All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Lost Valley by Jennifer Scoullar

The Lost Valley (The Tasmanian Tales #2)
Jennifer Scoullar
Pilyara Press
2018, 361p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Tasmania, 1929: Ten-year-old-twins, Tom and Harry Abbott, are orphaned by a tragedy that shocks Hobart society. They find sanctuary with their reclusive grandmother, growing up in the remote and rugged Binburra ranges – a place where kind-hearted Tom discovers a love of the wild, Harry nurses a growing resentment towards his brother and where the mountains hold secrets that will transform both their lives.

The chaos of World War II divides the brothers, and their passion for two very different women fuels a deadly rivalry. Can Tom and Harry survive to heal their rift? And what will happen when Binburra finally reveals its astonishing secrets?

From Tasmania’s highlands to the Battle of Britain, and all the way to the golden age of Hollywood, ‘The Lost Valley’ is a lush family saga about two brothers whose fates are entwined with the land and the women they love.

This is the second in rural lit author Jennifer Scoullar’s Tasmanian Tales series. The first book introduced us to a part of Tasmania that had remained mostly untouched – old growth forest teeming with wildlife, including the elusive thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. It gave us a love story that spanned decades of heartache and separation and this book picks up into the future with the grandchildren of Isabelle, 10 year old twins Tom and Harry who unexpectedly come into her care after a family tragedy.

Belle has to adjust to having two young children to care for, at a time in her life when it wouldn’t be particularly expected. She takes to the task with enthusiasm however, wanting to give them safety and sanctuary, a place to heal their grief. They retreat to country Tasmania, to her family’s old property and there the boys explore and play, scaring off private tutor after private tutor. It’s not all fun and games though – the boys have their challenges and Harry in particular has a darkness that lurks inside of him, shadowing his relationship with his brother into their adulthood.

Woven into the story of Tom and Harry is that of Emma, a young girl the twins meet when their grandmother takes them to the city. Emma has passion for wildlife and spends her days trying to bulk up the feed of animals at the local zoo, which has fallen into mismanagement. The animals are starving, pacing their cages. Nocturnal animals have their burrows or hidey holes shut off in the day, forcing them to stay out in the open for people to observe them. It seems that no one wants to pay to go to the zoo and then have all the animals be sleeping and out of sight. This messes with their body clocks and makes them miserable and this part of the story was truly hard to read. I’ve been to zoos plenty of times, when animals haven’t been visible. One of my favourite animals is a wombat – try spotting any of them when you visit a zoo or sanctuary! They’re always asleep and so they should be, because that’s how they are. Thankfully zoo-type conservation has moved on and the animals are given habitats and routines as close to their wild and native habitats as can be perfected. There are still plenty of issues surrounding zoos and the like but the way they are run has definitely changed for the better.

Emma is soon forced to return home to care for her mother and her story takes such an interesting turn. She’s motivated by a need to earn money to care for her mother, who needs round-the-clock nursing. Her brothers are mostly unhelpful and useless and it falls to Emma to assume responsibility for not just herself but her mother as well. She crosses paths with one twin or the other over the years, her destiny tied to theirs in the most complicated of ways. I thought Emma’s story was handled remarkably well, providing a different insight into a certain sort of life that I don’t think many authors have portrayed so well. I think the reader was really given the chance to understand Emma’s position and her motivations and the ways in which she was able to make these choices for herself. It perhaps may not have started that way but she did use what happened to take control and power for her own destiny. She really does use what happened to her, the position she was put in, to better her own life and to be the one in charge. She goes from being very helpless to financially independent, reclaiming herself and her ability to choose her future. She is a really interesting character and I enjoyed the time devoted to her a lot.

As always, conservation is a strong thread running through this book, from the beginning of the boys exploring their new home to Belle confiding her secrets so that they may be preserved for many years to come. This creates conflict between the two siblings, amplifying the chip Harry seems to have on his shoulder regarding his brother and his confused and muddled feelings after their parents’ deaths. This builds so well throughout the novel novel, Scoullar expanding on the tension that has simmered between the boys since their childhood until it explodes.

This was a fantastic follow up to the first book – these books just flow so well and they’re so readable. I read both on my iPad and sometimes it can be difficult to judge how long you have to go until the finish but these simply fly by so fast I don’t even get time to wonder. I fall into the story of this family so easily – their loves and losses, the passion for the land that underpins everything. I think there’s another book to come and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

8/10

Book #167 of 2018

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Review: Kiss The Girl by Tara Sivec

Kiss The Girl (The Naughty Princess Club #3)
Tara Sivec
Swerve (St Martin’s Press)
2018, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A struggling antiques collector finds herself falling in love with a millionaire playboy; but can she ever be a part of his world?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

While her friends have broken free of their insecurities, Ariel Waters is struggling to come out of her shell. Her ex-husband took away her voice and her self-confidence, and Ariel is drowning under a sea of debt to afford the alimony she has to pay him. She refuses to ever fall for a man’s charms again, and is determined to make her own way.

When her house and her beloved antiques are taken by the bank after too many missed payments, Ariel finds herself adrift until the infuriatingly charming Eric Sailor comes to her rescue. Although she can’t stand the millionaire playboy, Eric’s kindness and unconditional support reveal hidden depths and a love that Ariel never imagined she could find.

But there are outside influences who will stop at nothing to keep them apart; can Ariel and Eric weather the storm and find a way to be together?

