All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Sam Junior’s Day by Adam Crettenden

Sam Junior’s Day
Adam Crettenden
Self-published
2017, 25p
Copy courtesy of the author

Inspired by a true story, ‘Sam Junior’s Day’ shows a typical day in the life of the ultimate routine dog.

Sam’s busy and energetic day is fun, exciting and rewarding. He is a much-loved family member who is determined to please all who meet him.

Guaranteed to make you smile.

This is a bit of a first to me – I haven’t ever reviewed a children’s book before. Plenty of YA and even the odd MG title but not a children’s book. My kids are 8 and 5 and reading is something that I’m super vigilant about. Each of them are required to read each night for school – about 20 minutes for the oldest and maybe 10 for the youngest. My oldest child has gone far beyond the levels of readers that the school sends home and is now allowed to choose his own books. Mine and his teacher’s thoughts are that we don’t really mind what he’s reading, so long as it engages him and he is reading. He has an iPad and an app on it that enables him to read eBooks and he’s also figured out that when we go to the shops, he can ask for a book and his father and I will never say no. The purchasing of books is much encouraged in this house!

My youngest, Rory started school this year and has taken to reading with gusto. He loves it. He’s reward-oriented and I think he finds it very satisfying to learn new words and accomplish something by reading. He loves bringing home readers and library books and we’ve started visiting our local community library as well and he’s become very into the whole process.

When I received this book, I immediately knew that I would read it with Rory – it’s perfect for him. The sentences are short and simple but with just enough words he didn’t already know to make him feel challenged. He needs that fine line of being able to construct the sentences himself but also learning and exploring new words.

In short, this book is about a border collie named Sam Junior who does the same things every day at pretty much the same time. He’s a little dog of routine and I think it’s something that kids can easily relate to because they tend to do a lot of things at the same time each day as well – get up, eat breakfast, get dressed for school, brush teeth, hop in the car etc. We were able to go through all of the things that Sam Junior does in his day and apply them to our day and in some cases, to the day of our cat Loki. We don’t have a dog anymore (up until the past year we had 2 stunningly tempered greyhounds) but I think a lot of animals are, to some extent, creatures of habit. Many thrive on routine and expect the same things at each time of the day. To be honest, Rory is a creature of habit himself and this book is kind of relateable for kids in many ways, even if they don’t have a dog or any sort of pet. He was able to connect the different things he does at certain times of the day with what Sam was probably doing at the same time.

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book and Rory did too! We each have our favourites – mine is the one where Sam chases bunnies, Rory’s is the one where he receives his late night snack. The colours are bold and eye catching and border collies are beautiful dogs. But the illustrator has also captured a mischievous, people-pleasing personality too which is easy to see.

It’d be remiss of me to review a picture book without including a few thoughts from someone who fits the target audience, so I asked Rory after we’d read through it a couple times over the past few weeks, what he thought and this was what he had to say:

“I like Sam because he does funny things. My favourite part is when he gets his bone and when he says he might eat the horse’s food. I also like when he goes in the car because he sits in the front seat like a person.”

Thumbs up from both of us!

8/10

Book #41 of 2017

Check out my Author Q&A with Adam Crettenden here

Buy Sam Junior’s Day on Kindle & iBooks

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Mini Reviews: Truly & Madly by Ruthie Knox

Truly (New York #1)
Ruthie Knox
Loveswept
2014, eBook
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

May Fredericks hates New York. Which is fair enough, since New York seems to hate her back. After relocating to Manhattan from the Midwest to be with her long-distance boyfriend, NFL quarterback Thor Einarsson, May receives the world’s worst marriage proposal, stabs the jerk with a shrimp fork, and storms off alone—only to get mugged. Now she’s got no phone, no cash, and no friends. How’s a nice girl supposed to get back to safe, sensible Wisconsin?

Frankly, Ben Hausman couldn’t care less. Sure, it’s not every day he meets a genuine, down-to-earth woman like May—especially in a dive in the Village—but he’s recovering from an ugly divorce that cost him his restaurant. He wants to be left alone to start over and become a better man. Then again, playing the white knight to May’s sexy damsel in distress would be an excellent place to start—if only he can give her one very good reason to love New York.

