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Review: Return To Roseglen by Helene Young

Return To Roseglen
Helene Young
Penguin Random House
2018, 366p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

At times like these families should be coming together, not tearing each other apart.

On her remote North Queensland cattle station, Ivy Dunmore is facing the end of her days. Increasingly frail, all she holds dear is threatened not just by crippling drought, but by jealousy and greed – and that’s from within her own family.

Can Felicity, who’s battling her own crisis as her fiftieth birthday approaches, protect her mother and reunite her family under the homestead’s faded iron roof? Or will sibling rivalries erupt and long-held secrets from the past break a family in crisis?

Return To Roseglen is a bit of a departure for Helene Young, who has long enjoyed the title of Queen of Australian Romantic Suspense. This book revolves around the Dunmore family, championed by matriarch Ivy who still lives on the family property of Roseglen despite her advancing age. Lately Ivy has been getting a bit confused here and there which unfortunately makes her ripe for the picking by her eldest son Kenneth. He lives nearby on another property but daughters Felicity and Georgina are further afield, Felicity in Brisbane and Georgina wherever her work as a pilot takes her. When Felicity discovers her husband in a compromising position, she decides that she will head home to Roseglen. That will allow her to assess Ivy and see if she needs any assistance and if so, determine what that might be too. Georgina decides to return as well, which sets the three siblings on a collision course as the tensions erupt.

Recently I have read several books where the main characters are women who are slightly older than what I would consider the ‘norm’ for what I read. Not old – just older. Felicity is about to turn 50, Georgina is probably close to 60 and I think Ivy is getting on towards 90. And so there’s a whole bunch of issues and problems that can be explored that women in these age ranges face. For example, Felicity faces starting over, having worked her whole life towards paying off a mortgage and enjoying a comfortable retirement. That’s likely not her future after she discovers her husband’s lack of fidelity and that not only has their mortgage not really decreased all that much but also property prices are falling. Instead of heading into her later working years ‘winding down’ so to speak, she may need to work harder than ever to secure her future after divorce. It can be difficult to start over at any age but there are added stresses when you are coming towards the end of your working life and know that your capacity to earn and secure a comfortable future is limited.

And then there’s Ivy herself…..having lost her husband years ago, Ivy knows she’s coming to that end stage of life. Her worries are different, more about worries for the future of the family property, for her children. I have to admit, I did find the character of Ivy slightly inconsistent at times because everyone kept saying how forward she was, bit of a battle-axe. But she shows significant weakness around her only son and real reluctance to confide in her daughters about what had been going on in recent times and I wasn’t really sure why she kept putting off telling them. I know Ivy had her own plans going on and she was willing to take steps to secure the family property but it just seemed so odd that she kept thinking to herself ‘oh I have to tell them’ and then never actually doing it. I understand the challenge and the responsibility of an ailing parent. My father has recently had to assume full legal and financial responsibility for his mother, who is getting to the stage where her mind is becoming confused and forgetful and she will not be able to live independently any longer. She frequently forgets to eat at meal times, or thinks she has when she hasn’t. It’s a huge deal and it leaves people ripe to be taken for a ride, if the trustee is not 100% vigilant and responsible with the task. There are many who see opportunity and will take what they can get (what they believe is ‘owed’ to them) no matter if there are other siblings, or even if it inconveniences or disadvantages the actual person they are supposed to be caring for. Ken is definitely one such person, a self-entitled, odious man who thought only of himself and how he could use others to fix his own mistakes.

I enjoyed the complicated family relationships in this story – especially the sister dynamic between Georgina and Felicity. They haven’t been particularly close (there’s a significant age gap I think) but when they both come home to Roseglen they definitely find themselves being able to find some common ground, especially considering the fact that the two of them seem to have similar ideas about the property and against the rein of terror of Ken. I also liked Felicity’s friendship with Mitch, the farmer ‘next door’ which dates back to their years as children. Mitch is the one that ‘got away’ but now they are both single and even though Felicity isn’t looking for anything and she’s still dealing with the ending of her marriage, Mitch is there and they fall back into an easy friendship. Mitch also has a very special relationship with Ivy and has always done his best to make sure she was okay through the hard years of drought. I loved the relationship between Mitch and Ivy, it was so sweet and benefited them both so much emotionally.

There’s a mystery here as well, buried deep in the pages. I guessed a small part of it but much of it was an unexpected twist and I thought that played out very well. I’d have liked to have seen a little bit more devoted to Ivy and Georgina though, just to really attack the meat of that relationship. I feel as though it could’ve carried a little bit more of the story. But apart from that, I definitely enjoyed Helene Young’s foray into new territory. I hope she doesn’t completely leave behind romantic suspense but I’ll happily read anything she writes.

