opposite of beautiful drifter Lucy Mariano. A free spirit who chases the moment rather than a paycheque, she’s only in town for the cherry picking season. While she’s tempted to see how cute Dan could be if only he smiled, she’s not going to stick around to wait and see.

But the cherry trees aren’t the only things blossoming, and Lucy and Dan are increasingly drawn to one another. In spite of their differences, each begins to wonder if maybe they have a future after all.

With the weight of Dan’s family’s legacy on his shoulders and Lucy afraid to lose the freedom and adventure of the open road, can Dan give Lucy a reason to put down roots before the seasons change?

Recently I picked up one of Trish Morey’s earlier novel, Stone Castles as a free read on iBooks when I was browsing. I’ve never read any of her books before but I knew I had this one in my TBR and so I thought I’d add Stone Castles just in case I loved this one. That turned out to be a good decision because I really enjoyed this book and now I can’t wait to read more Trish Morey!

Lucy is a drifter, always has been. Her mother never stayed long in one place and Lucy has followed in her footsteps, winging her away around the world on little more than a feeling. She leaves behind the room she’s been renting in Melbourne, intending to head to Sydney only things don’t turn out quite that way. Instead she finds herself on a truck to Adelaide belting out country songs. She is told she should head up into the hills rather than to the beach – it’s picking season and there’s bound to be some work.

Dan is everything Lucy is not. Where Lucy lives her life wild and free with never a plan, Dan lives his life by the schedule of the fruit seasons. Cherries, apples, pears, raspberries. It’s a full time job and the orchard has been in his family for generations. At 37, Dan’s three sisters and his grandparents would love to see him settled and happy, maybe well on the way to bringing about the next generation to take over. Dan doesn’t disagree that he needs a wife and he thinks he knows exactly what he needs. Someone smart, grounded, someone who will stick around because being an orchardist is a lifetime job. The last thing he needs is a drifter with a tattoo and a nose ring….even if she is beautiful.

Dan and Lucy are so fun. I really do love a good opposites attract story and this is definitely one of those. Lucy certainly doesn’t live life tied down, she’s originally American but she’s lived in many places and has never felt the urge to be tied down before. She’s picked fruit before but not cherries and the chemistry between her and Dan is obvious from the get-go. They’re very different but I think essentially they want the same thing. Lucy might enjoy her life traveling but it doesn’t take long for the orchard -and Dan- to get under her skin. The two of them bicker and Dan probably fires her about three times but Lucy seems made for the orchardist life. And Dan.

Dan was a bit frustrating at times – some of his views are decidedly 1950s, especially about tattoos and piercings and at one stage in the book he’s pretty savage to Lucy. It’s borne out of fear and loss but what he says is very cruel and Lucy isn’t much better. Dan was pretty close-minded, still equating tattoos and piercings with irresponsibility and rebelliousness even though a vast majority have either or both these days, from all walks of life. Both Dan and Lucy want the same thing from each other but both of them are too afraid to put themselves out there and ask for it – Dan because he assumes Lucy will always move on and Lucy because she feels that Dan doesn’t have a permanent place for her in his life because she doesn’t fit his ‘ideal’ wife. Dan is extremely uptight in the beginning of the book but Lucy manages to bring out the best in him, including a sense of humour.

There are a few orchards not too far from us and we’ve been fruit picking a couple times before as they’re open to the public at certain times. Their cherry season just started as I was reading this book and they were posting for people to come and pick some. There’s nothing better than being able to pick your own fruit – it always tastes so much better and having been to a few orchards, I was sort of able to picture what it might’ve been like. I really enjoyed the setting – it’s the first book I’ve read set around orchards. I’ve read plenty around vineyards but not fruit trees. And the best thing is, this book is the first in a four book ‘series’ of sorts where Dan’s three sisters will also get a story. Having met them all in this book, I can only imagine how fun they’re going to be in their own starring roles!

This is a perfect summer story and I can’t wait to get to Stone Castles now.