So it seems that lately, a lot of the books in my TBR pile have been a bit depressing. Cancer, death, etc. When this happens I tend to go on a romance binge, both contemporary and historical, almost to balance it out. I came across the second book in this series and it sounded awesome but figured I might as well get the first one too. So, so glad I did!

May moved to New York when her NFL-playing boyfriend went from the Packers to the Jets. She never really embraced the city and was ready to flee, especially after receiving a humiliating proposal. Mugged on her way out of the building, she’s left with no money, no ID and no desire to return to her now former boyfriend’s apartment. She heads to a comforting bar, a Packers haven and meets Ben Hausman. Who does not exactly fill the slot of ‘kind stranger’.

This book is adorable. I loved May and Ben is absolutely my favourite type of hero – bit gruff and grumpy (ok, he’s quite a lot grumpy) and broody. May at first just wants to use a phone to call a friend, maybe borrow a credit card number to get a hotel room and book a flight back home but eventually her lack of ID seems a problem and it’s a long weekend. So Ben offers her a place to crash and ends up deciding to show her New York – the real New York.

There’s super good chemistry here and lots of realistic-feeling angst as well. May and Ben don’t know each other but I adored the fact that what Ben loves/is attracted to about May are the things she feels uncomfortable about. She’s not exactly the “WAG” type – she’s statuesque. Curvy. Ben is a chef and he adores watching her eat and the fact that they both love food. The food portion of this book was amazing too – not only what Ben cooks but the different places they eat around the city. Ben also has a really interesting (and quite random) profession (he isn’t allowed to run a restaurant for a while, for reasons explained in the story) and it’s definitely not something you’d think someone in New York City would be doing.

What I enjoyed about this story is that it felt like Ben and May had to work at this relationship. They met in a very adorable way and there was sexual chemistry in spades but both had baggage and there was also the fact that they didn’t really know each other very well. They had to get to know each other properly and it was only natural that they’d stuff up, make mistakes. But the way in which they both worked to fix things, to be together was a really powerful part of the story.

8/10

Book #53 of 2017

Madly (New York #2)
Ruthie Knox
Loveswept
2017, 283p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Allie Fredericks isn’t supposed to be in Manhattan, hiding in the darkest corner of a hip bar, spying on her own mother—who’s flirting with a man who’s definitely not Allie’s father. Allie’s supposed to be in Wisconsin, planning her parents’ milestone anniversary party. Then Winston Chamberlain walks through the door, with his tailored suit, British accent, and gorgeous eyes, and Allie’s strange mission goes truly sideways.

Winston doesn’t do messy. But after a pretty stranger ropes him into her ridiculous family drama with a fake kiss that gets a little too real, he finds out that messy can be fun. Maybe even a little addicting. And as the night grows longer, Allie and Winston make a list of other wild things they could do together—and what seems like a mismatch leads to a genuine connection. But can their relationship survive as their real lives implode just outside the bedroom door?

The blurb of this one was the reason I purchased both these books. A British hero with a fancy suit who is probably going to be quite, well, British and I’m sold. I didn’t even realise for the longest time that Winston, our hero in this book, is Nev’s douchey brother from About Last Night, who has Cath investigated and tries to ruin their relationship. A few years have passed since that book and Winston is now divorced and living in New York City working for one of the branches of the family company. He’s in New York to keep an eye on his daughter Bea who is a student at university but Bea is proving to be quite independent really.

It was weird for me then that I didn’t quite enjoy this one as much as I’d hoped I would. I really loved About Last Night and I love a bit of an uptight hero and Winston had oodles of uptight about his personality in that novel but he did seem less so in this one. The fallout with Nev and his divorce seemed to have changed him significantly and he was quite sweet really. I find it quite amusing that he had such objections to Cath and then ended up in America, falling in love with an American woman who was definitely not the ‘right’ sort of wife for a wealthy British banker who will be a Baron or whatever it is one day…. probably all of the objections he had about Cath when Nev met her.