8/10

Book #128 of 2018

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Blog Tour Review: Northern Heat by Helene Young

Flat Cover Northern Heat Med ResNorthern Heat
Helene Young
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

In northern Queensland, Conor is living under an assumed name, working low skilled jobs and trying to find his place in the world again. Working coaching kids at the local youth centre gives him a way to get to know some of the local community and also make a difference in the lives of some young kids.

One of his players has been talking up her mother non-stop and Conor has to admit, Dr Kristy Dark does interest him. But as she is the widowed mother of a teenager, Conor doesn’t want to offer her false hope, not while he’s still living a life in hiding. Kristy deserves better and so does her daughter Abby.

For Kristy, this posting was her chance to start again with Abby after they suffered a devastating loss and then another tragedy. She has made a home for herself in this community, she has made friends. She’s helping someone she knows, someone in a dangerous situation. Abby’s sports coach Conor does complicate things but perhaps not in such a bad way.

When Conor is first on the scene of a local murder, neither he nor Kirsty could even begin to imagine what they would discover about their town. As a dangerous cyclone bears down on Cooktown, Conor, Kristy and Abby find themselves not only at the mercy of the elements but someone who will stop at nothing to continue to get what they want. Conor could lose everything he holds dear again by the time the storm is over, unless Kirsty can trust him and they can work together in a way that just might show them both a brighter future.

If you read Helene Young’s novel previous to this, Safe Harbour then you’ll be familiar with Conor and his tragic backstory. I was very pleased when I realised Young’s next novel would revolve around Conor, moving him from supporting character to front and centre and giving him a chance to find some happiness for himself after all he has gone through. I have to say, I think this story does him perfect justice.

It’s set in Cooktown in far (far) north Queensland, quite a long way away from the furthest north I’ve ever been and definitely a new setting for me. It’s wonderful to find books that take the reader away from the capital cities or the vague “outback” and into new places and as she has done previously, Young uses the setting and the impending cyclone to flesh out her characters and also build tension.

Conor is laying low, still using a false name and still living mostly off the grid, on a boat. For Conor, there are still some dangers out there that prevent him from taking back his life. Dr Kirsty Dark is rebuilding hers and has been ever since she accepted the job in Cooktown. As the mother of a daughter straddling that difficult place between child and grown up, Kirsty faces problems getting Abby to include her in her life and there are several concerns she has, especially with the influences she fears Abby may be exposed to by her friendship with a local girl. Kirsty has made friends with the girl’s mother Freya and knows the ugly secrets behind Freya’s perfect facade as wife to one of the area’s wealthiest men.

Conor and Kirsty are two people who have loved and lost and who I think are both quite lonely for adult companionship, even if they don’t know it. Kirsty has a wonderfully giving and patient nature and her dedication towards helping Freya is only one example of how she goes above and beyond but is also discreet. I think that given the amount of woman who have been murdered by their former or current partners in this year alone in Australia, domestic violence is an issue we are going to see more of in fiction and although it’s mostly only touched on here, it’s still something that permeates the story and gives the reader the ability to place themselves in Freya’s shoes and experience the horror that she is living and what her children are exposed to. In her guest post for me, Helene mentioned that she will definitely write Freya’s story one day which makes me very happy. I think she’s a brave and wonderful character, strong and deserving of a better future and someone who will treat her and her children the way they should be treated.

Earlier I mentioned the way in which the weather is used in this story. The cyclone is a living, breathing character that is used to build the tension and suspense as it bears down on the town and Conor and Kirsty find themselves at its mercy. When the storm hits, the story has hit a peak and then the quiet eye slows the pace, allowing the characters (and the reader) to catch their breath before the second onslaught. It’s a really effective way to pace the story and control the way in which the suspense builds and although I live too far south to have ever really had much experience with cyclones, they’re such a part of Australian life during the season that it’s so easy to imagine what it would be like, even though my imagination probably still doesn’t come close to the fury and danger of being out in one.

I really enjoyed this story and the way that all of the facets were woven together so well. Conor and Kirsty complement each other and I feel as though the characters of the teenage girls were spot on too, which can be difficult to achieve. The thread of suspense running through the plot was interesting and kept the me really invested in hoping that some characters really received what they truly deserved! Helene Young is so incredibly consistent and each time I pick up one of her books I really know I’m going to enjoy the ride.

9/10

Book #83 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Northern Heat is the 33rd book for my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Don’t forget to check out Helene Young’s guest post for my blog and make sure you visit the rest of blogs on the tour as well!

 

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Blog Tour: Author Guest Post ~ Helene Young on Songs Into Words

Helene Young Author Photo (QF) Today I am very excited to welcome one of my favourite Australian authors, Helene Young to my blog. I am participating in a blog tour to support the release of Helene’s latest novel, Northern Heat. My review for Northern Heat will be up on the blog later today so make sure you check back for that! You can find out more details about the tour at the end of this post but for now, Helene is sharing a piece she has written on the songs behind the words of Northern Heat. Thank you Helene!