8/10

Book #179 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Cherry Season is book #71 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review/Random Thoughts On: The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody

Red QueenThe Red Queen (The Obernewtyn Chronicles #7)
Isobelle Carmody
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 1108p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After years spent struggling to balance her desires with her responsibilities, Elspeth Gordie has fully embraced her role as the Seeker. Battle-scarred and lovelorn, haunted by memories of her beloved Rushton, Elspeth is not prepared for what she finds at the end of the black road she travels: the Compound, a lost community with a startling secret. As Elspeth strives against her captors, she learns that Rushton and her friends have fallen into the hands of the deadly slavemasters that rule the Red Land. And worst of all, as Elspeth stumbles, the Destroyer creeps ever closer to his goal: awakening the cataclysmically destructive weaponmachines that Elspeth has been charged with stopping. Has all her sacrifice been in vain?

Full of romance, action, and suspense, The Red Queen is a worthy finale to such a breathtakingly elaborate series.

Please note: This review probably contains a ginormous amount of ***SPOILERS*** for the previous books in The Obernewtyn Chronicles and assumes a pretty deep familiarity with the overall plot. This is also not really a *review* so much as a brain dump upon finishing this series. 

So it is here, it is here, it is finally here. As I’ve mentioned several thousand times, one of my few reading friends recommended this book to me when I was 14 and in year 9 in high school, waaaay way back in 1996. This girl and I had met in primary school and when I moved away, we communicated by writing letters where we talked about books we were reading, high school dramas and whatever else we had going on. At that time, the first three books were published and I never dreamed I’d be waiting 19 years for the conclusion. I think at that stage, there were only meant to be four or five books! That turned into 7, several of which are massive 1000+ page behemoths.

It was released on a Thursday and I trekked to my local shopping centre to track a copy down. I didn’t have much hope – we have one local bookstore that to be honest, is a bit random with what it carries. Lots of “bargain” stuff, a good selection of older fiction but “new releases” can be up to a month or two old. I asked but they told me although it was on order, it hadn’t been sent from their supplier yet and would be at least a week. Did I want to order a copy? No thank you, I was determined to get it before that. There are 3 department stores in the shopping centre so I tried those too although with even less confidence. Then I took to twitter to see who could get back to me the quickest about definitely having it in stock. The winners were the fab people at Dymocks Geelong who put a copy away for me. We’re off to Geelong, I told my husband, who pulled a face at the prospect of this 90min round trip. Luckily he’s a reader too so although he wasn’t entirely thrilled, he got it.

When I had it, I was surprised by my reluctance to actually start it. When you have been waiting for something for so long, it builds up to incredible heights in your mind. I wanted so many things from this book, what if it didn’t give me all of them? Or actually, any of them? What had I been spending the last 20 years waiting for? I was also going away over the weekend and not planning on taking it so on Friday, I settled on the couch with the intention of getting through as much of it as possible.

This book encompasses misfit Elspeth Geordie’s final mission to destroy the weaponmachines and also return the Queen of the Red Land to her people. It’s a long and quite winding story during which we learn a lot about the Beforetime and even more about Cassy and Hannah Seraphim and Jacob Obernewtyn. For someone who loves post-apocalyptic stories as I do, the section on Habitat (which is, no denying, extremely length, it was far longer than I expected it to be) was extremely interesting. I thought it was a very thorough study on what might happen to an isolated society as it evolved over a long period of time. In some ways, it would’ve made an excellent book all on its own but in terms of being shoehorned into this one, it served a purpose in many ways and in others, provided a bit of distraction.

The whole series has been moving towards Elspeth’s final showdown with the Destroyer and much has been made of who the Destroyer is and how Elspeth was going to defeat them. I have to admit, I’ve had lots of theories about the Destroyer over the years but never once did I touch upon who it actually turned out to be. Perhaps because I dismissed that character from my mind almost 20 years ago but since reading The Red Queen I went back and re-read quite a bit of the book that introduces the character who turns out to the Destroyer and it’s actually quite well planned and clever in the way that it plays out through orchestrated manipulation. There’s no denying though that even though I thought that part was well planned I’m not overly sure it was as well executed as it could’ve been. It seemed almost rushed compared to the rest of the book where Elspeth took forever to escape Habitat and forever to get to the Red Land and forever to get to the showdown. I expected that to last much longer, to be a bigger portion of the book considering it was one of the end games, so it was a little surprising that it took the time that it did. It was full of interesting revelations and I wish I’d almost had more time to let them sink in, to stop and examine them instead of rushing.