This is the third and final novel in the Naughty Princess series and I absolutely loved the first two so I was really looking forward to this one, especially as we’d seen glimpses of Ariel and Eric’s dynamic throughout the other two books. Eric had made plain his interest and Ariel had made equally plain that she didn’t want anything to do with the playboy so it was always going to be full of sparks.

The previous books have detailed some of Ariel’s struggles but she hits rock bottom at the opening of this novel, as sheriffs move in to take her house because she’s behind on her mortgage payments, crippled by the alimony she has to pay her ex-husband. Forced to leave her beloved antiques behind, Ariel is thrown a lifeline by the one person she doesn’t want to be indebted to – Eric Sailor, part owner with PJ in the strip club. Both Cindy and Belle have danced at the club and are now booking parties through the Naughty Princess Club but Ariel, despite being the most outwardly confident of them all, has yet to take that step. She claims to be holding back to let them find their groove but it’s clear that there’s a lot more to Ariel’s story.

In previous books I had wavered in liking Ariel – she’s funny and very straightforward, often brusque and sometimes quite rude. In this book, her own story, she’s even worse, dialled right up and unfortunately I found her a bit difficult to read at times. She’s always swearing, which is fine, I swear a lot but I don’t construct whole paragraphs out of just swear words, some of which don’t even really make sense when put together. A lot of Ariel’s speeches are angry speeches and her swearing and I have to admit, it got quite wearying.

I’ve long wondered about Ariel’s marriage, which has only been vaguely referenced prior to this. Finally the answers are given and it definitely wasn’t what I expected but definitely made a lot of Ariel’s hang ups kind of fall into place and make sense, such as the reason why she hasn’t danced yet. I really enjoyed the character of Eric and how supportive he was of Ariel (and how appreciative) but at times he just appeared almost too good to be true in a way. He doesn’t make any mistakes and to be honest, he’s pretty removed from the main conflict even though it’s about him in a way. I wasn’t a big fan of the main conflict, I don’t think it makes a huge amount of sense in the contemporary framing and everyone in this story is an adult and should be able to be given the chance to make their own decisions, rather than have them made for them. So that didn’t really work for me and seemed only thrown in because Eric, the way he was written, was never going to do anything in this story to create any conflict between him and Ariel directly.

For me, this wasn’t a strong finish to the series, which is unfortunate. I found the first two much funnier and also, much sexier in terms of the chemistry between the two characters. I had thought I’d enjoy Ariel and Eric’s banter and dance but it was kind of over before it started and they were loved up really quickly before the book moved into the conflict from an external source. So all in all, this was a mixed bag for me. The writing is still good and I enjoyed the Naughty Princess idea a lot but Eric and Ariel as a couple just didn’t really do it for me.

6/10

Book #154 of 2018

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Review: The Right Place by Carla Caruso

The Right Place 
Carla Caruso
HQ Fiction
2018, 320p
Copy courtesy Harlequin AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can the past show you the way home? Charming and memorable, The Right Place is an Australian novel, combining warm romance with family drama and the longing to fit in. Perfect for readers who love The Missing Pieces of Us by Fleur McDonald and Josephine Moon.

With her dreams of dominating Melbourne’s fashion scene in tatters, Nella Martini has returned to the last place she wants to be – Torrente Blu, the market garden inherited from her late nonna. She just needs to clean up the property, sell it quickly, and avoid run-ins with her neighbour: surly Adrian Tomaso. But when Nella comes across her nonna’s cookbook things start to change. The place, with its endless tomato plants and gallons of olive oil in storage, gets under her skin, as does Adrian with his passion for this life. But her dreams have always meant being anywhere but here – haven’t they? Or has the right place been here all this time? For Esta Feliciano in the 1950s, the right place was her Italian village. But in search of a better life than war-torn Italy has to offer, her husband has moved Esta and their daughter to this alien country, settling on a small, flat piece of land that he calls Torrente Blu. Can Esta come to grips with the harsh Australian sun and strange culture?

Woven with traditional Italian recipes, The Right Place is the heartfelt story of two women’s journeys, as they discover how the right place to call home can be where you make it…

The cover of this book is beautifully eye-catching but I also read it because fellow blogger Theresa Smith absolutely sang its praises and we do like quite a lot of the same books so I thought this was something I might enjoy. Also as I’ve mentioned lots of times before, my husband’s family are Italian and although my father-in-law didn’t have a market garden, he turned most of their standard quarter acre block into a huge family garden, growing enough vegetables to feed his large extended family and enough Roma tomatoes to make 200 long neck bottles of their own passata-style sauce every year. At last count there was probably a couple thousand bottles in his garage! So I knew a lot of this would be familiar and relatable as well. I’ve always envied my father-in-law’s garden and the idea of inheriting something similar to what Nella does in this book is very appealing.

When Nella inherits the property, she’s not really interested in keeping it. She’s long left the suburbs of Adelaide behind for Melbourne and a career in fashion. The house her grandmother left her will be just the kick she needs to reboot her career after her last venture didn’t go quite right. So she plans to briefly stay to clear out the house of her Nonna’s things and get it ready for sale. Unfortunately it comes with a slight complication – her Nonna’s land is leased to the next door neighbour to double his market garden and Adrian Tomaso is someone Nella wants to avoid but not disadvantage. But the longer she spends at the place that holds so many memories for her, the more it begins to get under her skin. Soon she is enthused with ideas on how to help Adrian spread the word of his organic vegetables and bring in more business. She cannot cook but when she finds a book of her Nonna’s recipes, she’s inspired to learn using the freshest of produce grown right outside her back door. And then there’s Adrian himself, definitely a drawcard once they put their differences aside.