Songs Into Words…

Are you a music lover? Do you have music playing when you’re working, driving or relaxing?

I love music, particularly when I’m driving. I’m one of those nutcases belting out the words sat in a traffic jam… But when I write I usually prefer silence – though of course my characters’ voices in my head can be pretty rowdy!

Up to now Shattered Sky was the only book I’d written that had a song attached to it.  I never did work out why, but I got into the habit of playing Bonnie Tyler’s rousing ‘I Need a Hero’ just before I sat down to write.  I remember running on a treadmill in the Stamford Hotel’s gym after finishing a late session training pilots in the simulator in Sydney. I had headphones on and was singing along at the top of my voice, thinking about the story and certain no one else would be up at that time of the early morning. I was more than a little embarrassed to see the cleaner with a wide smile waving at me as he left just as the song finished…

But then along came Northern Heat. It was different from the start. Several pieces of music attached themselves straight away.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu singing his beautiful song, ‘Wiyathul’, heads the list. For me the song is so very evocative of the land around Cooktown and Black Mountain. His voice has a spiritual sound that transports me with the opening bars.

Next came that plaintive ballad from A Great Big World and Christine Aguilera – ‘Say Something’. To me is speaks so strongly of physical loss as well as emotional loss and this was Conor’s song as he struggled to come to terms with losing his wife and daughter. He didn’t have the chance to say goodbye, to say any of the things that were in his heart and he was still grieving, sure that he didn’t deserve to find love again. I believed he deserved redeeming but he wasn’t sure about that himself.

Pink’s ‘Just Give Me A Reason’ was Kristy’s song. Kristy’s previous marriage had left scars that were always going to be hard to heal. Was the domestic violence real or perceived? Was he controlling or caring? Was he simply older than her and teaching her or was he changing her, ruling her.  The way that marriage ended left her with unanswered questions, left her unsure whether she did have the strength to be her own woman, despite her successful career. She questioned whether she could be a good mother to Abby or whether even there she was failing.  Was her ex-husband right and she was bad mother? Or was she imagining it?

And finally there was ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ by Labrinth. Freya is a secondary character in Northern Heat, but through her actions, and those of her family, she has a huge impact on the story. I know I’ll write her story one day. She’s a beautiful young woman who’s troubled past has taught her that she’s only as good as her looks.  She’s trapped in a marriage that’s spiraling deeper and deeper into violence, but with two children to support she’s terrified of leaving and petrified of staying. The song gave me the optimism to write her story as it was, warts and all, knowing that she would have to face her demons one day.

I hope you enjoy the four songs that provided the backdrop for Northern Heat. Capt G and Zeus are both very glad I’ve finished writing it and there’s different music onboard Roobinesque again!

I suspect the need for music was because Northern Heat, like Burning Lies, is an intimate story.  It’s about a struggling single mum juggling a busy career as a doctor, a man in need of redemption and a teenager hell bent on finding love for her mother again.  At the heart of it is domestic violence, the ripple effect that it can have on the individual, the family and the wider community. Maybe because it is a dark theme I needed music to feed my soul.

If you’re a reader  – do you listen to music when you read? If you’re a writer – do you need music playing when you write?

I’d love to hear what works for you

Helene

To celebrate the release of my sixth book I have six prize packs to give away. Four of them are duos of SAFE HARBOUR and NORTHERN HEAT and one major prize is a complete set of my six books. For international readers there is a duo of e-books to be won. To enter leave a comment here or share the post and/or the trailer on social media site and I’ll double your chances! Hope to see you through May at the following blogs:

5th May: http://bookdout.wordpress.com

7th May: http://auslit.net

10th May: http://deannasworld1.blogspot.com.au

12th May: http://www.jennjmcleod.com

14th May: http://ausromtoday.com

17th May: https://1girl2manybooks.wordpress.com

19th May: http://writenotereviews.com

21st May: https://australianbookshelf.wordpress.com

24th May: https://nevendbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/reviews/

26th May: http://teddyree-theeclecticreader.blogspot.com.au

28th May: http://australianruralromance.com

31st May: http://talkingbooksblog.net

2nd June: Wrap up and announce the winner on my blog-

http://www.heleneyoung.com

 

Northern Heat – Release date 27th May, 2015 In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown’s youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and the opportunity to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark. The local GP is hiding her own secrets and struggling to raise her feisty teenage daughter alone. When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they’ll both lose someone they love.