I can’t talk about this series without talking about Elspeth and Rushton and how I’ve longed for them to finally be happy! The poor things, they’ve had quite the courtship – first poor Rushton had to deal with thinking Elspeth was dead (probably more than once), then she ran away from him every time he tried to talk to her and he thought she disdained him because he can’t access his powers or really use them in any useful way. By the time Elspeth figured she was ready, she thought Rushton had moved on, then he was kidnapped and tortured by Ariel and programmed to kill her. Then when they finally do get a chance to connect properly and physically, he asks her to bond with him officially and she has to leave on her final journey, the one that he knows nothing about because she’s forbidden to tell anyone. I re-read all their interactions as well since finishing this book and they take up a startlingly small amount of page space. In this one they don’t even cross paths until almost the end of the story and it makes me wonder how something has had such a major impact on me. But it has! Somehow Isobelle Carmody can say something in a couple of pages that has the impact of a thousand pages. The two of them are one of my favourite couples in literature and they needed  to be together.

I knew with a book like this, the ending was never going to be neat and tidy. There would be sadness, there would be some regret and some confusion. There are things that are tied up well and you can get a glimpse of how things will be in the future but there are a lot of things I wish I knew, that I wish I had more clarification on. Nevertheless, the ending satisfied me overall, even though I had questions. In finishing such an epic saga there will always be questions I think and those little things that you wonder about. I know one thing – I finished this book and immediately wanted to start it from the beginning again. To read it slower and more thoughtfully because I know I raced through it looking for the end and the answers to the questions I had before starting it. I want to be able to read the whole series as one, to put together all the little hidden clues and keys, the information at hand at one time instead of trying to remember or searching for it. A lot may complain about how long this book took coming but there’s no denying that it’s been an epic journey, one of the more richly detailed stories I’ve ever read. You only begin to realise how much detail there is late in the piece – it seems really quite simple when you first start out. Each volume gets a little more complex, a little more deep until the big picture is quite ginormous.

It’s been a fun ride. It’s taken up a large portion of my life, reading these books and awaiting the next installment and it honestly feels quite weird that it’s over now. I see that there is more than one door left open for Isobelle Carmody to revisit this world in the future, be it the Beforetime, the time of these stories or even the future, should she so choose and I’d be happy to pick up anything relating to this world. I’ve never gotten around to reading her other series, I believe fans of that one have been waiting almost as long as fans of Obernewtyn for its conclusion. Perhaps when it’s done, I will dive into it. There’s no denying that this is my biggest literary commitment – I doubt I will ever wait 20 years in the future to ever finish another series. It’s been many things – frustrating, heartbreaking but above all, pretty damn wonderful. It will always remain one of my favourite ever series of books and I think it says a lot that it’s held my interest for so long, from the time I was a teenager to being a woman in her thirties. I’m glad I got to experience it, the highs and lows.

9/10

Book #171 of 2015

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The Red Queen is book #69 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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Review: Spirits Of The Ghan by Judy Nunn

Spirits Of The GhanSpirits Of The Ghan
Judy Nunn
Random House AUS
2015, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Gooreads.com}:

It is 2001 and as the world charges into the new Millennium, a century-old dream is about to be realised in the Red Centre of Australia: the completion of the mighty Ghan railway, a long-lived vision to create the ‘backbone of the continent’, a line that will finally link Adelaide with the Top End.

But construction of the final leg between Alice Springs and Darwin will not be without its complications, for much of the desert it will cross is Aboriginal land.

Hired as a negotiator, Jessica Manning must walk a delicate line to reassure the Elders their sacred sites will be protected. Will her innate understanding of the spiritual landscape, rooted in her own Arunta heritage, win their trust? It’s not easy to keep the peace when Matthew Witherton and his survey team are quite literally blasting a rail corridor through the timeless land of the Never-Never.

When the paths of Jessica and Matthew finally cross, their respective cultures collide to reveal a mystery that demands attention. As they struggle against time to solve the puzzle, an ancient wrong is awakened and calls hauntingly across the vastness of the outback . . .

About four years ago I attended an author event with Judy Nunn at my local library. She’s a passionate and engaging speaker and I bought four of her books that day and acquired another 4 not long after. When I read that her latest book was going to be about the Ghan railway which finally connected Adelaide and Darwin by rail in 2004 I knew that I had to read it. I would love to travel on the Ghan – it takes 54 hours to go from Adelaide to Darwin and I can only imagine how different most of scenery when travelling through the middle must be to everything I’ve ever experienced. Like the east to west train the Indian-Pacific, travel on the Ghan is pretty pricey – enough to put it out of my price range. The cheapest option Adelaide – Darwin is about $2000 and considering I can fly to Darwin for probably less than $200 on a good day, the Ghan is clearly not about getting from A to B. It’s about the experience so onto the bucket list it goes, for hopefully one day when I can do it properly.

