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Review: Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

Secrets Between Friends
Fiona Palmer
Hachette Books AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Best friends Abbie, Jess and Ricki are setting sail on a cruise ship, rekindling the excitement of a school excursion they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia. But are they truly prepared for what this voyage will reveal?

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn’t chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a school teacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

This is Fiona Palmer’s first foray away from her strong background of rural fiction/romance and more into women’s fiction. Jess, Abbie and Ricki have been best friends since school and Jess and Peter have been best friends since childhood. Peter and Ricki are now dating and the three girls thought it’d be fun to celebrate their ten year anniversary graduating from high school by revisiting Albany, a place they went to for a school trip. They decide to take a cruise – a few days of fun and cocktails. Their girls trip gets derailed slightly when Peter decides to come with them and use the trip as a way to further his romance with Ricki.

Firstly, I loved the setting. Fiona Palmer has been setting her books in rural Western Australia for a long time, which I always enjoy but it was quite fun to board a cruise ship with the characters. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before but the idea of a short cruise is appealing. I’ve never visited WA either so perhaps that is why I always enjoy visiting it so much in fiction. It’s a way to experience it.

Each of the women are hiding secrets – some more serious than others. Abbie is hiding a lot about her life and in particular about something that she’s just discovered which is hanging over her head on the cruise. Ricki is feeling a bit restless, perhaps not even realising what the problem was until someone reignited feelings in her about her job and about her life. And Jess, well Jess is carrying two intertwined secrets which definitely threaten two of the friendships she holds dearest.

Okay so as well as things I did like about the story, there were a few things that I did have trouble with. Some of those revolved around the secrets, which seemed strange. I mean, I understood why some things were kept secret, as difficult as those were but the reasoning behind keeping some of the lesser secrets kind of confused me. Also – there’s some people that behave quite horribly and I didn’t really find it okay because “both of them did it”. That’s not good reasoning to me, especially as they were unaware of each other doing it and it felt quite uncomfortable to read. It’s also a bit of a deal breaker for me generally, depending on the circumstances but I didn’t feel as though these ones felt like enough. One element of the story felt almost too good to be true, like a convenient out for the other to occur in a way. And some of the fallout felt quite one sided, like some of the issues on both sides weren’t really discussed or explored, it was really more focused on one particular side and the people involved in that situation.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone but I did have some trouble connecting to or liking some characters because some of their actions were so dramatically unpleasant and unnecessary. But I did admire the friendship between them and the fact that it was built to withstand an awful lot and that they were remarkably understanding about each other’s secrets and indiscretions – but I wasn’t sure if that understanding came from a place of love and friendship or because several of them were doing the same thing and couldn’t really be angry. A lot of drama certainly came out during this brief cruise though, that’s for sure!

All in all this was a bit of a mixed bag for me – loved the setting and some elements of the story. The idea of the four of them going on the cruise was a lot of fun and a perfect place for secrets to come out because they can’t really escape, they have to face each other and sort things out. But some of the secrets made it difficult to really care about the characters, who were being a bit selfish and unfair to those that they cared about. And I wasn’t really expecting a part of the ending, which had some bittersweet elements to it. If you’re looking for a full and total HEA this might not be the sort of story that you’re after.


Book #155 of 2017

Secrets Between Friends is book #47 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: How To Marry A Marquess by Stacy Reid

How To Marry A Marquess (Wedded By Scandal #3)
Stacy Reid
Entangled Publishing
2017, 279p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Lady Evie Chesterfield is a darling of the ton who refuses to become engaged. She’s been desperately in love with her brother’s friend, Richard Maitland, Marquess of Westfall, since forever. But the dark, dangerous marquess only sees her as a friend and refuses to marry any woman. When circumstances change and Evie has no choice but to take a husband, she decides to convince London’s most notorious gentleman to marry her by seducing the scoundrel.

Richard Maitland decided long ago that he wanted nothing to do with love. So when the gorgeous, off-limits Evie asks him for lessons in seduction, Richard knows he’s playing with fire. Despite Richard’s determination to protect her from his dastardly reputation, he is tested at every turn by his need for the infuriating, but enticing, Lady Evie. Before too long he is faced with making an impossible choice…

Eek, I can’t believe I missed this book being published! I’ve read the first two and Lady Evie actually plays quite a pivotal role in that first book when she deliberately sends her friend Lady Adeline into the wrong room in her large house. Readers also got to witness a few interactions between Lady Evie and the rather bitter Marquess of Westfall and so since that first book, I’ve been waiting for this one.

Evie and Richard first met when Evie was just about to turn sixteen and although he was attracted to her, Richard has always been careful to keep his distance, something that grow more difficult as time goes by. The two of them developed a friendship in which Richard has helped Evie spurn several unwanted suitors. The darling of the social season, Evie was expected to make a good match in her first year but she’s seen off titled man after titled man in order to always keep her eye on the prize she really wants – Richard.