Author Bio When Helene’s not writing novels she enjoys a busy career as the Queensland Regional Flying Manager with Australia’s largest regional airline. She’s worked in aviation for over 25 years and has 260 pilots reporting into her. She recently appeared in ‘Judith Lucy is All Woman’ in an episode showcasing women in aviation. She has twice won the highly coveted RWA’s Romantic Book of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and was shortlisted for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Crime and Suspense. She has also been nominated in the Ned Kelly and Sisters in Crime Awards. Helene’s last novel, Safe Harbour, was voted Australia’s 2014 Favourite Romantic Suspense Novel. This is the fourth time Helene’s stories have won the award. A motivational speaker and writing mentor, Helene lives aboard a catamaran on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and she plans one day to sail around the world in it.

Pre-order Buy Links http://www.booktopia.com.au http://www.amazon.com.au http://www.bookworld.com.au

Northern Heat Trailer You Tube: HTML version : Flat Cover Northern Heat Med Res

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Review: Safe Harbour – Helene Young

Safe HarbourSafe Harbour
Helene Young
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Darcy Fletcher is back in the town she grew up in after a stint in Sydney where she learned to be a chef and even had her own restaurant. However she’s returned to Banksia Cove, near Bundaberg, for family reasons and is currently working hard to fulfill her dream again of opening her own place. She has chosen the old whaling station as her location and everything is moving along nicely. Darcy also volunteers with the marine rescue team and is called out by the local police officer (and her childhood friend) Noah to help in a storm. A yacht has capsized and is perilously close to smashing itself to smithereens on the rocks. Noah, Darcy and the captain of the rescue boat are an undermanned team working to rescue the stricken yacht’s passenger before he too, ends up on the rocks.

Darcy manages to pull the injured man to safety but he brings only questions and no answers. He can’t remember his name, where he comes from or what he was doing out there. He doesn’t even know if the boat was his. Noah does some digging, his instincts telling him that something about this passenger is a little off. He’s definitely got some secrets and they could possibly be very dark ones. Noah doesn’t want Darcy in danger, especially as she’s just offered her spare room to the stranger while he recuperates from his injuries and tries to get his memory back.

It isn’t long before the stranger’s dark past comes looking for him in the small town. He and Darcy are forced to flee, holing up inside the old whaling station where the secrets start to spill out. Darcy is surprised to find that her stranger has a connection to her own family and that his secrets are set to bring down someone very close to her. He knows more than he’s letting on and he wants to protect her but Darcy doesn’t want protecting. She wants to know what he knows. She wants to know what everyone’s been keeping from her, including the man she has known and loved all these years.

I have been a huge fan of Australian romantic suspense author Helene Young since I read her first novel Wings Of Fear. I don’t think there’s a better romantic suspense writer out there at the moment. All of her stories are perfectly crafted, well written and her settings and characters suck me in. It would seem that many out there would agree with me, given the amount of awards Young is receiving including 2 at the Australian Romance Readers Association awards that took place just last weekend.

This book is everything I’ve come to expect from Young as an author. There’s a lot going on but the plot never feels crowded or rushed. We get enough of Darcy’s backstory to get to know her without it all feeling like infodump. She had a difficult childhood and she still has issues, particularly with her father, a now famous rugby league coach who has always made her feel inferior for not being the son he wanted. He now has a new family and lives in Sydney, high on the fame of coaching a successful team. Darcy has always been ignorant about her father’s methods but his world is about to collide with that of the mysterious stranger that Darcy pulled out of the ocean and soon she will be missing none of the pieces.

The suspense is always the predominant plot in this novel but that doesn’t mean the romance gets neglected – it’s just more understated, more of a quiet hum in the background. Noah, the local police officer and Darcy have known each other since they were small children. They both have feelings for the other and have done, for years but there’s a lot of water flowing under their bridge and both of them are suffering from misconceptions about the other’s feelings, especially relating to certain issues in both of their pasts. Darcy also finds herself drawn to the man she rescues, who is handsome and mysterious and it’s quite clear that he also finds himself drawn to her as well. It’s a deftly done complication that doesn’t take up too much page space. Previously Helene Young has introduced characters that later get their own story and I do wonder if we’ll see our mysterious stranger again! I hope so. There’s no denying that I think Noah and Darcy belong together, and I loved the quiet steadiness of the feelings they had for each other that they kept secret, that they both struggled not to allow to affect their strong friendship. Noah in particular struggled with this, determined to remain Darcy’s friend even if she could never return the feelings he had for her. He was definitely more accepting of his feelings for her, Darcy it seemed put them right to the back of her mind until all the drama was stirred up and they were forced into some precarious situations that make them either unable or unwilling to continue to hide their feelings.