Allie is an interesting character but I’m not sure if I liked her as much as May. She’s emotionally manipulative  and although I think she has good intentions, her choices aren’t always wise ones. She’s carried a secret for a while now, thinking she needed to protect people but in finally revealing it, only hurts them because of her secrecy. I also really didn’t like the character of May and Allie’s mother (in May’s book, she’s pretty awful to May, always on at her about her weight, etc) and this book revolves quite a lot around her and it sets up something that you think is very messy and dramatic but in the end is quite boring and disappointing, almost like the author changed their mind part way through on what the mother was really up to.

I did really like the list that Allie and Winston made and the reasons behind the making of it. And like Ben and May, I also liked that sometimes, things didn’t really pan out perfectly. Some things were awkward, or didn’t really work. It felt real, natural. I always enjoy that about Ruthie Knox’s books. So whilst I didn’t love this one like I loved the first one, I still enjoyed it. And I’m definitely buying the 3rd book when it gets released later this year.

6/10

Book #55 of 2017

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Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Book #57 of 2017

 

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

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Review: Promise Of Hunters Ridge by Sarah Barrie

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This series is why I love romantic suspense.

9/10

Book #47 of 2017

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

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Review: Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare

Romancing The Duke (Castles Ever After #1)
Tessa Dare
Avon
2014, 370p
Freebie via ibooks

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In the first in Tessa Dare’s captivating Castles Ever After series, a mysterious fortress is the setting for an unlikely love . . .

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

This was my sort of romance from pretty much the first page.

The death of Izzy’s father has left her in quite a dire situation so when she is left a bequest in a will she doesn’t hesitate to turn up at the meeting point. Rather than a small sum, which was all she was hoping for, Izzy has been left a castle. There’s just one problem – the castle is the current home of the Duke of Rothbury and he didn’t sell it to Izzy’s benefactor. He insists he still owns the home and that he isn’t leaving. Izzy is willing to work with him – she’d be happy to be his landlord but then he tries to make her flee and all of a sudden Izzy decides that maybe it’s time she made a proper home for herself.

This is the sort of book that makes me *happy sigh* and when I go on binges snapping up deals and freebies on iBooks and Amazon, it’s because I hope to find books like this one. Izzy is such a fun protagonist – she’s pragmatic and very sensible but she also has quite a fanciful side as well. Her father is well known as an author of a famous series of stories (of which Izzy is the little girl in the story being told the fantastical tales) and when people meet her they tend to act like they know her. Despite this she has little in the way of actual friends and finds herself quite alone after her father passes which is perhaps why she latches onto the idea of being able to possess a castle. She assumes that the whim of her benefactor is finally being able to give little Izzy Goodnight a castle of her own after hearing so many stories of fair maidens and gallant knights in castles but for Izzy, it’s going to be much more than that….it’s going to be a home.

Ransom, the Duke of Rothbury hasn’t been seen in society for months – the rumours are wild, including that he might even be dead. Instead Ransom suffered an injury and has retreated from society. The decrepit conditions of Gostley Castle suits him perfectly. He doesn’t need something fit for entertaining and has adapted one room for his needs quite satisfactorily. When Izzy doesn’t oblige him by leaving straight away and instead proves to be quite solidly iron willed inside, to break the stalemate of who will leave, it’s agreed that Izzy will act as his secretary, helping Rothbury with the correspondence that has piled up over the past 7 months so that they might untangle the mess that has led to two different people believing they owned the castle.

Beauty and the Beast style adaptations are my absolute favourite and this one works pretty well. Rothbury, with his scar and brusque manner fits the role of the Beast in the castle (albeit one that he’s allowing to fall down around his ears with little care in the world) but he’s also not without being part Prince Charming as well. He’s brooding and mysterious and his opening scene is amazing. I love a meeting between two characters that sticks with me and establishes both their personalities so well straight away. Both of them bring so much to the other – Rothbury can actually see Izzy (ha, the irony of that statement) and isn’t coloured by the small child that appeared in the stories. In fact he actually sees the truth of Izzy, the secret that she has kept for years, seemingly quite easily. He is remarkably astute when it comes to her and the way in which the relationship between them develops is equal parts sizzling sexual chemistry and deepening emotional connection. In return Izzy is no shrinking violet who fears the Duke – in fact she cares little that he even is one, nor is she bothered by his somewhat wild past. I think it was very important to Ransom, whether he knew it or not, to be accepted for all that he was – flaws, scars, reclusive manner etc. Izzy lightens him up but he takes her seriously, believes that she is capable of anything.