This is a beautifully written book that showcases not only Nella’s story of returning home and discovering herself all over again, but also the story of her grandmother, Esta who came to Australia as a young bride after WWII. Actually probably similar to the time in which my mother-in-law made the journey out here as a young, unaccompanied teen to join her older sister who was already living here, married and with several children. Because I’ve heard my MIL tell her story so many times, I could relate to Esta as well, who struggled in this completely alien environment with little in the way of support. She also faced several devastating personal losses which were heartbreaking but I enjoyed seeing her friendship with her neighbour grow and flourish and last years. Nella spent many summers with her grandmother, much the way I did as a child and it’s the sort of thing that forms a pretty tight bond and Nella’s grief is evident on every page as she faces a life without this woman that shaped her. I loved the way she connected with her grandmother again through cooking her recipes – and all of those recipes I’ve seen grace my mother-in-law’s kitchen on numerous occasions. I feel as though that generation of women, no matter where they are from, cook in an entirely different way. My own nan, in her 80s now, is an amazing cook with a stack of tried and true recipes she probably learned from her mother and grandmothers that reside in her head ready to be pulled out at any relevant moment. She honestly wouldn’t ever consider chucking something frozen into the oven and she’s never ordered take away in her life. She’s written down a few of her baking recipes for me and I’ve started a book myself because my mother doesn’t know and to be honest, isn’t really interested in any of these recipes.

I enjoyed this so much – in fact I really only had one tiny bother and that was what Adrian uses as a base to criticise Nella. The fact that she left town and moved to Melbourne and also that she comes back at first wanting to sell the inherited property and go back to her life, which to be honest, I don’t think is anything to be critical over. Not everyone is destined to stay where they grew up. Some fly away and return, having discovered that where they’re meant to be is where they started. But it’s not fair to judge her because she wanted something different and went after it. Adrian seems quite bitter about it and what does it matter? She tried something she thought she was passionate about, maybe it didn’t quite work out for her and inheriting her Nonna’s property gave her some different priorities and she learned quite a lot about herself. She’s only about thirty in the book, so that’s really still quite young and you’re still learning so much about yourself at that age. So it did actually bother me quite a bit, him saying like she thinks she’s too good for that area. When Adrian wasn’t retreating to that, I really did quite like him and the conflict around him and his brother was really well done. I sort of understood perhaps his feelings of rejection but it just seemed like a really snarky thing to try and pick on and judge her for.

But that’s a small thing really. For me, this was all about Nella’s journey and that acceptance of herself and what her dreams were and that coming home feeling. I really enjoyed all of the recipes, the focus on the fresh ingredients and Esta’s story woven in was lovely as well. This was very enjoyable and although I’ve read and enjoyed Carla Caruso’s books before, this was my favourite so far and I’ll be looking forward to her next book.

8/10

Book #141 of 2018

 

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Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Bellewether
Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
2018, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren’t such easy things to keep.”

It’s late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley’s latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you’ve closed the last page.

I’ve been a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s books every since Marg introduced me to The Winter Sea quite a few years ago now. I was very excited to receive a review copy of this one some months ago but I was actually patient and waited until close to the release date to read it. Last weekend I had a truly lazy day, staying in bed all day to read this. I didn’t realise upon starting it how long it was. It’s definitely a hefty read.

It’s a dual narrative, historical and present day. In the current timeline, Charley is a curator who has recently moved from Canada to Long Island, New York for family reasons. She’s taken a job curating an exhibition at the Wilde House Museum which is undergoing renovations. It’s the former home of a war hero and the museum will celebrate and honour his life. Charley finds herself soon drawn into an intriguing mystery as locals tell her the strange stories that surround the house – that of a ghost and of a tragedy that happened many years before.

In the past, Jean-Phillipe de Sabran is a French Canadian lieutenant fighting in some war I honestly don’t know anything about. I’m not American or Canadian and this war takes place before the British “arrived” in Australia (therefore schooling never bothered to cover it) so I have to admit, I’d never actually even heard of this war. I’ve talked at length in various reviews about how bad my historical knowledge is and this is another example! This is prior to American independence anyway and Jean-Phillips along with another man seem to be some sort of very gentlemanly prisoners of war where they are billeted with American families. Apparently American/British prisoners of war were billeted with French families in Canada or something, it’s all very civilised. Jean-Phillipe doesn’t speak English but the man he is billeted with does, so he acts as a translator although Jean-Phillipe often finds this frustrating as he feels his fellow lieutenant is not translating everything, or with accuracy. Jean-Phillipe is also French Canadian whereas the other man is French French and this itself seems to suggest that they are very different and that the French French lieutenant looks down on the French Canadian Jean-Phillipe. The daughter of the house, Lydia, has reason to be resentful of soldiers of the opposing side and she’s dead against the men being billeted in her own home. Despite this, Jean-Phillipe is quite taken with Lydia and he wishes to get to know her.

I found all of the historical stuff quite interesting but I have to admit that at the same time, it felt quite slow. There’s a lot of information to process in both timelines as well so at times this is quite a dense read. It takes rather a long time for things to ‘progress’ in the historical portion of the novel. Neither Lydia nor Jean-Phillipe speak the other’s language and their interactions are so minimal, I just never really got to the point where I think I got invested in their future. I would’ve liked to become invested in it, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t enough for me. We are privy to both their thoughts and I enjoyed that but their interactions are so limited. I suppose despite really not speaking each other’s language they learn each other’s true characters by observation and Lydia does have to overcome a rather large (and understandable) prejudice to see the sort of man that Jean-Phillipe is and that’s admirable. But it still left me wanting.