There are some beautiful relationships in this book, besides the one that Young constructs between Noah and Darcy. I think probably the most notable one is Darcy and Rosie, a local Aboriginal woman who took a lonely child Darcy under her wing and showed her true love and friendship. Rosie is also an important Elder in her tribe and she does her best to make sure the youngsters are kept in line, or punished when they stray from it. Rosie and Darcy have a truly lovely rapport and you can see just how important Darcy has found the love Rosie gave her unconditionally and how much she drew strength from it as a person. Rosie was always there for her, even when other people in her life were letting her down, even when Darcy was letting herself down. The more dysfunctional relationships, including that of Darcy and her father are also well portrayed, with every interaction underlining Darcy’s hurt and rejection from a man who seems incapable of truly feeling empathy.

Another truly stellar novel from the go-to author for Australian romantic suspense.

9/10

Book #69 of 2014

AWWW2014

Safe Harbour is book #26 of 2014 for the Australian Women Writers Challege

Check out the book trailer – it’s definitely atmospheric!

 

 

 

 

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Half Moon Bay – Helene Young

Half Moon BayHalf Moon Bay
Helene Young
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Ellie Wilding has spent the last two years running from the pain and guilt of losing her older sister Nina in Afghanistan. A photographer, Ellie has worked around the world, avoiding home. But it seems that she can’t run any longer – some neighbours have asked her for some help in fighting a corrupt mayor who wants to ignore a former resident’s wishes and sell off the land she left to the town to highest bidder. More than that, there’s some suspicious funds transfers going on and even more suspicious activities in the fishing trawlers who don’t seem to mind going out when there isn’t anything to catch.

Nicholas Lawson walked away from the Army after the incident that killed Nina Wilding. He knows that Ellie doesn’t remember him from that day she organised a medivac to get her sister out of the hellhole of Afghanistan so when they cross paths again, there are no happy reunions. Ellie wants to get to the bottom of exactly what Nicholas is doing in her home town and why his employers won’t take no for an answer about building their resort on a patch of land deemed for a community center. Nicholas wants her to butt out, lest she find herself embroiled in something far more dangerous than she can even imagine.

As Ellie gets deeper involved in this fight to save her small town from being taken over by a huge resort and who knows what else, she finds her life in danger – and her heart. She can’t trust Nicholas Lawson because his character inconsistencies and thinly veiled threats tell he that he’s up to no good. But she can’t deny the attraction she feels towards him either and Ellie has felt precious little in the recent years. And the more she digs, the more she feels like there’s something Nick isn’t telling her about her sister.

Half Moon Bay is Helene Young’s fourth novel and the first one in which she strays away from far north Queensland and the border security organisations. Instead we are introduced to Ellie Wilding, a photographer who was working in Afghanistan with her sister Nina, a journalist. Ellie left briefly to undertake another assignment and when she returned it was to find Nina in a coma from which she was not expected to survive. In the two years since, Ellie has been travelling the globe, running away from the memories and trying to avoid the grief and pain. Only a threat to Half Moon Bay, her beloved home town on the north coast of NSW, calls her home.

Ellie’s grief is so heartbreakingly palpable – she’s not just devastated at losing her sister, she blames herself for leaving her to take the other assignment. Saving Half Moon Bay is just another way to distract Ellie from the guilt and grief that has plagued her, even though being back here brings up so many memories of Nina. When she crosses paths with Nicholas Lawson, she has no recollection of him being there on the tarmac with her in Afghanistan as she prepared to get her sister out. But she has other reasons to distrust him – he’s attached to the new project designated for land that should’ve been used to benefit the community. The Mayor is lining his own pockets and the town isn’t happy but they need someone with connections, someone who can blow the whistle – Ellie.

Unfortunately for Ellie, the only man that’s interested her in years, she feels she can’t trust. Nicholas Lawson is up to his neck in this development – cosy chats with the mayor about funds and a schmoozing ability to cut a swathe through the opposition with his dark good looks and smile. When a journalist friend of Ellie’s tells her that Nicholas was in Afghanistan at the time Nina was killed, Ellie has even more reason to distrust him. After all, he hasn’t mentioned anything about knowing her sister. It further fuels her suspicions and further makes her reluctant to become involved with him. But that proves to be easier said than done as she continues to get closer to him, despite her best intentions not to.

The chemistry between Ellie and Nick is fraught with unresolved tension, both sexual and otherwise. Ellie wants to find out what secrets he’s keeping and Nick wants her to stay the heck away from all of this. His attempts to dissuade her make his actions seem all the more suspicious, especially as he attempts to threaten her in order to attempt to keep her safe. As far as threats go, they aren’t really Nick’s strong point and Ellie pays about as much attention to them as she does to a fly. But when it seems that her safety (and possibly even her life) might be in danger she has to wonder just how dangerous Nick might be. Is he what she thinks he is? Or is he in this for an entirely different reason?

I really connected with the setting in this novel – I grew up a couple of hours south of where Helene Young has mostly based this book (and the rest of my family still live there and I visit that area as often as I can) and the local small towns and communities are very familiar to me, as are the sights and scenery. I can understand the locals desire to protect their small haven as well as implement services they believe that the community will need and I can also understand how the temptation to succumb to boosting the economy can war with this. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot and what the link between Afghanistan and Half Moon Bay is but I enjoyed the way in which it all came together when it looked as if it might be drawing a long bow at the beginning at the novel.