I loved this. Already planning to buy the rest in the series – the benefactor who leaves Izzy this castle seems to have also left properties to a few other “goddaughter” types. I’m hoping that those stories are going to be as good as this one.

9/10

Book #51 of 2017

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Review: Close Enough To Touch by Colleen Oakley

Close Enough To Touch
Colleen Oakley
Allen & Unwin
2017, 306p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…..

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years within the confines of the house her unaffectionate mother left her when she ran off to remarry. But now her mother is dead and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world -and the people in it- that she’s been hiding from.

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric is struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course. Then one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition….

I loved the sound of this book when it arrived – the author has given the protagonist, Jubilee, an anaphylactic allergy to humans. It’s fictional, but based very much on the way that people are allergic to say nuts. Even contact with another human can send Jubilee out in huge welts. A kiss can trigger the anaphylaxis and so for the past nine years since her mother married, Jubilee has lived alone in the house. She never leaves – she’s arranged for the garbage to be collected without having to put the bins out, she has her groceries delivered. Her mother sends her money to live on but when her mother passes away, the money dries up. Jubilee must face her agoraphobia and leave the home to find work in order to pay the bills.

I loved Jubilee – there are some days when a quiet existence filled with books and zero human interaction sounds like heaven and that is without someone else potentially killing you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so on guard around people so that you don’t even accidentally brush against them. Meeting new people would be terribly awkward, as sometimes people want to kiss you in greeting. She has to wear gloves to prevent accidental touches or be able to shake hands etc but there are so many other brief touches. Sometimes people brush something away from your face etc. It’d be easy to hide yourself away where you didn’t have to worry about that, but I suppose the more you live that life, the more frightening the outside world might seem. Given that Jubilee had not really left her yard in nine years, I expected a bit more of an exploration of how loud or intrusive and scary going out might be. There are a few moments but she does seem to adjust rather well and basically has a job fall into her lap which meant that she didn’t have to really go out and search and interact with different people in an effort to find a job.

I also really liked the character of Eric – he had made some mistakes, including one catastrophic one with his daughter but he was also making great sacrifices too. His adopting of Aja was beautifully selfless and it wasn’t at all a smooth road for either of them. I felt sorry for Eric a lot of the time – he had a lot on and at times it felt like a lot of people were working against him rather than with him. He gets frustrated sure but I felt that he was entitled to. Aja isn’t an easy child and he’s been through a trauma. Both of them have. But Eric keeps trying, he keeps doing his best. When they meet Jubilee, it’s almost like this awkwardly perfect situation. Jubilee is in a position to help both Eric and Aja and because Aja is….slightly unusual, he’s able to embrace and respect her boundaries and difficulties. He is also slightly deluded about them but in a way that makes perfect sense when it all comes out.

Because Eric and Jubilee can’t really touch or kiss, even when they are both attracted to each other, their relationship must evolve in a very different way. It’s not all smooth sailing, there are plenty of awkward and ugly moments but also a lot of beautiful ones too. I think that’s why I felt so disappointed in the ending of this one…. I sort of understand why it had to go to the way it did but it made me feel very unsatisfied to turn the page and realise that the story had skipped ahead. There were a lot of things that felt very rushed and “magic cure!” and not having been there for the process made it seem a bit fanciful. It was very anti-climactic in a way and the interaction at the end wasn’t really the satisfying moment I was after.

This was an enjoyable novel but I just felt like it got a bit sloppy right at the end, like there was a word count that the author had reached and she had to wrap everything up in a really short amount of time – a few pages. For some the mystery of it might work but I just wanted more.