I quite enjoyed the modern day story. Charley is undertaking something quite challenging, both at work and out of it. Her appointment was not unanimous and she deals with animosity of several members of the board and has to prove herself and her theories at every meeting. I really liked her and I also thought her eventual love interest was wonderful. There’s a brief connection in this story to a character from a previous Kearsley book and I do wonder if we might see that character in a book of their own one day. Charley’s family situation is interesting as well and I admired her for stepping up at a time of grief to really try and shoulder responsibility and provide support and stability.

I did enjoy this and it’s meticulously researched and written but I just didn’t find myself drawn into the historical aspect with the same intensity as with prior Kearsley novels. Perhaps it was because I was lacking in knowledge myself, perhaps it was because the interactions just weren’t enough for me. The modern day story definitely kept me involved though and I found that I really loved the little ‘twist’ at the end. That way very well done.

7/10

Book #131 of 2018

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Review: On The Right Track by Penelope Janu

On The Right Track 
Penelope Janu
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A traumatic past, a charismatic stranger and a family legacy … Golden’s quiet country life is about to get messy …

When the diminutive but fiery Golden Saunders falls from her horse and smashes her leg irreparably, and her racing family is disgraced by a corruption scandal, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.

Then the enigmatic Tor Amundsen, United Nations diplomat (read: spy), arrives on the scene and proves her wrong. His investigation into her family pulls her back into a world she had escaped, and the branch of the family she has tried to avoid at all costs. Tor is infuriated and frustrated by the impossible mixture of fragility and fierceness that is Golden, true, but he is also strangely protective of her.

Golden wants no part of it. Men have pushed her around her whole life. The last thing she needs is an arrogant, irritatingly handsome man telling her what to do. But it turns out Tor has a way with animals, children and, well, Golden…

Before too long, she finds their overwhelming attraction is overriding her good sense, and as they are both pulled deeper into the murky world of dirty money, things are about to get messy, and Golden’s small, quietly ordered life will change beyond recognition…

Can Golden overcome her fears and the shadows of the past and reach for a new kind of future? Will she ever be able to get her life back on the right track?

Last year one of my favourite books was In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu. The hero of that book Per, a Norwegian Navy Commander has an identical twin brother named Tor, who works for the United Nations. When I discovered that Tor would be featured in Janu’s next book, it went straight to the top of my wishlist.

In On The Right Track we meet Golden, a speech therapist who works with children and uses her horses as part of their therapy. She lives alone in her grandfather’s old house, studiously attempting to avoid most of her family and the fancy dinners her politician stepfather is insistent she attend. When Tor Armundsen arrives to investigate race fixing rings with links back to Golden’s (deceased) jockey father and her grandfather, her quiet life is turned upside down and she finds herself drawn back into a world she had stepped well out of.

Golden is such a contradictory character. She’s incredibly strong in some ways – as a teen she suffered a terrible injury and still bears the ramifications of that today. It’s affected her quality of life to the point where she can’t do the things she loves at the level she wishes she could and she’s also quite self conscious of the way that it looks and the way that she can rely on supports to get around when her injury is playing up. She has a mental strength too, in that she’s spent a lot of time carving out a life for herself, a life that she wants, that makes her as happy as she can currently be and resisting the attempts of her family to draw her back into a more fancy, affluent society lifestyle. But Golden is also incredibly fragile, haunted by the allegations surrounding her father and the toll it took on her beloved grandfather, the man who basically raised her.

So much in this book just…..broke my heart about Golden. She’s been through so much and her family (mostly her stepfather at the behest of her mother) put so much pressure on her, almost to…..change herself. Not be what makes her, her. They want her to fit in, to tow the line and for Golden not to remind her mother so much of the circumstances of her very existence. I felt a lot for Golden throughout this entire book, the way she was emotionally manipulated and financially bullied, the way that people tended to believe the worst of her, either due to her ‘flakiness’ living all alone on a property with just her horses or because of her connection to her father, a man who is not alive to defend the allegations levelled at him. Likewise her grandfather is no longer alive also and Golden still has a lot of feelings about what happened when he died. What people do to her in this book is unbearably awful at times and I had to stop and almost like, take deep breaths at times because I found myself getting so annoyed about how she was being treated.

Which probably brings me to Tor. I wonder if it’s hard to write identical twins in different books and make them noticeably different. Per and Tor do have some similarities but they are also full of differences, although they both find and fall in love with women who really challenge them and their perceptions. Tor is quite suspicious in the beginning – he believes that Golden’s family are crooked and that she’s most likely hiding plenty of information from him. I really liked their interactions, it gave Golden an opportunity to showcase her strength – despite doing what Tor wants so she can clear her family’s name, she tends to do what she wants when she wants and Tor has to fall in around some of that. They have a lot of arguments and Golden tends to keep a lot of things from him as I don’t think she trusts him. They have both have trouble looking at things objectively – Tor has probably seen a lot to make him assume people are always innocent or taken advantage of and Golden is passionate about believing her family to be good. Honestly, the relationship Golden had with her grandfather was amazing and it’s highlighted so brilliantly despite the fact that he has passed away long before this novel even begins. It’s a very special bond that the two of them had and he was clearly a lovely, lovely man. The more Tor spends time with Golden the more he appreciates the true goodness of her, the small pleasures she takes from her work and her horses. It took Tor a little time to grow on me, but he so did. Especially when he was one of the few people in her life who didn’t want to change her and by the end of the book I felt he really understood so much about her and what would make her truly happiest.