When they met, Richard was but a lowly second son but the death of his brother has elevated him to Marquess and so now he might be considered a good match – if he didn’t have so terrible a reputation. Richard doesn’t restrict his company to the Ton and often consorts with the lowest of the low, for personal reasons. He’s very passionate about the inequality that exists and scorns the attitudes of the upper class in regards to those considered below them. In not marrying Evie he’s part protecting her from his reputation and the cutting she would surely endure day after day and part protecting himself. When he was young, Richard had his heart broken by a woman with aspirations and he vowed never to put himself in so vulnerable position ever again.

Evie eventually gets to the stage where she decides that enough is enough and that she can’t avoid other suitors forever and that this dance she and Richard have been doing for years has a shelf life. I really liked Evie, I found her quite refreshing and I liked the fact that her and Richard were actual friends which in this time and setting is probably not at all realistic as I don’t think young, unmarried ladies ever really had a chance to become friends with men, especially bachelors with dubious reputations. Although Richard was friends with her brother, which did give them circumstances in which they would come together but they do seem to manage to create this friendship that no one really protests too much and get these opportunities to get to know each other quite well.

Richard was a difficult character at times – I understood and admired some of his views and his dedication to them but sometimes he was just really judgemental and assumed things without even asking questions. In some way it was nice that he wanted to protect Evie but in other ways he was actually really quite horrible to her when he gets her to question her privilege. Evie is super willing to be educated and she’s curious and interested in the things that Richard has been doing but instead of attempting to gently educate her and answer her questions, he quite often goes on the defensive and attacks her for her ignorance. It’s a defense mechanism but sometimes it just made me want to kick him.

I did enjoy Evie and Richard’s journey but I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations and sometimes that’s the way it goes when you are so, so keen. I kind of had some sort of thing that I wanted from those few interactions in the previous story and it didn’t play out at all the way that I expected and that’s not to say that it wasn’t a good story, I think I just expected Richard himself to be a bit different, given the way he appeared previously. Stacy Reid does really quite excel at writing the grovelling male though, after he has done something to hurt the heroine and this book is no different. There’s always a lot of feels towards the end of the book! I do really like this series and I’ll be looking for the next one.


Book #154 of 2017

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Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire (Graceling Realm #2)
Kristin Cashore
2010, 384p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

She is the last of her kind… It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised “Graceling” has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don’t need to have read “Graceling” to love “Fire.” But if you haven’t, you’ll be dying to read it next. 

I loved this book.

I read Graceling recently and immediately ordered both Fire and Bitterblue. The second book, Fire only features one common character with Graceling and actually takes place well before Graceling but I just love this world. I honestly wish there was a dozen books to read from Kristin Cashore set in this world. It’s just amazing.

So in this book we have Fire, who is what is loosely termed as ‘monster’. Monsters can be any species and they look physically similar but they are…..more. Just amazingly more. Brilliantly coloured. So you might have a glossy, perfect, purple horse. That’s a monster horse. Or a stunningly beautiful blue monster kitten. Fire’s father was a monster (in more ways than one) and the offspring of monsters and humans are always monsters. In Fire’s case she’s so amazingly beautiful that she renders almost everyone who comes into contact with her dumb with her beauty. Strangers will profess love for her or want to marry her. They’ll want to touch her. In some cases, they will also want to hurt her. Her hair is one of her monster features, being an incredibly bright myriad of red, orange and pink hues. She keeps it mostly bound up in a headscarf so as not to distract people and seeks to cover herself as much as possible. She learned early that people will not always take no for an answer and she has to protect herself.

Fire can also slip into people’s minds and manipulate them. Her father was incredibly cruel and she has always taken care never to use her power to hurt people. She may redirect their interest or seek to gentle their thoughts if they think to hurt her or even throw themselves at her and she loathes doing even that. Fire is a young woman in heartbroken conflict about her gifts and her desperation to never use her power to hurt anyone. Her father enjoyed hurting people and was corrupted by a desire for power. He helped ruin the previous King and tried to kill the King’s youngest son Prince Brigan, a warrior with abilities far beyond his young years, many times. But now her father is dead and although the Prince Brigan looks at Fire with a deep distrust, he does not seem affected by her monster beauty. His mind is a closed book to her, strongly guarded and she need not fear his reaction to her. What he does do is bring out her guilt about her father.

Fire is no Katsa – she can’t physically fight, she’s not even particularly strong. She has some pretty severe mental hang ups as well about her abilities and about being a monster. She was raised in relative isolation with few friends and people are mostly in awe of her or scared of her and what she could do. Her mind is a mess of guilt and loathing both of herself and her gift. She has daddy issues for days that just get bigger and bigger the further you get into the novel. Since I finished this book I read a lot of criticism about Fire, that she was pathetic and weak and not worthy of being a main character. But I actually appreciated that about her – that she began the book isolated and unwilling to explore what her gift could do and as the book progressed, she learned. She realised she could be useful without being cruel, that she could use her gift without it meaning that she would turn into her father. I actually found her quite likable and when she was away from her home, she really began to grow into herself. She made friends, connections with guards, princesses, children.