The extension of the railway from Alice Springs in the middle of Australia to Darwin in the north would’ve been a delicate operation probably not faced by the construction of the Adelaide to Alice section due to the negotiations that took place with Aboriginal elders. The tracks crossed through land given back to the indigenous people and there had to be numerous discussions about places of spiritual importance. The role of Jessica in the book is such a negotiator, a liason between the local people and the engineers and surveyor teams.

I found Jessica a fascinating character – a half Aboriginal, half Irish girl raised in Sydney’s inner west in the late 70s and 80s but also taught her mother’s mother tongue of Arunta. Described by her father as an ‘exotic mix’ Jess lost her mother at a young age but her father continued to foster her appreciation and connection to her heritage, taking her to find her mother’s relatives when she finished school. She’d already made the decision to study her culture at university and becoming more connected to it was just confirmation that she was doing the right thing. I really enjoyed learning a little bit about some of the culture of the local indigenous groups, such as the way in which courtesies were observed during meetings as well as some of the things they found important and sacred.

Woven in is the tale of an event that happened in the late 1800’s and the way in which it comes to impact on the modern day story was really interesting. At first I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my sort of thing, because I tend towards practicality rather than spirituality but the way in which it unfolded just became so intriguing that I ended up getting right into it. I appreciated the different elements that Nunn incorporated into this part of the story, such as the Afghan cameleers who are such a big part of the history of central Australia.

Spirits of the Ghan is written with sensitivity and respect to Aboriginal beliefs and culture. The setting is vividly described  – despite having never visited the centre I found it easy to picture the construction of the Ghan as well as what some of the sacred sites described might look like. I liked Jess and Matt’s interactions, although it does take a while for their parts of the book to come together.

Now I really need to get to the rest of my Judy Nunn books, which are still sitting patiently on my TBR shelf. It’s so hard to find time to read old books when new ones keep showing up! But with every book of hers I read, I realise how well she can construct a story and I definitely need to get to the others. Going to make it a reading resolution for 2016 to read a couple from her backlist!

8/10

Book #169 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Spirits of the Ghan  is book #67 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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Review: If I Kissed You by Louise Reynolds

If I Kissed YouIf I Kissed You
Louise Reynolds
Penguin Books AUS
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Raised by a pair of hopeless hippies, Nell Connor had to grow up quickly. But now her father, awash in whisky, has handed her the reins of his Irish pub. After obliterating every trace of Ireland, Nell has transformed it into a smart, and trendy bar. Business is booming but, outside of work, things aren’t going so smoothly.

When gorgeous musician Declan Gaffney arrives, it’s clear he’s definitely not Nell’s type. He’s Irish (therefore must be feckless and unreliable), he sings romantic Irish ballads (which Nell hates) and his nomadic lifestyle reminds her of some of the most painful parts of her childhood.

After Declan helps Nell out of a tricky situation, her father takes a shine to him and starts matchmaking. And when her aura-reading mother turns up, Nell’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos. She’s losing control but the biggest shock of all is yet to come …

In a story that shines a light on the unusual forms family can take, Nell must accept that sometimes love takes you in unexpected directions.

Romance is always my “go-to” when I’m not sure what I want to read so I requested this from NetGalley thinking it would be perfect for my mood – and it was! It’s set in Melbourne, where I live in a suburb I’m pretty familiar with and enjoy going to.

Nell has been handed the keys to her father’s old pub but she’s made sure that she’s changed it completely. No longer a place for drunken fights and old blokes propping up the bar all day, it’s now a smart pub with a good chef and entertaining live music. She’s proud of what she’s achieved and how she’s managed to move on from the days when the police were regular visitors. Nell’s dream does wobble a little when Declan Gaffney turns up instead of the musician she had booked. Declan is Irish – fiddle, blarney, lilting words Irish and Nell doesn’t want any of that. He’s also incredibly good looking and as she finds out, can handle himself in a scrap when a couple of drunk businessmen cause trouble.