Also there’s a cute little scene in here with Per and Harriet which is super perfect because it’s just enough to show you what they’re up to and it makes my heart happy. It’s the perfect length because it doesn’t take the focus off Tor and Golden either. I do kind of have a question though…..who is the third girl in the waiting room? Let’s hope that in 2019, we find out!

This book was a perfect follow up for me and it gave me all of the same heady feels as In At The Deep End.

9/10

Book #83 of 2018

 

 

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Review: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

The Rúin (Cormac Reilly #1)
Dervla McTiernan
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 388p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s been twenty years since Cormac Reilly discovered the body of Hilaria Blake in her crumbling Georgian home. But he’s never forgotten the two children she left behind…

When Aisling Conroy’s boyfriend Jack is found in the freezing black waters of the river Corrib, the police tell her it was suicide. A surgical resident, she throws herself into study and work, trying to forget – until Jack’s sister Maude shows up. Maude suspects foul play, and she is determined to prove it.

DI Cormac Reilly is the detective assigned with the re-investigation of an ‘accidental’ overdose twenty years ago – of Jack and Maude’s drug- and alcohol-addled mother. Cormac is under increasing pressure to charge Maude for murder when his colleague Danny uncovers a piece of evidence that will change everything…

This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland and asks who will protect you when the authorities can’t – or won’t. Perfect for fans of Tana French and Jane Casey.

Okay so I don’t live under a rock. I have heard the buzz around this book for months now and I even requested it off NetGalley a little while ago. So I’m not sure how it is that I only just got around to reading it. I’ve been meaning to but you know how it is. Too many books, too little time! But finally it ended up top of the pile and the hype is real.

Cormac Reilly is a detective who applied for a position in Galway which is kind of a demotion from the specialist terrorist branch he was working prior, but it’s something he chose for personal reasons. Since his arrival at the station he’s mostly been working cold cases and not getting anywhere. There’s a bit of an air from some of his colleagues although Cormac is happy to see a friendly face in Danny, someone he knows from very long ago.

Then Cormac finds one of his very first cases has come back – that of Hilaria Blake, which was Cormac’s first dead body as a young, green rookie. An overdose, Hilaria was ruled an accidental death and Cormac never quite forgot her two children – 15yo Maude, who kept everything together, and 5yo Jack, who had some horrific abuse and injuries. Now, some twenty years later, Jack is dead, an apparent suicide and Cormac’s superiors want him rechecking into the Hilaria Blake case.

This book had me hooked from the first page. It begins in the past, with a young Cormac being sent on what he believes is a call out for a domestic issue. It’s much more than that and his inexperience shows in several different ways during what follows. It seems a straightforward overdose but it’s not until years into the future that some doubts are cast on the events of that day. And the apparent suicide of Jack Blake, who despite a troubled first few years had been taken in by a loving family after the death of his mother, raised in a good home, had a degree and good job, a happy relationship, friends, hobbies….it just doesn’t seem right to those closest to him that he would do that and with no warning. It’s the return of Jack’s sister Maude to Ireland and her absolute conviction that Jack wouldn’t take his own life that pushes an investigation forward, despite the obvious reluctance of some of the officers. It was actually kind of disturbing to see how easy this was written off, despite several glaring inconsistencies – they didn’t even order a toxicology report.

I loved the way this book made me question things over and over again. Did Hilaria really just accidentally overdose or was something more sinister going on? What motive does Maude have for returning now, of all times? If she is involved, as some of the officers believe, then why is she pushing so hard for an investigation into his death? There are so many little things that all begin to pull together and when the full picture becomes clear it was a pleasant surprise how many things I didn’t predict or only just got there as the book was revealing it. The atmosphere is also really well done in this book – Cormac is new to Galway, isolated as well. His partner works long hours, his colleagues are mostly hostile or wary. There are rumours circulating about him and why he’s there, it seems that no one really trusts him. The only exception is an old friend named Danny but Cormac is quick to realise that Danny himself is the subject of a lot of wariness as well and he can’t help but wonder why that is and at some of Danny’s quite odd behaviour. There’s so much mystery and intrigue and the stories have so many layers going on.

This was really clever, an unputdownable read and I can’t wait for the next Cormac Reilly novel. It’s just a shame that the wait is so long before I’ll get to spend time with him again!

9/10

Book #100 of 2018

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Review: One Night Wife by Ainslie Paton

One Night Wife
Ainslie Paton
Entangled Publishing LLC
2018, 322p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Finley Cartwright is the queen of lost causes. That’s why she’s standing on a barstool trying to convince Friday night drinkers to donate money to her failing charity. Hitting on the guy on the next stool wasn’t part of her plan. Still, hot but grumpy venture capitalist Caleb Sherwood might just be her ticket to success.

Professional grifter and modern-day Robin Hood, Cal Sherwood is looking for a partner for a long con. Sexy Fin, doing her best Marilyn Monroe act for her cause, has the necessary qualifications. By the time he cuts her free, her charity would be thriving, and she’d have helped him charm billions out of arrogant, gullible marks to fund his social justice causes.

But just when he thinks he’s about to pull off the best con ever, his feisty new partner gets the upper hand.