There is a love story in this and though it’s understated, it’s seriously perfect. I adore it. It just has so many things that I find enjoyable to read – I will admit that I’m a total sucker for a story where there’s distrust and possibly even dislike that has to be overcome. A bond takes time to develop and this book does this with careful, sweet scenes that bring two people closer together. They have so much in common – both are conflicted about the uglier side of what they can do and fear that it’ll be reason for each other to look at them in horror. I loved their quiet conversations, the way in which they opened themselves up to each other. I also appreciate Kristin Cashore’s open mindedness about relationships and the focus not necessarily being on marriage.

This is such a fabulous world. Loved Graceling, I love this and now Bitterblue will be moved up my TBR pile because I can’t get enough.


Book #152 of 2017It actually wasn’t until I finished this book that I realised I could also count it towards my participation in #TheReadingQuest Challenge. Although the second book in the Graceling Realm series, Fire is more a companion to the other two books. It’s set in the same world but well before the other two and features only one common character.

My updated character card. 10ts added for another book completed and 38pts added for pages read. With just three days left in this challenge now, I hope to finish one more book.

Thanks as always to Aentee from Read At Midnight for hosting and CW from Read, Think, Ponder for the artwork.


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Blog Tour Review: We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow

We That Are Left
Lisa Bigelow
Allen & Unwin
2017, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.

Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.

Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.

Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.

Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.

I really enjoy historical fiction and have been particularly interested lately in fiction set around both WWI and WWII. It’s really nice to get an Australian perspective and this, Lisa Bigelow’s first novel uses her family experience and the loss of her grandfather aboard the HMAS Sydney to showcase the strength of the women left behind.

Mae is a young bride about to give birth living in the inner west of Melbourne. I found that the setting was a really fun part of the book for me because I live in the west (a bit further out than the featured Yarraville/Williamstown areas) but I loved getting a glimpse of what it would’ve been like in this area all those years ago. It was great to see such familiar places featured. When Mae gets word of the rumour that the HMAS Sydney has gone down with all on board, she immediately slips into a state of denial. She’s sure that Harry, if anyone, could survive such a thing and the fact that there’s talk the wrecked sub was towed to Asia with some survivors just feeds her belief that Harry will come home one day. She struggles to cope on her own, relying on the family that raised her, an aunt and her two uncles, all getting on a little bit in age now. They are close knit though and Mae also has a strong friendship bond with her neighbour, wife of a newspaper editor and mother to two young children.

Grace has moved from the country to Melbourne to work as an assistant to Sam Barton, editor of the afternoon paper The Tribune but what she really wants is to be a journalist. Her father ran a country Victorian paper and it’s been a part of her whole life. Grace composes headlines about her daily life in her head constantly as she negotiates the politics of her new workplace and  deals with handsome reporter Phil Taylor who is just becoming something more when he heads overseas to cover the war up close and personal. He is taken hostage during the fall of Singapore and word is slow. He’s been horrifically injured and Grace isn’t sure at times, if he’s even still alive or will ever return to her. And if he does, what will she face? Will he be a broken, shell of a man like her father, still damaged from his time in WWI?

It’s hard to believe, living in the age that I do, that there was a time when you had to wait weeks for word or information from another part of the world about something so serious as a submarine sinking or a hostage situation. In this case, Sam Barton, the newspaper editor, and presumably most of the reporters are aware of strong and probably credible rumours surrounding the loss of the HMAS Sydney but they don’t have permission to print the story just yet. And Mae is his neighbour, so that must’ve been quite an awkward situation for him as well as a stressful one for Mae, with these rumours circulating but no government word or confrontation. It’s an horrific state of limbo to be in. The lack of accurate information also leads to more swirling rumours that give Mae and probably others the hope that their loved ones could have possibly survived this. For Mae that leads to a real deluded state, where she absolutely refuses to believe that Harry could have died and that he is alive somewhere and will make his way back to her and their baby soon. Time rolls on though, with no credible information that anyone did survive and slowly others accept their loss and begin moving on with their lives. Mae isn’t able to do this though and she spends a large portion of the book assuring people and herself that Harry will be back one day. I found it quite sad because she’s a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who should’ve been making the best of it and at times it was like she wasn’t living at all. Just merely existing and waiting for something that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Likewise, I found Grace’s situation very sad also. I felt like her story was very much unfinished at the close of the book and that a lot of the defining moments in her life might come later on. I admired her dedication and drive and the way in which she didn’t allow anything to stand in her way and that should’ve been celebrated by those that love her rather than viewed with suspicion and derision. If I had a criticism of Grace’s story it’d be that I just didn’t really buy the romance……the pacing was off too, it seemed to start off in one way, go no where for the longest time and then a few things happened and then Phil left to go overseas. I didn’t really get a chance to get to know Phil or experience any chemistry between the two of them at all and the skipping forward in time at the end of the book only further cemented that fact.

Despite the fact that it’s subject matter tended a bit towards the grim, I found We That Are Left to be a very enjoyable read, particularly for its showcasing of 1940s Melbourne and the surrounds. It’s a very promising debut and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Lisa Bigelow’s next book.