But more than anything, Nell craves security and stability. Her father is a slave to the drink, always misty-eyed and dreaming of Ireland despite the fact he wasn’t actually born there. He wallows in the culture of Ireland, reading Irish literature, drinking Irish whiskey and waxing lyrical about the music and how it brings a tear to the eye. Nell’s mother is a ‘free-spirit’ who flits in and out changing her name with each new fad that she embraces. Nell’s childhood was disrupted and erratic and now that she’s an adult she seeks to distance herself from all of it. She has a respectable, classy establishment and a respectable and hard working boyfriend. Okay, so they don’t see each other that often but they both work hard and have goals.

Declan threatens Nell’s ideals. He’s Irish, which she wants to avoid like the plague and Declan hasn’t told her exactly what sort of Irish he is which is even worse. Declan has never really put down roots, something that frightens Nell enormously, having been dragged around by her mother who doesn’t believe in roots either. I liked the way Declan challenged Nell to step outside of her comfort zone and the safe life she had built for herself. I understand her need to have that security but it was clear that it was also at the expense of anything wild and fun as well. Declan encourages Nell to live a little, to embrace her fun side. Not everything is about work and building the future, sometimes it’s just about the now and the having a good time…and that sort of stuff can lead to more. I felt for Nell, her mother is truly a despicable sort of person, utterly self absorbed and uncaring of the impact that selfishness had on Nell as a child and still was having as an adult. Nell’s father had his flaws too and the Irish stuff was laid on a bit thick but I think that at least he cared for Nell’s wellbeing and happiness and he wanted good things for her. He also knew that mistakes had been made in her upbringing and was willing to shoulder the responsibility for some of those. He was a bit of a wily old bloke and the scene where he ‘falls’ and needs specific sort of help, setting poor Nell up, is very funny.

Not only is this a super enjoyable read but I learned quite a bit too about the Irish travelers. It was great to read about them, don’t come across them too often in contemporary fiction and it made for an interesting point of potential conflict between Declan and Nell.

8/10

Book #166 of 2015

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If I Kissed You is book #65 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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Review: Rain Music by Di Morrissey

Rain MusicRain Music
Di Morrissey
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Di writes about the Australia she knows, she loves, she’s explored.

Rain Music is inspired by her adventures in far north Queensland – its characters, its forgotten history, its modern dilemmas.

A brother and sister, Ned and Bella Chisholm, are struggling with a family tragedy that has set them on opposite paths. After Ned takes off to pursue his musical dreams in far north Queensland, he disappears. When Bella goes in search of her brother, she ends up in remote Cooktown and both their lives are dramatically changed in the isolated, little-known far north of Australia.

One story through two sets of eyes.

Although I read a lot of Australian authors (and specifically, a lot of Australian female authors) I’ve had a bit of a goal to attempt to broaden the locations of books I’m reading. There are always plenty of books set in Melbourne or Sydney but I’m always looking for ones set in places I’ve never been. Di Morrissey’s books are pretty much always good for that. She chooses many and varied local settings and her latest book, Rain Music is no exception, set in the lush tropical north part of Queensland around Cooktown. For the uninitiated, Cooktown is about 2000kms north of Brisbane.

Bella Chisholm lives in Melbourne and her deceased father is about to receive a great honour. She desperately wants her brother Ned, a drifter musician to return to Melbourne for the event but Ned is proving extremely elusive to track down via phone. Bella decides to take some annual leave and travel north to find Ned, unaware that the journey she takes will also help her find herself.

Bella and Ned provide alternating points of view in this story, each with their own very distinctive voice and personality. They were once close siblings but time and distance has stretched their relationship. Both of them are quite different – Bella has always done what was expected of her, she has a steady job and lives not too far from their widowed mother in Victoria. Ned on the other hand shrugged off their surgeon father’s expectations and threw his life into music. Although he’s produced one CD, he now spends most of his time travelling around playing gigs in pubs and the like, although recently he’s been motivated to really write something with meaning. He plans to use his time spent in the remote north to accomplish this and has little interest in returning to Victoria for the ceremony honouring his father.