A modern day Robin Hood style story, this was so fun! The beginning is absolutely fantastic. Finley Cartwright is a struggling actress who has started a charity with her best friend. The only problem is, her best friend’s father has recently been arrested on serious charges involving money and it’s going to be hard work to convince anyone to donate to a charity connected to that name. Finley is in a bar trying to rustle up some donations from the post-work drinks crowd when she gets a lesson in pitching from a grumpy man at the bar. When Finley runs into her odious ex on the way out, she’s humiliated enough to go back to the grumpy (but handsome) suit at the bar and get him to play along in a little charade.

The man at the bar is Cal Sherwood, a professional grifter. He and his family have long preyed on the rich and careless, swindling them out of money that they redistribute to various causes around the world. Their family ‘business’ is incredibly successful but a recent mistake by Cal has decimated his personal earnings and now he’s looking to build his stocks back up. When he meets Finley he seems a mutual opportunity. He will introduce her to the right people to get donations for her worthy charity and she can be his ‘one night wife’, a fake girlfriend role for various events. Usually this role is filled by someone from within his family’s business but Cal is desperate to convince his family that Finley can play her part.

Cal and Finley have some immediate chemistry, which the opening scene in the bar details really nicely. There’s a sizzling attraction between them but Cal has ideas and so this is definitely a slow burn romance. The desire is there, but Cal doesn’t want things to get messy and so he definitely tries to keep Finley at arms length for a large portion of the book. Finley has a more open sort of attitude to wanting to take things to another level because she’s completely unaware of Cal’s true reasons for bringing her in and how it will benefit him in the end. It can only ever be temporary and so he must keep his distance from Finley but the more time they spend together, the more he gets to know her, the harder that is.

I’m going to be honest and say I don’t -really- understand how Cal and his family do their thing. They seem to swindle very rich people out of large amounts of money by getting them to invest in…things that aren’t real? And then do the people just forget that they invested in these things? And not even worry when they don’t eventuate? Do start ups fail all the time and no one cares as long as they’re in on the one that explodes? I’m not sure, surely this is something that has a limited life span and Cal just can’t keep approaching the same people with amazing new things for them to throw money at, I don’t know. I get that they are funnelling vast amounts of money away from people who have acquired it somewhat dodgily like exploiting cheap foreign labour or through cheating I guess. And they put it toward good causes – Cal’s mother is very passionate about a number of causes (even our Great Barrier Reef gets a mention, as coral bleaching is one of the things she feels as though they must put money towards preventing/fixing) and I liked his family. But I have to admit, the logistics of them always getting money out of people were a bit mind boggling. Maybe these people are so rich they don’t even care and just happily throw money at whoever asks. Aren’t people who are so rich notoriously tight with it? But they happily toss it at Finley when Cal starts teaching her how to pitch. Soon she’s walking away with millions and millions in donations and I was a little bit blown away by how quickly that all occurred. It seemed unlikely that something so fledgling would get these massive donations and what was being done with that money was lost in the narrative of Cal and his long con and what his family were doing with their grifted billions. I wanted a bit more about where Finley’s charity was directing its money. Yes I had the basics – giving micro loans to women to help them improve their situations, but I wanted more. All of a sudden they have all this money thanks to Cal’s smooth game. Surely there’s only so much in charitable donations to go around and the amounts being thrown around in this book just seemed a bit….much.

So that part I felt a bit hazy on but I really enjoyed the relationship itself between Cal and Finley. The hook was amazing, they bounced off each other so well, but Finley doesn’t know everything about Cal. She doesn’t know he’s a con artist and that in helping her, he’s roped her in on his cons. So there’s good conflict too and the sexual tension is orchestrated nicely and with good pace. And I really liked the ending.

7/10

Book #98 of 2018

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Review: In Bed With The Beast by Tara Sivec

In Bed With The Beast (Naughty Princess Club #2)
Tara Sivec
Swerve (St Martin’s Press)
2018, 305p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A tale as old as time: she needs a place to stay, he’s a grump with a secret and an extra room…can love find a way?

Meet the Naughty Princess Club, a series from USA Today bestselling author Tara Sivec that brings readers to Fairytale Lane and the hilarity—and romance—that three women fall into once they decide to strut their stuff and bring on their own happily ever after.

Living in her overprotective dad’s basement, shy Belle lives her life through books. Being a part of the Naughty Princess Club is the first adventure she’s ever had, plus she desperately needs the money to save one of her favorite places – the local library.

But when her new friends and new business gets her kicked out of her dad’s house, Belle is rescued by the surly Vincent “Beast” Adams who invites her to be his house guest until she gets back on her feet. Despite his attitude problem and long list of rules, Belle finds herself warming to the muscled man with a penchant for growling and starts seeing a gentle side to him that wasn’t there before.

Yet there’s a room that Beast keeps locked and Belle keeps getting hints that Beast is hiding something…can a nerdy librarian tame the beast or will their romance be over before it has a chance to blossom?

As is my way, I requested this book without realising it was the second in a series. In fact I didn’t really realise until I was a little way into it and figured that Cindy and PJ must’ve been the topic of a previous book. However there was enough info in this one for me not to feel lost, as it was recapped how the Naughty Princesses began and where they were at in their journey.

Belle works at the local library, which is struggling. So much so that they get a paltry few new books a month and Belle dreams of the days where she used to open up boxes and boxes of books. As well as her professional life being a struggle, her personal life is no better. She still lives at home, in the basement of her very overprotective father’s house and still has a curfew. When she gets herself kicked out, Belle is too polite to tell her friends, dossing down in the library until she is rescued by the ‘Beast’ – PJ’s enforcer/doorman at his club. He’s a man of few words, an intimidating presence but Belle isn’t afraid of him. In fact in their two previous encounters, she’s boldly stood up to him, something she generally doesn’t ever do.