Book #150 of 2017

We That Are Left is book #45 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the We That Are Left blog tour. Please make sure you check out the other spots on the tour, featured below.

We That Are Left is published by Allen & Unwin, out now. RRP $29.99

Visit Lisa Bigelow’s website 

Follow her on Facebook


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Review: Akarnae by Lynette Noni

Akarnae (The Medoran Chronicles #1)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2015, 436p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

With just one step, sixteen-year-old Alexandra Jennings’s world changes—literally.

Dreading her first day at a new school, Alex is stunned when she walks through a doorway and finds herself stranded in Medora, a fantasy world full of impossibilities. Desperate to return home, she learns that only a man named Professor Marselle can help her… but he’s missing.

While waiting for him to reappear, Alex attends Akarnae Academy, Medora’s boarding school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts. She soon starts to enjoy her bizarre new world and the friends who embrace her as one of their own, but strange things are happening at Akarnae, and Alex can’t ignore her fear that something unexpected… something sinister… is looming.

An unwilling pawn in a deadly game, Alex’s shoulders bear the crushing weight of an entire race’s survival. Only she can save the Medorans, but what if doing so prevents her from ever returning home?

Will Alex risk her entire world—and maybe even her life—to save Medora? 

Okay so originally I was going to read another book for this last category for my character path for #TheReadingQuest Challenge. But then I thought about this book and it’s actually been on my TBR shelf for longer and I saw one of the follow ups on social media recently so I thought I would swap the other book out and use this one instead. Although the people of Medora don’t use the word ‘magic’ for what they can do and some of the things that can happen, for Alexandra who is from Earth, it is definitely magic.

Alex has just turned 16 and is being dropped off at an exclusive boarding school while her parents go on an 8 month archaeological dig where she won’t be able to contact them. Instead of opening a door to the Principal’s office, she opens a door to literally another world, almost a parallel Earth but with differences. She is almost immediately confronted by someone who assures her that he’s been waiting for her and that together they will rule the world. It seems she’s stepped onto a school campus and so while she waits to figure out how to get back to her own world, she enrolls at Akarnae Academy, a school for the gifted. Although she struggles at the start, confused as to why the mysterious procedure has enrolled her in high levels of certain courses, Alex soon starts to settle in at Akarnae. She makes two solid friends who are with her every step of the way and it seems that the mysterious Library of the college is not only much more than it seems, but it has also Chosen her in some way. In fact Alex’s entire appearance in Medora seems to have a specific and important purpose and some of the choices she makes will be incredibly important. Actually the whole future of Medora could hinge on them.

On the whole, I found this quite an enjoyable story. It’s a little bit like Narnia – a young girl opens a door and finds herself in a completely different land and there are Things Happening. I didn’t mind Alex as a main character. She certainly has the ability to be beaten and to stand up and take it over and over again. She deals pretty well with her foray into a foreign world and doesn’t go into hysterics or constantly whine about wanting to go home. She does have moments of wondering if she’ll ever be able to, or will she see her parents again, which was normal but she didn’t spend the entire time thinking about ‘why me?’ and stuff like that. I liked the way she threw herself into her new school subjects at Akarnae, even when they seemed way above her abilities and the teachers were brutal. It actually seemed like a really fun school – unorthodox but fun. And the technology ideas were quite interesting. I enjoyed a lot of the secondary characters as well. I also really liked the idea of Medora and the set up and also Medora’s history. I found that really interesting and would’ve liked even more about that, which I suppose will come in future books as Alex herself learns more, especially in regards to her role for the future.

There were a few small quibbles – nothing major, the writing at time felt a bit simple and the dialogue could be a bit clunky. I think at times it was really like the friendship between Alex, Bear and Jordan felt a bit forced, like they were still getting to know each other but sometimes their interactions felt like they’d supposedly known each other for years. It didn’t always come off as natural and at times the jokes and ribbing felt a bit too much too soon. It’s also quite long but it’s not really jam packed with happenings, so a lot of it is kind of just repetitive stuff at the school and Alex continually getting hurt and going to the school’s medical ward. At times it felt as though the book kind of lost its way and meandered a bit. However these weren’t enough to turn me off at all and I’m quite keen to read the next book in the series, Raelia to see where it goes from here.


Book #151 of 2017

Akarnae completes my character path of Mage in #TheReadingQuest Challenge! It’s my 7th book read for the challenge so far. Hoping to fit one more in before it ends on the 10th.

And my updated character card. Another 10pts for a book completed taking me to 80exp total and 43 added to my health which is now at 328pts.

Thanks to Aentee from Read At Midnight for hosting this challenge and also CW from Read, Think, Ponder for the artwork.


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Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Are You Sleeping
Kathleen Barber
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 323p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidante, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past – starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to the midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past – and the lies on which she has staked her future.