It’s hard to top the love I have for Burning Lies, Young’s third novel but Half Moon Bay does come quite close. It’s a tightly knit story with some fantastically drawn characters. There’s a lot to uncover and it’s done with great timing. My only (tiny) criticism – I’d have liked Ellie to throw caution to the wind a little earlier. I know why she didn’t, because the story had to unfold. But I’m impatient that way.

9/10

Book #114 of 2013

AWW2013

Half Moon Bay is the 48th novel read and reviewed for my participation in the Australian Women Writers 2013 Challenge.

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Burning Lies – Helene Young

Burning Lies
Helene Young
Penguin AU
2012, 366p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Ryan O’Donnell is an undercover cop on a new assignment, tracking a suspected arsonist in the Atherton Tablelands in northern Queensland. He’s playing the part of a city fire fighter on stress leave, volunteering for the local brigade hoping to get a handle on what’s going on, infiltrate and find out information. This brings him into contact with Kaitlyn Scott.

Kaitlyn works for Border Watch and it’s her job to help track arsonists using infra-red equipment in the air. She has a painful past, losing her husband, her father and her home in a fire five years ago and she fled north with her mother and her young son, looking to put some distance between her and the tragedy. When she meets Ryan, a mysterious man who is renting the house closest to hers, the attraction is immediate. But Kaitlyn is damaged and scarred, even as she’s drawn to Ryan. The way Ryan is towards her young son softens her heart towards him but she keeps telling herself that he’s too secretive. Too mysterious. And she can’t be drawn in by someone she thinks she knows only to be hurt again.

It is soon obvious that the fires working their devastation in the local area can only be deliberately lit. Fueled by hot weather and dry storms with lightning strikes, the conditions are perfect for the firebug to truly wreak some havoc. Kaitlyn is desperate to not only identify the culprit but protect herself and her family from another devastating loss. But the rumours and half-truths are flying as thick and fast as the flames and Kaitlyn doesn’t know who she can trust. Could she have put her faith in the wrong man again?

Burning Lies is the third and final novel in the Border Watch trilogy. I read the other two recently and this became one of my most anticipated novels of 2012 and I was thrilled when a finished copy arrived on my doorstep courtesy of the people at Penguin Australia. Both Ryan and Kaitlyn appear in the previous novel, Shattered Sky. We didn’t see much of Kaitlyn but Ryan played a small part in the important story and I had liked him immediately so I was excited when I heard he moved to front and centre for the final novel. Ryan is back undercover again, even though the events of his last mission have left scars on him, both physical and mental. His job is to investigate the likelihood of an arsonist at work, taking on the persona of Brad Ryan.

Ryan is so used to slipping into constructed identities, something that he’s been doing for many years now. He’s beginning to recognise that he’s having trouble remembering exactly who the real Ryan is, until he meets Kaitlyn. He feels that he can be himself around her, the person that he really is without any need to dress it up or play a role. Now I was already a fan of Ryan but I enjoyed him even more, especially with both Kaitlyn and also her family. When Kaitlyn’s seven year old son Daniel comes around, Ryan knows he should send him packing. But he can’t bring himself to, instead bonding with the boy and spending time with him. In his friendship with Daniel, Ryan sees what could be his life. He didn’t even know he wanted it until he met them.

Kaitlyn is fragile and inexperienced and although she wants Ryan to be trustworthy, she can’t quite convince herself that he is. She sweats the small stuff, such as Ryan’s age (or assumed age, she really has no idea how old he is) as a way to possibly stall the inevitable. Helene Young has done a great job laying the foundations for a delicious sexual attraction with hidden depths for two characters who are both essentially quite lonely and missing that key connection with another person in their lives. Kaitlyn has deliberately kept herself aloof from people, not forming any real friendships and Ryan’s job means that his connections to people are all made under false aliases and only temporary. In each other, they can both see something permanent.

Like Wings Of Fear and Shattered Sky before it, Burning Lies delves into an important issue facing this country: arsonists. We are a country of long droughts at times and high temperatures. Bushfires are a given and they can be absolutely devastating. But time after time, things are made far worse by people deliberately lighting fires for the sheer thrill of watching things burn. Often these result in homes and even lives being lost. It’s hard enough to fight the destruction of nature without adding in. Burning Lies is meticulously researched but with information and scenarios that don’t slow down the pace building at all. The story keeps moving, never pausing, making its way to the dramatic climax that delivers everything promised throughout.