Belle and the Beast, aka Vincent Adams, are definitely opposites. Belle is quite young and has led a very sheltered life. She’s a bit naive and until meeting the other naughty princesses, didn’t seem to have many close fiends. She spouts random facts when she’s uncomfortable or nervous and can be awkward in social situations. Beast is a tank, a man of few words with a gruff and taciturn exterior and most people are incredibly intimidated by him. Despite that outward persona, Beast has a good heart and a generous streak and it’s clear he does want to help Belle, despite the fact that he’s a bit secretive with a potential ulterior motive.

I really enjoy the stripper side of this book – all three of the naughty princesses are learning the craft. Cindy (from book #1) is their only party performer so far, having mastered her routine and it’s Belle’s turn in this book. She spends a lot of time in her head but has to learn to let go and embrace another side of herself. What I also really like is that the men don’t want to change them. PJ accompanies Cindy on her gigs (actually it kind of turns him on to do so) but he doesn’t want her to do something else. Beast agrees to help Belle become more confident with her sexual side, teach her to flirt or at least interact with the opposite sex without being awkward and the two of them have good chemistry. It’s the sort where Belle can’t see his interest because she doesn’t know how to interpret the signs, but for the reader it’s quite obvious.

I loved this, it was just perfect for a fun, quick read with some good banter and a very different story. In fact as soon as I’d finished I went and bought the first book and read that too. I can’t wait for Ariel’s story – she and Eric have already had some moments, so should be good to see their story play out. I am really enjoying the connection to fairytales and seeing them in a modern day setting. I’m really glad I discovered this series – and author. I’ll be checking out her other books too.

9/10

Book #92 of 2018

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Review: Bloodtree River by Sarah Barrie

Bloodtree River
Sarah Barrie
Harlequin AUS
2018, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the author of the bestselling Hunters Ridge series comes this stand-alone twisty rural suspense, this time set against the dark backdrop of Tasmanian mountains. Indiana O’Meara is no stranger to the forces of evil.

Her own past is full of violence. Now a policewoman, Indy is always fighting to redeem herself and defeat the dark. So when girls begin to go missing at a remote cattle station in Tasmania, she is quick to agree to go undercover to investigate chief suspect, the owner of Calico Mountain Lodge, Logan Atherton, even though last time she went undercover it came to a bloody end. But her early encounter with Logan Atherton reveals a man full of contradictions. His deep empathy for horses and those he cares for is obvious but he is also taciturn to the point of rudeness, and there is a strange atmosphere at the lodge. It doesn’t add up. As Indy begins to dig deeper into the secrets at the Lodge, she finds herself embroiled in a murderous web more complex and terrifying than she could ever have imagined…

I’m a huge fan of Sarah Barrie’s romantic suspense novels. Her Hunter’s Ridge trilogy are probably three of my favourites in the genre. Although readers of that book will pick this one up and find a couple of familiar faces, it’s not strictly necessary to have read those before beginning this. It helps a bit for some basic background and it’s good to see Indy get her story but if you haven’t read any of the others (which I suggest you do!) you won’t be left behind.

Detective Indy O’Meara is gathering information to bring down a drug kingpin in Sydney when an undercover opportunity in Tasmania comes her way. Girls keep going missing, all seemingly having worked at the same cattle property although only one body has been found. Grave fears are held for the wellbeing of several others and Indy is to go in looking for a job, hoping to gather information and perhaps even tempt the suspect. Most eyes seem to be on Logan Atherton but despite extensive questioning and searches, nothing concrete has been found.

It’s decided that as a part of Indy’s cover she should appear meek, submissive, give off the impression of being alone. But Indy is anything but meek and submissive and she immediately draws attention to herself the moment she arrives looking for a job. Some of that attention comes from Logan Atherton himself and Indy is immediately conflicted. She definitely needs to be wary of him – in most cases he’s the last person to see these women alive and he’s the chief suspect. But even though he can be decidedly difficult, there’s something about him. He’s hiding things and he can be bluntly rude but she’s not convinced he’s some kind of violent murderer. She knows that she can uncover what is going on but if Indy’s wrong….the price could be her life.

This was such a rollercoaster of a ride! I absolutely loved the setting – good to see Indy heading out of the city of Sydney and to Tasmania. I don’t read a lot of books set in Tassie and the landscape is just perfect for this type of story. Thick bushland, remote properties, it lends itself well to the sort of undercover type of work that Indy was doing. Armed with a good resume, she gets herself a job where she needs to and sets about observing the goings on and trying to figure out whether or not someone really is either kidnapping these women and keeping them somewhere, possibly torturing them, or murdering them. In such terrain, bodies could go unfound for decades.

Indy has seen and experienced a lot in her life and she brings that with her, in some ways. She’s supposed to be a bit pliable, perhaps easily charmed or persuaded but instead she finds herself unable check her nature, engaging in arguments, standing up for herself and not exactly blending in. The place is so desperate for help though (unsurprising, considering most of them keep vanishing) and although they are also suspicious about newcomers, especially with the rumours swirling around since the discovery of a woman’s body, Indy is capable enough that she is able to slot in quite easily, working in the stables with Logan.