I loved the idea of this novel and thought the blurb sounded fascinating. In this day and age of all encompassing social media, it’s hard to hide yourself away the way that Josie has tried to do. She’s changed her name and after travelling the world, has settled in New York working at a bookstore. She has a partner that she met overseas, an aid worker named Caleb, who is from New Zealand. Caleb knows nothing of Josie’s past and therefore when Josie hears of both Poppy Parnell’s podcast and also her mother’s death, they’re not things she can confide in Caleb about.

There were things I enjoyed and things I didn’t. I liked the idea of Josie escaping, of shedding that past victim identity and becoming someone else with no connection to tragic events. I think that it would be very hard to be “that kid whose dad was murdered” and to have that follow you everywhere you go and overshadow everything. Perhaps for Josie to be able to truly move on, she needed to leave that self behind – and she did that fully by pretending it hadn’t happened. When she met Caleb she invented a backstory for herself, believing that their relationship would be brief and when it turned out to be more serious, she stuck to her story. Her isolation from her family in New York allowed her to do this – until the surprise death of her mother, who joined a cult in California when Josie and her twin sister Lanie were teenagers.

What I didn’t like so much in this story was the entire Lanie debacle. I’ve read several books with estranged twin sisters and they all seem to follow exactly the same sort of pattern and this book is disappointingly similar. All the conflicts are the same, even the way in which one twin betrays the other is always the same! I knew how this part would play out almost as soon as the words “twin” and “betrayal” were mentioned and it was quite disheartening when it turned out as I expected. The character of Lanie was also quite predictable and nothing I haven’t come across before many times in stories involving twins. It seems that literature relies really heavily on this twin dynamic of one always being the troublesome one and the other not and the one that isn’t is always used, abused etc by the one that is but yet cannot truly sever that twin ‘bond’. Although Josie hasn’t seen or spoken to Lanie for years, the second they do see each other again, Josie can’t help but fall into old habits, even though she professes to not want anything to do with her sister. Although they’re at the funeral for their mother and perhaps it is a lesson that life can change suddenly and maybe it’s not worth holding a grudge….it just felt very repetitious and nothing that I hadn’t read before so many times with nothing new to add a fresh twist.

I did like the inclusion of the podcast – each new “installment” of the podcast is included at the beginning of some of the chapters and through that the reader gets to dig deep into the past. I’m not sure I bought that the podcast was such a big deal that it seemed everyone in America was listening to it and discussing it endlessly but it was a cool idea and it was a way for the reader to gain information about this crime that wasn’t through the eyes of Josie. The character of Poppy could’ve been really interesting but again reverted to a typical pushy journalist stereotype who intruded on private moments and turned up on doorsteps shoving microphones and cameras into people’s faces with a “how do you feel?” type question. I liked the style of the podcast, which tackled a different angle each episode and examined issues but Poppy was just such a unlikable character who really didn’t care what she stirred up as long as she got her hits and listens. Her dismissal of something was quite flippant and I think she probably needed to explore that with a more sympathetic eye (as well as look at her own contribution a bit more objectively).

I did enjoy the mystery element of this, the story of who did kill Josie and Lanie’s father and why was really interesting but I felt at times that this was overshadowed by some of the family drama which for me, didn’t add anything to the story and at times bogged it down a bit. I did like Josie and Caleb and was definitely hoping they’d be able to come through all the turmoil.

This was a promising debut with some really exciting and intriguing aspects. It’s just a shame that some elements of the story really didn’t work for me. I’d still be very interested in reading future books from Kathleen Barber though.


Book #149 of 2017

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Review: A Promise To Kill by Erik Storey

A Promise To Kill (Clyde Barr #2)
Erik Storey
Simon & Schuster UK
2017, 269p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Discover a new hero…
Clyde Barr, the drifter with lethal skills, is alone again, wandering the highways of the American West in search of something to believe in. As summer turns to autumn, he heads for the mountains, planning to clear his head and regain his edge with some hunting. But when he runs across an elderly sick man—a Ute Indian from a nearby reservation—Clyde’s dream of solitude is quickly dashed.

On the reservation, Clyde finds the old man’s daughter, Lawana, and grandson, Taylor, as well as a group of menacing bikers called Reapers running wild in the struggling, half-abandoned village. Gripped by the desire to do good in a hard world, Clyde offers to stay on Lawana’s ranch to help out until her father is better. As tensions rise between the locals and the Reapers, Clyde’s efforts to protect the reservation become a fight for his, Lawana’s and Taylor’s lives…

A Promise to Kill is an edge-of-the-seat thriller, pushing its no-hold-barred hero to new levels of improvisation and bare-knuckled blunt force.

This is the second book in the series featuring drifter and former gun for hire and prisoner Clyde Barr. He’s slowly wandering his way through the American wilderness in search of solitude, perhaps needing it more than ever after recent events. It’s not to be though because Clyde first finds himself helping a Ute Native American man and then offering to stay and work on the family farm while he’s in hospital. The farm is part of a reservation which is currently in trouble – it’s been taken over by a group of bikers named the Reapers and they’re wreaking havoc and no one seems capable of doing anything about it.