Burning Lies is a fantastic conclusion to what has been a wonderful trilogy. Fresh and different for me in more ways than one, it was lovely to read stories set in northern Queensland, not often a popular choice of setting despite its beauty. Likewise the characters jobs have been equally new to me but also interesting, giving me a better idea of just how much work goes into monitoring and protecting our vast coastline.

9/10

Book #109 of 2012

Burning Lies is the 40th novel I’ve read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Burning Lies is set for release today (Monday 2nd July 2012).

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Shattered Sky – Helene Young

Shattered Sky
Helene Young
Hachette AU
2011, 342p
Read from my local library

**Please note this review will contain ***SPOILERS*** of the previous novel, Wings of Fear***

Captain Lauren Bennett is on a routine surveillance flight when they pick up the garbled distress call of a yacht. Although they can do little to render assistance other than relay the call to a patrolling Navy boat nearby, they can help by flying low enough for the people on board the distressed yacht to sight them and know that help is on the way. Lauren also maintains radio contact and stays above the yacht as long as possible, delaying her return to base because she cannot bear to leave another person alone under treacherous conditions after the devastating experience that rocked her world nearly a year ago. She lost a crew member that day and more importantly, the beautiful blonde lost someone that she loved and was never able to tell him that.

Callum Granger is the man in charge aboard the Navy boat that goes to the yacht’s rescue. He knows Lauren through their fallen friend Gavin and not long after Gavin’s tragic death, he said something hurtful and careless to her that he shouldn’t have and that cut her to the bone. He’s been looking for a way to apologise ever since but Lauren isn’t taking his calls. When they run into each other in the hospital visiting the rescued yacht crew, he finally gets his chance to make amends.

At first the yacht looked like it’d caught the wrong end of a cyclone but the truth is quickly uncovered – they were boarded and sabotaged and then drifted into the path of the oncoming cyclone. Lauren slowly discovers that something sinister is going on up in the north – bikie gangs are smuggling in Asian women who believe they’re coming to Australia to work in factories but really they’re going to be trapped in the country as sex slaves, with no passports, no rights and kept in terrible conditions. Through a friend of hers who works with rescuing such women, Lauren learns a lot. Including the location the bikies are using to smuggle the women in and also to hold them before flying them out of the remote north down south to the capitals. And she just happens to be on holiday – camping up north suddenly looks good, because she needs some evidence before she can take it to the relevant authorities.

Callum knows Lauren is partially fleeing a misunderstanding, especially with a tragic anniversary looming. He pursues her, discovering she isn’t where she said she’d be. When he finds her, Lauren is in danger up to her eyeballs and she’s fighting for her life – and the lives of all the girls she’s trying so hard to save. It’s up to Lauren to get them out safely because she’s the only person who can. And now there’s also Callum…whom she has come to care for. She can’t lose another person that means so much to her.

Shattered Sky is loosely a sequel to Wings of Fear, focusing this time on Lauren, who was Morgan’s provocative first officer. Now promoted to Captain herself, she flies her own team, although she still links up with Morgan regularly and maintains their friendship. We see a different Lauren in this novel – gone are the bright red fingernails, the teetering high heels, the flirtatious innuendos. Instead Lauren is grieving and also stung deep by a comment from Callum. She knows that she acted out a little after Gavin’s death but to have to shoved in her face was callous and cruel and she’s been avoiding him ever since. When they’re thrown back into each other’s company, it sets off an instant attraction.

Callum is at a point in his life where he’s ready to settle down, make a go of things. Lauren is more unstable, still reeling from the loss of Gavin, still uncertain about what she wants and if she’s deserving of happiness after the actions surrounding his death. It still eats at her and it’s like she’s determined to make up for it by saving as many people as she can, such as the couple on the stricken yacht and then the girls being trafficked from the Asian islands, when she hears about them.

Shattered Sky is every bit a breathless, fun read as Wings of Fear, with characters that you can get invested in. I liked Lauren well enough in Wings of Fear but that was Morgan’s story and now it’s her turn to shine. Her character is full of depth and development and I enjoyed seeing her come almost full circle as she heals and deals and realises that she is worthy. Callum is just the man to show her that she is.

Normally I don’t really love protagonists that wander into dangerous situations that they have no business being in but Lauren’s intervention was necessary in this story and although the whole situation had me on the edge of my seat frantically flipping pages to ensure nothing would happen to people I cared about, it didn’t at all bother me like it so often would. Unfortunately Helene Young had me reaching for the tissues again with the fate of a character I had come to really enjoy and had prayed for a happy ending for, even though I suspected very early on it would not happen. I know now that I need to have tissues ready in advance!

Burning Lies is the third and final novel in this trilogy, spinning off again with a lesser character from this novel and expanding on their story to make them the main character. It’s due out around the middle of this year and I’m pretty thrilled to already have a copy although I’m going to (try and) wait until much closer to the release date. The temptation may be too much though!