The furthest north I’ve ever been is the Sunshine Coast, which although feels quite far given I now live in Victoria all the way at the bottom of the country, still leaves a lot of unexplored country. I really enjoyed reading about Cooktown and some of the surrounding areas as well as some of the places Bella visits as she makes her way north in her attempt to find Ned. There’s quite a lot about the history of the area dating right back to the days it was mostly plantations and a way for the masses rushing in for the goldfields. Woven into the modern day story is a historical one which unfolds through a series of letters that Ned encounters at a local museum as well as a story told to Bella by a local. When Ned and Bella eventually meet up they begin to put the pieces they have together to come as close as they can to the whole.

Having a brother myself and living some distance away from him (about 1200kms) I found myself relating quite well to the sibling relationship between Ned and Bella. I at times, understood Bella’s frustration at Ned’s disappearing and his lack of keeping in touch but at the same time, I also understood Ned’s need for freedom and the strong conviction he had to follow his own path and do what he wanted to do. It becomes quite obvious quite soon on that Ned has a specific reason for not wanting to attend the ceremony and it’s something he wishes to shield Bella from, should she allow him. Bella however is quite the terrier, demanding and picking and needling Ned until he confesses to her, knowing that what he tells her will change her perceptions and feelings on many things. From that however, the two of them do reach a new place, no secrets and a better understanding of the choices they have each made. I also really liked Bella’s journey of her own self-discovery, allowing her to finally make decisions about her own future.

Rain Music was a very engaging story that did a wonderful job of showcasing its setting. I enjoyed it a lot.

8/10

Book #167 of 2015

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Rain Music is book #66 of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2015

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Review: Summer And The Groomsman by Cathryn Hein

Summer And The GroomsmanSummer And The Groomsman
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {courtesy the author/Goodreads.com}

It’s Levenham’s wedding of the year but unlucky-in-love Harry Argyle has more on his mind than being groomsman.

After yet again nearly colliding with an escaped horse while driving home to the family farm, Harry Argyle comes face-to-face with its pretty owner, and doesn’t hold back his disapproval.

Confronted by a bad-tempered giant on a dark country road, beautician and new arrival in town Summer Taylor doesn’t know who to be more afraid for: herself or her darling horse Binky. It’s not her fault Binky keeps escaping. The alcoholic owner of the paddock she rents won’t fix the fence and Binky can be sneaky when it comes to filling his stomach. But no matter how big and muscled the bully, she refuses to be intimidated.

When Harry’s wedding party book a session at the day spa where Summer works, both she and Harry are horrified to be paired together. Grudgingly, they agree to make the most of it – only for the session to spiral into disaster. Realising he’s made a dill of himself in front of sweet Summer yet again, Harry vows to set things right.

Summer isn’t about to easily forgive the man who called her horse stupid, no matter how brave and kind, but with everyone on Harry’s side, even fate, resistance is hard. Can these two find love or will Summer’s wayward horse put his hoof in it again?

Aussie rural romance author Cathryn Hein steps into the self-publishing arena with this sweet little romantic novella set in a world with some familiar faces for regular readers of her books.

The characters in this novel are so fun and it was awesome watching them evolve, even though the story is quite brief. Harry Argyle is less than impressed when he finds a horse on the road late at night and he doesn’t waste much time letting the horse’s pretty owner have it. Despite this early introduction into Harry’s temper, he’s really quite a softie and almost immediately regrets his outburst and wants to make it up to Summer, the horse’s owner. Before he can however, he finds himself at Summer’s mercy when the men of the wedding party Harry is participating in are booked in at the local spa and Summer is one of the beauticians.

Even though I kind of suspected what might happen to poor Harry in this scene but it was still so hilarious to read and it played out really well. The scene is kept light and funny with just a touch of the humiliation for poor Harry but it also helps them find new ground and begin to move forward from their previous encounter on the road at night. What follows is a very sweet, awkward and realistic courtship in a way. That’s quite an old-fashioned word to use for a contemporary romance but it fits. Harry is lovely, definitely a typical Hein hero, very much a country boy with a very gentle nature who gets embarrassed quite easily!

Summer Taylor is new in town and just wants a safe option for her beloved horse when she’s at work. I thought the story of the man who owned the property Summer agisted her horse on was very well woven into the story and he became a character you really came to care for the more you read about him. Summer had her reasons for wanting to look after him, perhaps going that extra mile when a lot of the other locals had dropped off, however some come to rally around to help when he really needs it and it became an integral part of the story that helped bring Summer and Harry closer together as well as showcase more of the small community.