Now basically here’s the first thing about Clyde Barr – he can’t refuse a person in distress and that’s not just limited to damsels. He won’t take no for an answer in helping the elderly man reach the hospital, he won’t leave the man’s young grandson alone until his mother arrives and then he won’t leave the boy and his mother to fend for themselves on the family farm. And when he sees what is happening in the town….well he can’t let that go either. He has a sort of saviour complex in a way, where he’s compelled to help those that he deems in need or at disadvantage. He seems self-aware of it but at the same time, unable to prevent himself from taking that step, making that remark, etc that generally puts him right in the line of fire.

I find Clyde entertaining because I like his outlook on life. He kind of has this weary sort of way about him and despite the fact that he’s obviously very dangerous both with his bare hands and his weapons, he doesn’t inspire fear or terror. Not Allie in the first novel and not Lawana and her son Taylor in this story either. He’s not threatening in a way that intimidates people, he’s the sort of guy that restricts his power to those that provoke it. He rarely, if ever starts a conflict and generally seeks only to do what he deems necessary in order to finish it.

Clyde has opportunities to probably settle somewhere and become part of something but it doesn’t seem to be the way he is. He craves solitude and uninhabited or very sparsely inhabited lands. He still seems to be making his way toward the Yukon but at the rate he keeps stopping and getting distracted it seems it’ll be an age before he ever gets there. The journey though, is ripe with those sorts of opportunities….Clyde could probably wreak a one man vigilante wave across greater North America, vanishing into the forests and mountains like smoke after setting things to rights.

The Reapers were some seriously messed up villains, taking over the small town on the reservation and taking advantage of the laws that made it difficult for them to be stopped. The local Sheriff had no authority to arrest them and the FBI would only get involved for serious crimes, not the petty stuff the Reapers were doing, which although problematic, wasn’t enough to warrant involvement, which they obviously knew although they weren’t the brains of what was going on and the reason they were really on the reservation. It was only supposed to be temporary but then Clyde arrived and didn’t look the other way and….things happened.

I enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed the first one but for different reasons. In the first book I enjoyed the personal connection between Clyde and the person he was compelled to help. However in this one I enjoyed the role of the Reapers and the way in which the whole ‘town under seige’ played out. It showcased a lot of Clyde’s intelligence and his ability to think on his feet and keep planning and adjusting the plans when required. And man can he take a beating and just keep on going.


Book #147 of 2017



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Review: City Of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

City Of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2)
Cassandra Clare
Walker Books
2008, 411p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City’s Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation. 

Even though this book is old, here’s a ****SPOILER ALERT***** for key plot points from the previous book, City Of Bones.

I remember that about 5 or 6 years ago, I bought the first 3-4 books in this series for an event with Cassandra Clare in Melbourne. I ended up missing that event because my oldest child was sick. I read the first book so I’d know what was happening and I started the second one but didn’t get very far before I abandoned it for something else. Not because I really disliked it but I think at the time I was just a bit annoyed by the “cliffhanger/reveal” at the end of the first book. So when I saw the “Respawn” side challenge for #TheReadingQuest, I looked at my shelf and saw this book. The Respawn challenge is to read a book you previously DNF’d. And so I figured I might as well attempt this again.

It’s been 5 years, so I did read my review of the first novel just to refresh my memory but mostly what I remember was the reveal about Jace and Clary which so obviously seems a red herring. So in this book they’re all angsty because they’ve just found out they’re supposedly brother and sister, even though they were basically falling in love. Awkward. They are kind of tiptoeing around each other, not sure how to act. How do you act, upon discovering you have a surprise sibling….the kicker being that sibling is your crush.

Reading this, I noticed just how much the ‘love triangle’ takes up. Obviously Clary and Jace as a couple are out for now. So the focus switches in a way, to Clary’s friend Simon, who seems to decide to step up and make some decisions etc. Clary just kind of sits back and is like ‘alright’ when Simon kisses her or declares her his girlfriend and part of me gets it. She’s had a big shock, she can’t feel that way about Jace anymore and perhaps it’s just easier to go with the flow for a while. But on the other hand I was rolling my eyes. Like this is something you should be a part of. She loves Simon, but she’s not in love with him. But I guess her feelings are pretty confused, her mother is still in a coma, she doesn’t seem to have any female friends to hash this out with. Clary is pretty passive when it comes to her own feelings.

There’s some bad stuff going on,  the rebel Shadowhunter Valentine is raising demons (or getting someone else to raise them) as he has some cup thing that I’ve forgotten about from book #1 that allows him to command them. His aim is to steal a second Mortal Instrument in this book and he also plans to destroy the Clave. Because Jace is his son, the Inquisitor doesn’t trust him at all – she keeps imprisoning him thinking that he’s Valentine’s spy, despite the fact that Jace keeps swearing that he isn’t. So Alec, Isabelle, Clary and also Simon in a way, spend a lot of time running around either attempting to free Jace or hiding Jace so that he can’t be imprisoned again.

