All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

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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Review: Inked by Anne Marsh

Inked (Hard Riders MC#2)
Anne Marsh
Harlequin DARE
2018, 168p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bankers and bad boys don’t mix

So why is she getting under his skin?

Harper, a buttoned-up banker, is a tattoo virgin before Vik draws her first ink. And once the bad-boy biker lays his hands on the beautiful canvas of her body, he’s addicted! Harper says the two of them could never mix outside of the bedroom—but she’s finding that she wants the feeling of Vik’s touch to last forever.

I read this on a whim and didn’t realise it was the second in a series until after I finished it but it didn’t matter. The books will all centre around different characters in the same motorcycle club and although the hero from the first book does appear a couple times in this one, it doesn’t talk much around his story and you can easily read this first without spoiling anything.

Harper is a banker who caught her boyfriend cheating and has now decided on a whim to get a tattoo and so she strolls into the shop where Vik works. They’ve actually met before…..but Vik doesn’t remember her however he’s pretty interested in her now. Harper doesn’t know what she wants to get tattooed on her so she lets Vik choose and so he designs something that he thinks fits her and where she’s at in her life.

From there they segue into a sort of friends with benefits arrangement (read: booty calls) where they talk about a lot how neither of them want commitment. Harper just wants to live a little after the souring of her previous relationship and although Vik’s father wants him to find a good woman and settle down, Vik’s motto seems to be ‘here for a good time, not a long time’ and he’ll just take as many women as he can find, thanks. Although once he meets Harper, that kind of dries up.

This was….okay I guess? Nothing ground breaking. Vik is annoyingly smirky and cocky and he’s more playboy than aloof biker. It annoys me when people go and get tattoos without even knowing what they want though. You’re inking something permanently onto your skin and you can’t even be bothered to choose what it is? Also this tattoo seems elaborate but is completed in one session and there’s no aftercare and the next time Harper even looks at it , it’s perfectly healed. Magic.

I wanted to explore the fact that they’d already ‘known’ each other (and I do meant that in every sense) but it’s kind of glossed over? Harper remembers it quite well but Vik has zero memory of it whatsoever and she makes no real attempt to enlighten him as to when/where it was and it’s basically never mentioned again. She doesn’t seem particularly insulted that he doesn’t even remember her and Vik is keen to make amends by making it up to her. It’s fine, pretty standard, I never really felt like they had much chemistry though. Vik doesn’t really come across as very deep – I think the relationship with his father and the way his father was urging him to settle down was an attempt to show the man behind the MC but it didn’t really do much. I did like that he took care of his father but I was a little confused about whether their lifestyle was 100% legit these days.

Harper was fine, a bit bland. She’s some sort of investment banker or something who manages other people’s money (and does it very well, which was good to see). Her break up happens before the book starts and there’s no real interaction with her ex – I thought there might be something for closure but it doesn’t happen. Just a scene where she tries to steal her cat back which goes a bit awry.

Harper and Vik spend most of the book assuring themselves that they’re not in a relationship and it’s just this or that with no strings attached but it’s pretty obvious that it’s not just this or that and that there are some strings attached. It takes Vik a ridiculously long amount of time to figure out what’s going on and he was just so annoyingly stubborn about it for no good reason that it got a bit tedious towards the end. Perhaps because this is really short and although they do spend time together out of bed, it’s not much so it did feel a bit of a stretch that there were these powerful feelings already. Especially for two people who hadn’t wanted anything more and in Vik’s case, didn’t really seem to have had many, if any, proper relationships. Could’ve probably done with a bit more fleshing out.

The character from the story before this piqued my interest and I thought about going to check that book out and I might do that but it’s only a novella like this one and from the same category. I’ve read two DARE novels now and I don’t think they’re for me. Whilst it’s a very quick and easy read, it’s a bit bland and for me there was nothing that stood out about it character or story wise unfortunately.

4/10

Book #60 of 2018

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Review: Eight Simple Rules For Dating A Dragon by Kerrelyn Sparks

Eight Simple Rules For Dating A Dragon (The Embraced #3)
Kerrelyn Sparks
St Martins Press
2018, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Gwennore has a talent. An Elf able to track down the cause of an illness and heal it, she’s a valuable asset to her people. When the kidnapping of a young girl thrusts Gwennore into the very heart of the realm of the dragons, she discovers not only a place of power and magic, but also a haunted land, plagued by an ancient curse that all but ensures extinction to the royal family. But when she meets the smoldering General Silas Dravenko, they strike a bargain—save the country from its cursed illness, and he will return the kidnapped girl. She’s been raised never to trust a dragon, but never did making a deal with the devil feel so good…

Silas has no way of curing the family he’s loyally served for years. But when a beautiful elf, long considered the enemy of the dragons, comes bursting into his world, Silas is awakened to passion and desire in a way he’s never felt before. But can he trust a sworn enemy to save the very existence he holds dear? And can their love survive those that threaten to tear them apart?

I really love this series. Five women, all born during the night the twin moons of this world ’embrace’. All children born on this nights are gifted with special talents but for a long time those children were also outcasts so the women were sent as young girls to an island to be raised in secret. They’re as close as sisters and Gwennore is kidnapped protecting one of the children of one of her sisters, willing to do anything in order to keep that little girl safe.

Gwennore is taken to the land of the dragons (Norveshka) and although they’ve kidnapped a princess, their motives are confusing. Gwennore realises that the country is hiding many secrets, including the truth about their powerful dragons and also stories of an ancient curse which has driven the ruling family mad for generations. General Silas Dravenko vows to return the young kidnapped princess to her parents but because of Gwennore’s gift he begs her to stay and help break the ‘curse’ and solve the terrible effects of the plague that regularly sweeps the land. Gwennore is reluctant…..but the General is pretty persuasive.