I really enjoyed this cute and fun little romance with a very professional polish. Summer and Harry are amazingly sweet and very easy to relate to and it was nice to see those few familiar faces and get to be a part of something special with characters from a previous story.

8/10

Book #156 of 2015

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Summer And The Groomsman is book #64 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Harlot by Victoria Dahl

HarlotHarlot
Victoria Dahl
Self-published
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy of the author/Goodreads.com}:

He came home to marry an angel…
After working in the gold fields of California for two years, Caleb Hightower has come home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Jessica Willoughby. But when he returns, Caleb learns his refined bride-to-be is now a whore. Enraged by her betrayal, he can’t reconcile this shameless woman with the sweet innocent he once deeply loved—but Caleb knows what to do with a harlot. He’s determined to get everything from her that she’s sold to other men. And he’s prepared to pay for the pleasure of his revenge.

But all he found was sin.
Left penniless after her father’s death, Jess made a deal with a devil. Now she must face her first love, whose scorn is no match for her regret. To make amends, she’ll let Caleb quench his rage with her body. Their bargain strips them down to searing passion and naked vulnerability, and Jess can still glimpse her loving Caleb buried deep inside this rough cowboy. In the end, an unbearable truth emerges that could push them toward forgiveness…or could destroy their fragile bond forever.

I quite enjoy Victoria Dahl’s contemporary romance novels so when I saw this I was intrigued. The title is quite attention-grabbing and a switch in genres to erotic Western also piqued my interest.

Caleb and Jessica had a teenage understanding, despite their different upbringings. She was the daughter of an educated doctor, refined and elegant whereas he had worked the land from the time he was a boy. Despite Jessica’s protestations, he leaves her to seek his fortune working the goldfields in California so that he might be able to keep her in the lifestyle to which she has been accustomed. At first Jessica wrote to him and when the letters ceased, he decided that he’d better get back and find out just what is going on with his girl. It takes him a while, but there’s whispers that his beloved Jessica is now a whore, working at a house on the outskirts of town where a man had better have good coin to afford it.

Caleb is understandably horrified that his love has taken up this new role – but that doesn’t stop him wanting to buy what the marriage bed would’ve given him for free. He wants to punish Jessica, degrade her in every way possible but as he doesn’t understand the circumstances behind Jessica’s choice (and doesn’t really stop to ask at first) all he manages to do is show them both that their feelings for each other are still strong and even as he’s trying to hate her, he’s still loving her.

This isn’t a very long story and because of that, it was difficult to really develop the conflict. Everything moves at quite a rapid pace and instead of the reader being given a really fleshed out background with Jessica and Caleb, all we get are a few vague memories. I quite liked Jessica and I think she was portrayed as a strong character who knew she had little in the way of options and after her father died and did what she could to stay with her head above water. However I definitely think she could’ve been explored in more depth – her best scenes come at the end of the story when she’s questioning Caleb on his choices and prejudices and it’s there where her strength really shows. For most of the rest of the book she’s definitely more submissive to him, perhaps this is driven by guilt, that she’s made this choice based on information she was given. I think that a lot of Jessica’s story was glossed over, especially the impact on her on what it must’ve been like after she lost her father, her changed circumstances and the way in which she was treated.

Caleb was less likable but as a reader, you have to try put yourself within the context of the story and the ‘wild West’ as such is a very different time to what we know with incredibly different attitudes and roles for men and women. It takes him a while to see how few Jessica’s options truly were and how hypocritical his own behaviour is, even when called out on it by Jessica. To his credit though, he does eventually see although I’m not overly sure how realistic that is for the time and setting. When he finds out the true extent of what has happened to Jessica to force this decision upon her, he also doesn’t indulge in victim blaming and he knows exactly who is that has brought about these events. Quite a lot of angst could probably have been avoided if Jessica had been honest with Caleb from the very beginning about her circumstances, instead of keeping quiet on it and leaving Caleb to discover the truth himself. But in order for Caleb to buy Jessica’s services, he had to believe the stories being put around about her.

I thought this was certainly an interesting take on an erotic romance and I enjoyed it for its differences from the sort of romances and erotic stories I’d been reading. I think the opportunity was there to go a bit deeper though and flesh out both the main characters a little more.

7/10

Book #165 of 2015

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