I was not sure I’d like this – I had already DNF’d it once but perhaps the time was enough for me not to be so annoyed about the deliberate ways to keep Jace and Clary apart because I actually found myself quite entertained. So much so that I dug my copies of the 3rd and 4th books in the series out of an overflowing bookcase in order to add them to my pile of books to read in the next month or two. I’m way behind, I honestly don’t even know how many books are in this series and it’s various spin off series’ now.

This series has attracted a lot of controversy, most notably arguments that Clare has “borrowed” elements from a lot of other series’ and she’s also been sued by an author who claimed that this series was too similar to her own. I haven’t actually read pretty much any of the works that Clare is said to have borrowed from. I’ve never read Harry Potter and Clare got her “beginning” in Harry Potter fanfiction. I’ve never read the series of the author that filed suit against Clare either. Her past in fanfiction appears very dubious for sure.

Overall – this was okay. I enjoyed it enough to finish it and I kind of want to see where the series goes. I’m not sure how long the whole Jace and Clary are brother and sister thing is going to drag out but hopefully not for too much longer. To be honest I kind of like Magnus and Alec the most I think. That’s an interesting dynamic and I wouldn’t mind reading more about them.


Book #146 of 2017

City Of Ashes was read as part of my participation in #TheReadingQuest Challenge, created and hosted by Aentee at Read At Midnight. The awesome artwork is by CW at Read, Think, Ponder. This ticks off the side challenge: Respawn. Read a book you have previously DNF’d.

Time to update my character card:

Another 10 experience points for completing a book and another 41 health points gained for the pages read.

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Review: Way Of The Reaper by Nicholas Irving

Way Of The Reaper: My Greatest Untold Missions And The Art Of Being A Sniper
Nicholas Irving
St Martin’s Press
2017, 282p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

From the New York Times Bestselling Author and Co-Star of Fox’s American Grit comes a rare and powerful book on the art of being a sniper. Way of the Reaper is a step-by-step accounting of how a sniper works, through the lens of Irving’s most significant kills – none of which have been told before. Each mission is an in-depth look at a new element of eliminating the enemy, from intel to luck, recon to weaponry. Told in a thrilling narrative, this is also a heart-pounding true story of some of The Reaper’s boldest missions including the longest shot of his military career on a human target of over half a mile.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Nick Irving earned his nickname in blood, destroying the enemy with his sniper rifle and in deadly firefights behind a .50 caliber machine gun. He engaged a Taliban suicide bomber during a vicious firefight, used nearly silent sub-sonic ammo, and was the target of snipers himself. Way of the Reaper attempts to place the reader in the heat of battle, experiencing the same dangers, horrors and acts of courage Irving faced as an elite member of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, while also examining the personal ramifications of taking another life.

Readers will experience the rush of the hunt and the dangers that all snipers must face, while learning what it takes to become an elite manhunter. Like the Reaper himself, this explosive book blazes new territory and takes no prisoners.

If I had to think of a way to describe this book it would be very….American.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction and I’ve read almost no military non-fiction. But I was curious about this. Snipers are a bit of a mysterious element in warfare, you tend to think of them how they’re portrayed in movies, lying in wait in camouflage on top of buildings or in trenches and picking people off from a great distance. I was interested in the emotional side of things, the mental conflict and what it was like for your sole purpose to basically be kill other people.

Now I’m obviously not military and never have been. I’m Australian and city born and bred so I’m not interested in guns either. I can appreciate the skill it takes to become a sniper and the difficult conditions under which they work most of the time. Nicholas Irving served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and I’m sure it was heinous for many reasons. But I don’t glory war and so I think that’s why the overall attitude of this book didn’t sit well with me.

I know the conflict was brutal and I know what it was basically in retaliation for. I get that. But I found it flippant, comprising of a very black and white attitude. Everyone Irving shot was basically referred to as a “bad guy” as in I saw a bad guy coming and aimed. Very good guys and bad guys, little thought about a humanitarian aspect. And that’s what I was primarily interested in when I picked this up. The reasoning a man makes to himself inside when they do this job. Perhaps that is his reasoning. Perhaps for Nicholas Irving this was very black and white. He’s American, he’s on the good side in this war. Everyone else is bad. He doesn’t need to feel bad about killing bad people. But war is more nuanced than that and always has been. In one chapter he confidently assures the reader that the Americans don’t do horrible things to their prisoners, unlike the opposition. If the topic wasn’t so horrifying I might’ve actually laughed out loud.

I understand that I’m not the target audience for this book and probably military and gun enthusiasts will find it more palatable but I never really took to Irving himself, especially when he makes statements such as “some rules made sense to me, but I went ahead and violated them anyway” (p3). There’s also a few remarks about not looking down on ordinary soldiers now that he’s such a big sniper and special ops kinda guy. There’s probably a certain amount of arrogance and ego that’s required in order to do these sorts of things….but it doesn’t necessarily make for someone you can connect with and understand.