Silas appeared in the previous book assisting the pirate Rupert and the first Queen’s gift with the stones already predicted Gwennore’s destiny lay in the land of the dragons. As an Elf, this was surprising. Due to her isolation on the Isle of Moon for her protection, Gwennore has never even met another of her kind, although their reputation in the land of the dragons are of a savage killing race, regularly raiding across the shared border. The Norveshkans have been at war with the elves for years, so long that no one even know really knows why. Gwennore is surprised by how at home she feels in Norveshka, how beautiful she finds it, especially the forests. But she still wants to return to her sisters, despite the best efforts of the General.

Norveshka have closely guarded their secrets and because of this, Silas spends a lot of time either lying to Gwennore or not telling her key things or pretending he doesn’t know other things. It’s not really a deliberate attempt to be manipulative, but it sort of comes off that way because she keeps asking him to be honest with her and he keeps not being able to because of who he is and the Norveshkan history. Gwennore is achingly slow to connect the dots at some stages – she’s rescued during the kidnap by a dragon, who she can communicate with directly by hearing his thoughts and answering him. This is curious because as an Elf, Gwennore shouldn’t be able to hear the dragons. It takes her an astonishingly long time to figure out why the dragon keeps coming when she asks it to. But it makes things an awful lot easier when she does.

I liked the way that this book both had a mystery that was contained to the local area (the curse, the plague and the effects on the population) as well as continuing the mystery that has run through the previous two books with the Chameleon attempting to manipulate the monarchy in yet another nation. The new rulers are working together to learn more about him but so much is still unknown – his true form, for a start. Which makes it incredibly difficult to know when he’s around. Usually it’s not until his plans are well underway and someone recognises the pattern and by then it’s hard to know what form he’s taking. As a shifter, he can basically be anyone or anything and they really need Brody, a shifter himself, around who can smell his ‘signature’. With each instalment it gets more interesting and I can’t wait for the endgame.

I would’ve liked a little more romance in this one – it’s there but Gwennore stands quite firm against Silas for the longest time, because she believes she’ll never be accepted in his land (especially because of who Silas is) due to the long and bloody history they have with the elves. He’s pretty open about what he wants and I did like the ‘rules for dating a dragon’ that he invents as a bit of fun. Gwennore has been very sheltered in her upbringing so she’s pretty (ok very) inexperienced and she’s horrified when people assume that they are lovers. I loved the revelations about her background though and I’m pretty curious to see the land of the elves….hopefully that happens in the next book (the stones! the stones!).

These are good fun and I’m always excited to see a new one and satisfied when I finish one.

8/10

Book #58 of 2018

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Review: The Afterlife Of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

The Afterlife Of Holly Chase
Cynthia Hand
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 390p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Holly Chase has the job of saving souls, but it is her own that she realizes needs examining.
On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.

She didn’t.

And then she died.

Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge-as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.

Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable.

But this year, everything is about to change…

Confession: I’ve never read A Christmas Carol. In fact I’ve never read a Dickens novel. However it’s ingrained enough in popular culture that I know the basics of the story but I’m afraid that some of the references etc in this book might be lost on me.

Holly Chase was a rich, privileged, selfish and unlikable teenager when she was visited by three ghosts – that of Past, Present and Future. They beseeched her to change her ways, or she would die. She dismissed it, she died and now five years later she works as the Ghost of Christmas Past, helping to save others. The company she works for picks one person each year – they spend months watching them, researching their lives, picking through their memories to isolate key moments, things that changed them and made them into what they are today. They identify important people (who are given names for specific reasons that relate to the original story) and have one chance to try to convince them to mend their ways and embrace a new future.

Five years has passed since Holly ‘died’ and started working for Project Scrooge. She still appears as she did the day she died, so as a 16yo girl (with great hair, thanks to a blow out). I get the feeling Holly continues to work for Project Scrooge because she fears the alternative and she doesn’t seem to be that reformed. She has an inner voice she attributes to her stepmother, a judgemental fashion director who was Holly’s own Jacob Marley. She’s not exactly friendly to someone that is introduced as her new assistant but her biggest issue is that she’s drawn to this year’s Scrooge, a teenager named Ethan. All of a sudden Holly is breaking a lot of rules.

I was rather surprised how much I enjoyed this. One morning I woke up just after 5 and couldn’t get back to sleep so I decided to read and picked this on a whim on my iPad. I ended up reading it all in one sitting until 8am when I had to get up and get my kids their breakfast. I enjoy Christmas but I’m not what you’d call a big Christmas person. I don’t care about decorating everything and Christmas activities. I’m more just about spending the day with family but in a casual way, rather than the whole ‘Christmas spirit’ type thing so I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a bit hard hitting for me on the morals and spirit and all that sort of stuff. But I think telling it from Holly’s point of view, a 16yo self-absorbed girl, helps soften that. And yet despite that, there were plenty of really quite emotional moments in this book. Holly’s father is a movie producer and although they’d drifted apart in the years before Holly’s visit from the spirits, there are some touching moments in this book where Holly goes to see his movies, often many times and understands the significance of the plot. But it’s not something she can discuss with anyone.

I liked the various characters that work at Project Scrooge and their quirks and the jobs that they do and the way they feel about their Scrooges. Generally the people are older so Holly has never really had an issue before but when they choose a young, hot, rich teenager, Holly starts wanting to know more. When she’s sifting through his memories she’s looking for things she wants to know, rather than things she should be looking for as ammunition. I liked the way this played out – I especially like that it was surprising for me and that the whole thing didn’t end in the way in which I thought it would. It was well played.

This was a fun read. I really should read more of Cynthia Hand’s books. And actually, I should probably get around to reading A Christmas Carol too.

7/10

Book #16 of 2018

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