7/10

Book #44 of 2017

 

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

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/10

Book #46 of 2017

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

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Blog Tour Review: The Last McAdam by Holly Ford

The Last McAdam
Holly Ford
Allen & Unwin
2017, 292p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This romantic, irresistibly entertaining novel tells the story of Tess Drummond, who’s been sent to turn around the fortunes of a remote sheep and cattle station her employer has taken over. What Tess hasn’t counted on is coming up against the station’s handsome and charismatic head stockman, Nate McAdam, whose family owned the property for generations…

Passed down through the same family for over a century, the remote sheep and cattle station of Broken Creek has recently been taken over by global agribusiness company Carnarvon Holdings. Now Carnarvon has sent its best troubleshooting manager, Tess Drummond, to turn the property’s failing fortunes around – fast.

When Tess arrives to take the reins of Broken Creek she’s faced with a couple of nasty surprises. For starters, her head stockman, Nate McAdam, happens to be the same gorgeous stranger she hooked up with – and ran out on – a few weeks before.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nate was supposed to inherit Broken Creek until his stepfather ran it into the ground. Now the last McAdam on the station leads a team of men whose bonds have been forged through hell and high water and whose mission is to see off Carnarvon and Tess so he can take his rightful place.

A genius with farm work – and women – but a disaster in the office, Nate is everything Tess believes a farmer shouldn’t be. Determined not to give in to her growing attraction to him, Tess sets out to do her job, but she soon finds herself caught up in the battle of her career.

The Last McAdam is a rural novel set in southern New Zealand focusing on Tess Drummond, who works travelling around the properties owned by Carnarvon Holdings and coming up with plans to make them profitable. Tess operates under the motto of ‘Don’t Get Attached’. She comes in, she develops the changes needed in order to see profits increase and then she’s onto the next property.

Broken Creek was picked up by Carnarvon Holdings for a song after a devastating incident that they then became liable for. There are three workers left on the farm (and one extra who takes care of the homestead) which is more than it really requires and as Carnarvon is likely to want to bring in its own team,  it’ll just be a matter of settling redundancy offers. She is horrified to discover that one of the workers, Nate McAdam, who also happens to be the stepson of the last owner, is the handsome stranger that Tess almost hooked up with at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. Before she knows it, Broken Creek (and its workers) are doing the one thing that no where else has been able to do since she was a child – get under her skin. Make her want different things.

There was quite a bit about this I enjoyed. I’ve read lots of rural romance novels but they are mostly Australian with a few American ranch-style ones sprinkled in. I haven’t really read much of anything set in New Zealand, let alone a rural and I found that very interesting. The terrain is quite different to here, it being high country and the associating weather issues were not something I would’ve been aware of before this. I loved the farm stuff – I’ve always had an idealistic idea about living on a farm. I know I’m not actually suited to it in reality but the idea of it appeals to me, which is why I think I read so many rurals!

The workers at Broken Creek are all amazing supporting characters that I felt added so much to the story. Especially the character of Stan, an elderly blind man who has lived on the property for decades. He was so lovely and really contributed so much to the story – some moments with him made me genuinely teary! The two younger workers, Mitch and Harry are also fantastic. Each has their own issues, emotional ‘baggage’ in a way and at first there’s an attempt to hide this from Tess so that she can hopefully see what they bring to the property in terms of work and care. Tess has carefully crafted a plan for Broken Creek but the longer she spends there, the more she sees that perhaps it’s not what is best for it after all – it might be best for Carnarvon Holdings but Tess is able to see the potential in Broken Creek and what Nate wants to do. He might be useless with the books but he does know the land.

So I did really like everything centred around Broken Creek and the struggle that Tess faced as well, whether to finally choose to stay somewhere but I do have to admit that I didn’t connect with the romance aspect of this story at all. I didn’t really buy into the…well, anything between Nate and Tess. The hook up at the wedding felt very random, it was quite jarring as it was in the first few pages and they don’t even ask each other their names. And some of their interactions after Tess arrives at Broken Creek to “fix” it are a bit odd – some are almost childish. Nate seems to be a bit of a tormentor, one of those guys who always has a quip and a smirk and there were times I didn’t really see his appeal. There seems to be a lot of denial and avoiding things and pretending and I was just waiting for things to hurry up and actually happen. I’d like to see a book about Mitch in the future though, he was definitely more my sort of guy.