This book only twice touched on the kind of stuff I was hoping for – once was when Irving talked about a military dog and the second time was when he talked about the sort of PTSD and “comedown” from military mindset when he retired and came home. I found both of those really interesting and possessing of the sort of reflection I was keen to read about. But the rest of this book is just descriptions of guns and taking out the ‘bad dudes’ without any remorse or inner reflection. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not military and so I don’t know what it’s like to do this…but this book didn’t really bring me any closer to understanding it.


Book #142 of 2017

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Review: So I Married A Sorcerer by Kerrelyn Sparks

So I Married A Sorcerer (The Embraced #2)
Kerrelyn Sparks
St Martin’s Press
2017, 496p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Growing up on the Isle of Moon, Brigitta knows nothing of her past, except that she is Embraced: born with powers that forced her into hiding. Everything changes when she learns she’s a princess, hidden away from her villainous half-brother who now rules the kingdom. But he knows about Brigitta, and he’ll do anything to get her back. Unless a certain roguish pirate has anything to say about it…

Rupert is both an infamous pirate and a sorcerer with the power to harness the wind. He’s been waiting nineteen years for revenge—and he needs Brigitta to get it. What begins as a kidnapping of the fiery beauty turns into a fierce attraction. But can he win the captive princess’s heart?

I read the first book in this series about six months ago and really enjoyed the story and the set up so I was eager to read this one. The title for this one is a bit misleading the cover a bit off putting. I know these are romances with a fantasy/paranormal twist but bleh. Horrid.

Anyway. At first I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first one mostly because I found Rupert (ha, also a really ridiculous name although it’s not his real name. Actually his real name isn’t much better) really annoying for half of the book. He kidnaps Brigitta, one of the women raised on the Isle of Moon because she’s embraced and being embraced is still punishable by death in a lot of places on the ‘mainland’ of kingdoms. Rupert is a notorious pirate who has dedicated his life to getting revenge on Brigitta’s brother and he plans to ransom her to him in order to get even more of his gold. He has a (well placed) hatred of Brigitta’s brother but he spends a large portion of the first part of the book also attempting to hate Brigitta simply by association. He also gets mad at her brother for wanting to hold a tournament for her hand because that’s using her, conveniently forgetting that he’s using her himself for his own gain. Brigitta was sent to the Isle of Moon as a baby for her own protection and has not had anything to do with her family since. She didn’t even know who they were. The idea of Rupert blaming her for their actions is laughable, especially as Rupert is supposedly presented as this incredibly fair and just man with strong morals (even the pirate thing is a bit of a furphy). Some of the stuff he comes out with is so hypocritically laughable that I spent a large portion of the book incredulous at his stupidity.

But if the first half of the book is ordinary, the second half is actually quite good. Brigitta begins to take her destiny into her own hands and learns a lot about herself, her heritage and what she could have. Rupert calms down a bit in wanting to do everything his way and there’s quite an interesting plan concocted to attempt to thwart Brigitta’s brother’s plans for her. There’s a lot of action and sneaky plots and a few interesting minor characters that are definitely more than they appear. A section of this book also works to set up the next book, introducing the reader to the people of a country (Kingdon? Nation?) bordering that of Brigitta’s brother and it looks very interesting. I did feel that there were still things in the second half that felt a bit awkward (like the sudden 180 of Brigitta’s brother’s personality) but for the most part it was very enjoyable and I really liked Brigitta. For me, she was the backbone of the book because her character was so well done that it sort of camouflaged the fact that Rupert’s was a little bit weak. I enjoyed the sideplot of the captain and the nun which added a touch of humour and sweetness but mostly I find myself excited for the next book. There are dragons.

The romance could’ve done with a bit of work, it felt a little forced in places. I’m not sure how I feel about the destiny aspect of these novels. I think that because these meetings are predicted in the games the girls of the Isle play with the stones that there’s less work put into orchestrating that chemistry and making it sizzling. Rupert and Brigitta never really felt like they had much chemistry for me, because the set up was all in that first half where Rupert is being a bit of a giant pill. The second half was a bit better, during the competition where Rupert is no longer concerned with using Brigitta but it’s a bit hard to get behind a character who has kidnapped the woman in order to ransom her to a man generally acknowledged to be a heinous person. If Rupert was smart enough to locate her on a ship as she made her way from the Isle to visit her sister, now Queen of one of the mainland Kingdoms, then surely he’s smart enough to realise she’s been raised in seclusion away from her family and was a tiny baby at the time who literally had no idea what had even happened. I did really like both of their gifts though – Rupert’s controlling the wind certainly gave him an advantage against other ships and he was pretty good at what he did with the pirate thing. And Brigitta’s gift definitely gave her an advantage in that it allowed her to discover things that Rupert didn’t want to tell her. Otherwise she’d have been kept in the dark about a lot of things and she was the one who really had ideas once she did know those things.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me – really liked Brigitta and the second part of the story and the way in which they worked together as a team but the first part felt like it needed a little bit of work in terms of making Rupert a credible character. I’m really looking forward to the next one – the bond these girls have from being raised together is amazing and I am enjoying their journeys as they leave the Isle and fulfill their destinies.


Book #145 of 2017


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