Ah, Logan. Look, I’m going to be honest, I spent an awful lot of this book not really liking Logan. He seems deliberately antagonistic just for the sheer pleasure of it, he’s a bit too much of a smart-arse who seems unconcerned about the women that have disappeared and the fact that he’s in the gun for it. And also he manhandles Indy in a scene that really annoyed me. It’s not a particularly great picture to paint and although it was meant in kind of tongue in cheek play or comeuppance for Indy, I didn’t really feel as though she warranted it. Actually, no one really warrants that. Indy is for all intents and purposes, an employee and should be treated respectfully. Not tossed around like a child’s toy.

Logan did grow on me, the further into the book I got but the strength was the suspense portion of this book and the way in which Sarah Barrie wove that together. The more Indy uncovered, the more complicated everything became and the more intrigued I got. There were so many things that I didn’t suspect – and people that I didn’t suspect of being involved. When things were revealed though, I could see how there had been a throwaway line here or there or something that made sense in hindsight. I had no idea things were going to escalate to such a degree and it was so clever. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story and how Indy managed to put things together. She was figuring things out on the fly, including some pretty insane plans once things hit the fan and there was just so much she managed to cover. Her and Ben are a great team and even though he’s managing from Sydney, you get to see them as a cohesive unit who back each other. An awesome example of a platonic partnership.

This is a really well paced, clever story that had me unable to put it down. Already I cannot wait for Sarah Barrie’s next book.

9/10

Book #78 of 2018

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Review: The Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

The Love Coupon (Stubborn Hearts #2)
Ainslie Paton
Carina Press
2018, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How many coupons does it take to fall in love?

Flick Dalgetty knows what she wants and how to get it, which is why she’s about to start her dream job in Washington. Until then, she needs somewhere to crash, and Tom O’Connell’s place is her sole option. He’s a repressed, antisocial ogre…but man can he kiss.

For Tom, being around Flick is like being too close to the sun. Her untamed energy is overwhelming, and he’d spontaneously combust if he had to live with her long-term. Housemates with benefits—and an expiration date—suits him just fine.

Then Flick gives Tom thirty coupons, each entitling him to one obligation-free activity, from bowling and bubble-bathing to morning delight, removing all the guesswork from being incompatible partners and shifting their fling into high gear.

Now the problem is their arrangement is drawing to a close, and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that.

I was a pretty big fan of the first novel in this series, The Love Experiment so I was pretty keen to read this, especially because the blurb contains two of my favourite words in a hero: repressed, antisocial. I don’t know what it is but sign me up for an uptight type, especially when the female love interest is a more forward personality. I just really enjoy reading that dynamic. It’s much more interesting to me than the manwhore/virginal female pairing.

Tom’s room mate moved out when he took a job overseas and although Tom knows he needs a new one in order to have the level of financial comfort he prefers, he definitely does not want Felicity ‘Flick’ Dalgetty as his room mate. She’s chaos and Tom is organised, clean and tidy. He doesn’t like mess and Flick is sure to be a whirlwind tearing through his apartment. But she does only need a room for three months before she takes a job interstate and eventually she wears him down.

At first their interactions are minimal – Flick leaves early and is generally in her room when Tom returns from work. But eventually their paths start crossing a little more often. Tom offers to share his cooked meals with her and they share conversations which lead to a kiss. I really liked the chemistry between the two of them. Flick has a great, refreshing attitude towards a fling and she’s very confident in herself, which was fantastic. Tom often has doubts (although I think his reasons are fine) and he at times attempts to retreat a bit, perhaps a bit afraid of truly being able to let go. This book takes time to explore both Tom and Flick’s backgrounds in a really in depth manner and you can see how where they’ve come from has shaped their interactions with others. Flick’s relationship with her family I found really interesting – and also a bit puzzling. In some ways I understand why she continues to do what she does but to be honest the majority of my thoughts were wondering why she even bothered. There’s only so much someone should be expected to endure before making decisions for their own good.

Tom and Flick bounce off each other really well and although they both sometimes touch a nerve with their frank questions, they’re very equal. I really liked the idea of the coupons and how fun Flick made some of them, as well as sexy. I got the feeling Tom lived a very ordered life, did the same things every day and Flick was definitely more about having fun, being spontaneous and even though the coupons mean things are decided in advance, Tom can redeem any one he chooses and a lot of them are fun and sort of casual so it pushes him to do things he wouldn’t normally do and open himself up to new experiences, both in bed and out. The coupons were such a cool idea and added so much to the story, I only wish they’d been introduced a little earlier as it’s quite far into the book when they appear. Most of them do get described but I do wish it could’ve been in greater detail and time spent on all of them as they are quite an important part of Flick and Tom’s growing relationship.

From the very beginning it’s clear that this is just supposed to be a fling, because Flick is leaving in three months to go to a new job interstate and Tom has a plan, which results in him being promoted sooner rather than later. This is a romance novel so you know it’s going to end differently to that but I loved the fact that I couldn’t pick how it was going to go. Both Tom and Flick had careers that were very important to them and Tom was on the property ladder and was very focused on his future and how he wanted things to go. The chemistry between them was so strong both sexually and emotionally that I was incredibly invested in the outcome. Both of them compliment the other in lots of ways – Tom takes care of Flick in a way that she hasn’t really experienced. Not a “boyfriend protecting the little woman way” but in a more nurturing, feeding her and providing stability sort of way. And Flick encourages Tom to live a little, explore his feelings, indulge. Relax the rules, enjoy things. There’s a balance there and it works, although small things can tip that balance out and result in struggle.

I loved this….perfect blend of characters that for me were both likeable and interesting. Their journey was a fun one to go on and I’m looking forward to the next in this series.

8/10

Book #61 of 2018

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