6/10

Book #42 of 2017

The Last McAdam is published by Allen & Unwin and is out now – RRP $29.99

Author website: http://www.hollyford.net

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Review: Mr Romanov’s Garden In The Sky by Robert Newton

Mr Romanov’s Garden In The Sky
Robert Newton
Penguin Books AUS
2017, 219p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

{Blurb from the publisher}:

Living in the commission, Lexie is left to fend for herself. Her mother is mostly absent, out searching for something to help her forget the tragic death of Lexie’s dad.

But then after witnessing the aftermath of a shocking incident, Lexie finds solace in the most unlikely of places – in a troubled old man called the Creeper. A chance, life-saving encounter on the commission’s roof seeds a friendship between the two, and when they enlist the help of Lexie’s friend Davey, the three set off on an epic journey; one that will change their lives and the lives of those around them.

I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand, the writing is really lovely and the way in which Lexie befriends Mr Romanov is very beautifully done. On the other hand, there are a bunch of things that I can’t buy into and so it made it a bit hard to truly sink into the story.

Lexie lives in a block of housing commission flats in Fitzroy. Her mother is a junkie, always searching for her next fix and dodging appointments with the Department of Human Services who are understandably concerned about the care (or lack of it) that Lexie is receiving. Her mother regularly leaves Lexie alone and it’s a struggle for Lexie to scrape together the money to go and buy things like milk, bread and eggs at the local corner store. She’s friends with Davey, a boy who also lives in the building. Davey’s father is in jail and Lexie’s has passed away. Lexie clings to her memories of her father, him pretending to camp in her bedroom with her, telling her she could go anywhere in the world she wanted to. She always chose Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

One of the first scenes in this book is incredibly disturbing and I’m not sure what it says that I felt more affected by it reading it then anyone who witnessed it in the book. Some seemed to find it amusing and even Lexie herself, although saddened by it, doesn’t seem to be too adversely affected which I found interesting. The way in which Mr Romanov is treated by several other residents of the building is very judgemental – no one knows anything about him but they make assumptions, give him a nickname and torment him. Even now I can’t think of what happened at the beginning without getting quite sad about it and how something innocent was used in order to torture a person for no real reason other than the fun of it.

Lexie’s complex character is the highlight of the novel. She actually copes relatively well with her mother’s addiction. She wants her to stop of course, longs for her to but she still manages to function and keep things going. She checks to make sure her mother is still breathing, waiting for the day when she won’t hear that breath, which is a terrible thing for a 12/13yo girl to be experiencing. Her compassion for Mr Romanov is wonderful too, she doesn’t really take no for an answer in helping him and she’s probably the first person to really speak to him, to ask him questions about himself in a very long time. She can also be quite bossy, very assertive, even a bit selfish but at the same time, comes across as very vulnerable and needing a lot of love.

After some disastrous moments, Lexie feels the need more than ever to get to Surfers Paradise for real, perhaps she feels it will be a way to reconnect with her father and also lay him to rest in her mind. The three of them embark on a trip from Melbourne to the Gold Coast and this was kind of the part I had problems with because I have done similar trips to this in the past and I struggled with an elderly man who hadn’t driven in twenty years (with a car that had only been started once every two weeks for probably the same amount of time) doing this. With two kids in tow. Nevertheless, I do love the idea of a road trip and given that I’ve done basically 4/5ths of this one, I was interested to see how it went.

Unfortunately, I feel as though the book actually lost its way a little when they were on the trip. Making side trips, evading authorities, as well as several implausibilities just made it seem like it floundered a little. I did enjoy the bond between Lexie and Mr Romanov and found Mr Romanov to be a very interesting character. I was glad he met Lexie, who was someone who would care about him after probably having years of no one following a personal tragedy. This book made me think about people who fall through the cracks or who are vilified unfairly for no reason other than the fact that they’re a bit different.

I really enjoyed parts of this book. I just found the road trip itself required the reader to really put aside some doubts and believe in some pretty far fetched things and for me, I wasn’t really able to do that.

6/10

Book #43 of 2017

 

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Review: The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How do you know if your friends actually like you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Book #40 of 2017

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

 

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