Another enjoyable, fast paced read set in our beautiful north.

8/10

Book #53 of 2012

Shattered Sky is also a read for my Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2012! It’s the 14th novel completed for the challenge.

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Wings Of Fear – Helene Young

Wings Of Fear (formerly Border Watch)
Helene Young
Hachette AU
2011 (originally 2010), 325p
Read from my local library

Captain Morgan Pentland works in far north Queensland, flying an aircraft as part of the border patrol team, tasked with keeping Australia’s vast borders secure. It’s a difficult job with so much coastline, especially far up north where there are sections that are uninhabited. When Customs Agent Rafe Daniels appears to join her crew for a mission, she is instantly suspicious and wary of him. What does he want? Why does what he says not match what he orders them to do? Morgan is even more disturbed when finds him in her aircraft, alone.  And even though she doesn’t trust him, it doesn’t stop her being attracted to him, which she really doesn’t need right now. Morgan is an expert at holding herself distant, trusting only her core team – her beautiful, flirtatious young co-pilot Lauren and technical wizard Gavin.

Rafe Daniels is former SAS now working for Customs investigating suspicious activity and the possibility of a double agent in Queensland’s beautiful tropical north. He knows there is a leak and their first suspect is none other than Morgan Pentland and Rafe is here not only to investigate the goings on, but also determine if Morgan is involved, and if so, how deep. When they find a boat carrying a SAM that shoots them down, Rafe and Morgan are forced to put their distrust of each other aside and start to work together in order to discover exactly what is going on up here and what the plans are of the boat they’ve spotted, which isn’t the normal illegal fishing trawler looking to score in Australian waters. Doesn’t look like people smugglers either, so as far as Rafe is concerned, that leaves one option: terrorists.

With relative quickness, Rafe and Morgan uncover the plot – extremists plan to target one of Sydney’s most famous icons at a time when crowds will be at their peak, an act which would be a catastrophic. And what’s worse is that they have just nine days before the attack is due to take place – nine days to find and intercept the explosives, or capture the perpetrators and get them into custody.

I’d seen a few good reviews of Wings Of Fear (which was previously published as Border Watch) around so when I discovered both this book and the sequel of sorts, Shattered Sky were at my local library I headed down and picked them both up. And right away, this book draws you in with its characters and the job they do.

Morgan is heavily flawed – a traumatic childhood has made her aloof and it’s clear trusting other people doesn’t come easy to her. However, she has a strength and purpose that makes her admirable, and the fact that she relaxes around her friends and loosens up provides the reader with another side of her. Lauren, her beautiful off-sider provides a perfect balance for Morgan, who is taciturn more than flirtatious and despite their differences, the two women have a very deep friendship that doesn’t waver, which as I’ve mentioned before, I love reading about. And their job sounds like a dream – flying aircraft over the beautiful waters of far northern Queensland, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity and simply taking surveilance and sending the photos back to the relevant organisations.

Rafe has his own demons – his previous career in the SAS ended in tragedy and now he works in customs. He’s sent to investigate Morgan and her team but from early on, he has a feeling that she isn’t involved. He’s attracted to her, despite her difficulties and keeping him at arms length and he’s a patient man. He has the time to work slowly, to win her over and worm his way into her affections when she holds herself so aloof from most people. But first he will need to negotiate Morgan finding out that he was sent to investigate her…

Their simple recon mission turns deadly when they are shot down by a boat with a SAM (surface to air missile). Morgan and Rafe go for help, leaving Lauren and a critically injured Gavin, the tech wiz, behind as Gavin isn’t able to move. By the time Morgan and Rafe are able to secure the help they need and return to the crash site, they discover that the boat that shot them down wasn’t content to just stop there. Now Morgan is dealing with grief and guilt, further spurring on her determination to find the culprits and bring them to justice before they can put into action their plot.

Wings Of Fear is a tightly written and really enjoyable novel about a job that the average Australian might not know too much about. The top of our country is remote and expansive to guard and I have to admit, I’ve never given too much thought to what goes on up there other than HMAS Navy boats possibly patrolling. I really enjoyed reading about Morgan, Lauren, Gavin and Rafe’s jobs, it was certainly something different for me.

8/10

Book #51 of 2012

Wings of Fear counts towards my 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge and is the 13th novel I’ve completed towards it. It’s set in beautiful far north Queensland, centred around Cairns and a suburb within called Trinity Beach (which is where an ex-flatmate of mine now lives, so I got a bit of a kick out of reading that!). The town of Weipa also features, which is located high up in the Gulf of Carpentaria, almost as far north as you can go in Australia. It’s the first time in my memory that I’ve ever read anything set in Cairns, so it was very refreshing to read a book set in Australia that wasn’t in a capital city (usually Sydney or Melbourne) or the very, very outback. I’m looking forward to Shattered Sky.

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