All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

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/}:

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.


Book #16 of 2018

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Review: The Wolves Of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

The Wolves Of Winter
Tyrell Johnson
Harlequin AUS
2018, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny. This debut novel is written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s been forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.

There were a couple of things that made me want to read this book. Firstly, I love a post-apocalyptic story and this sounded surprisingly plausible in the current climate and political situation. Also, the setting. I’m pretty obsessed with areas like Alaska and northern Canada and the way in which people adapt to survive in those environments. I love watching TV shows and reading books that are set in remote and harsh locations. I also am interested in reading anything homesteader or self-sufficient lifestyle.

In The Wolves Of Winter, first the bombs started as the world powers struggled for supremacy. Then a mysterious virus known as the Asian flu wiped out epic numbers of the world’s population. Those that hadn’t died within a few weeks of being exposed to the virus were generally considered to be immune but few had ever recovered. Lynn and her family had retreated to Alaska even before the first signs of trouble, her father’s work having alerted him to problems. Then they retreated further to the Yukon, building cabins and surviving on potatoes, carrots and what they could catch and kill. Their location is isolated, only a neighbour nearby so when Lynn runs into a man whilst out in the woods, it’s unusual. Very unusual. And when more men come looking for him, it ends in an ugly way.

Whilst I could have no trouble imagining the events that led to the way things became in this novel, I can’t really say the same for the events of the actual novel. Lynn lives in like a “family compound” – she shares a cabin with her mother and also part of their group but living in separate cabins are her uncle, her brother and the son of her uncle’s friend. When Lynn comes across the stranger – a man named Jax – in the forest, the plot changes from a basic survival type of story to something that encompasses the fate of humanity, or what is left of it. Jax is different, on the run from a group known as Immunity. And Lynn suddenly realises that her mother has kept secrets – her deceased father was working on something, something important. Why won’t anyone tell her what it is? Why does it seem to involve her? I didn’t really enjoy the Immunity story to be honest and it detracted from the parts of the book I was most interested in. It changed the book for me, from something that was ‘hey this could actually happen right now’ to something different.

For me, the most interesting part of this story takes place before the book actually begins. It’s glossed over mostly – the events that led to countries dropping bombs on each other, the virus that swept the world, killing huge numbers of the population. People doing whatever it took to survive and for Lynn and her family, that meant retreating even further than they had. I’d have liked to read more about that journey and their settling in to their new place of residence, adjusting to the way of life with no electricity and living solely off what they could grow, hunt and catch. That’s the sort of stuff that interests me and I thought there’d be a bit more of it. Instead the book is more focused on the arrival of Jax, the fact that he’s mysterious and being hunted and just precisely what the group hunting him are really up to. I have to admit I struggled to maintain interest the deeper the story delved into Immunity and what they were doing and I honestly didn’t see the point of all the secrecy surrounding Lynn’s father and what he’d been doing and how Lynn, who was a teenager at the time, was so vague on it. Some of it seemed deliberately blocked out, as the death of her father had been very traumatic for her and I guess some is typical teen oblivion. But there were quite important things that Lynn didn’t really seem to remember and when she did/was told, I didn’t really see the need for such furtiveness.

There’s a sort of, well I’m not going to use the word romance, because it doesn’t really come across that way but I’ll say curiosity, between Jax and Lynn. It’s natural really – Lynn has spent her late teen and early adult years living with her mother, her uncle, her brother and another boy who is basically family anyway. Her only other interaction with the opposite sex in years has come in the form of their neighbour, a disgusting man who threatens to rape her. Jax is young, strong, fast and mysterious. However for me a real connection was lacking. It was more like aforementioned curiosity and circumstance, rather than any real bond. However the end of the book seems to suggest that if this one does well, a sequel will probably be forthcoming and perhaps we’ll get more of Lynn and Jax as there seems to be much more to their story and what they’re going to do.

This was an okay read for me but I didn’t love it.


Book #11 of 2017


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Review: No Regrets by Julie Moffett

No Regrets (Lexi Carmichael Mystery #10)
Julie Moffett
Carina Press
2018, 243p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Geek girl Lexi Carmichael has tackled her share of formidable tasks, but nothing quite as daunting as serving as maid of honor at her best friend’s wedding.

When I agreed to stand by my best friend, Basia, on her big day, I had no idea what I was in for. Bouquets and unflattering evening wear I can handle. But between disgruntled dates, a beach venue and suspicious packages, what else can go wrong? Oh, right—my parents don’t know I’ve moved in with Slash. Oops?

Thankfully, I’ve got everything semi under control, at least as far as Basia and Xavier know. They can leave for their honeymoon happy, knowing Elvis, Slash and I will keep things safe at home.

Meanwhile, Elvis and Xavier’s boss at ComQuest has asked X-Corp—well, me—to take a quick trip to retrieve a sensitive company package from the British Virgin Islands. No hacking involved. Just show up, accept the package and bring it home safely. A cushy assignment, and a safe one. Right? 

Wrong. Things start to unravel the minute I set foot on the boat to the island. Before I know it, I’m up to my neck in thugs, sand and trouble. I’m going to have to work fast to stop the bad guys before the sun sets for good on this unexpected beach vacation…

I enjoy this series but I have to admit, I enjoy parts of it more than others.

In this installment, Lexi is serving as bridesmaid for her best friend Basia, who is finally marrying one of Lexi’s other few close friends, Xavier Zimmerman. The role has brought about many duties and things that are outside of Lexi’s comfort zone but she’s appreciative of Basia and she wants everything to be perfect so she’s getting on with it. She can’t shake the feeling that something will go wrong though – lately Lexi has been compiling the data of what happens to her in a ‘Little Black Cloud’ spreadsheet so that she can analyse it. Lexi is the kind of person that ‘things just happen to’ and she’s determined that nothing ruin this special day.

I think these books are better when they focus on the ‘mystery’ and less on the ‘comic relief’ but that’s just personal opinion because I find that crazy incidents with animals bother the heck out of me and there are two of them in this book. The first one is kind of not so bad but the second one…..ugh, I honestly can’t believe it was even left in the book.

I really did enjoy the mystery – as I said, it’s where I feel the strengths in this series are and I always like to watch Lexi doing her thing, gathering information and sorting out things in her head and coming up with a plan. She’s very smart, she’s confident in her abilities and she definitely shines in this book. I loved her process of investigating and could ignore the distractions and silliness that kind of cut in along the way because they were just small moments and the solving of what was going on took up a far bigger portion of the book. I liked that Lexi didn’t need rescuing in this book but I also appreciated that there were people who came to make sure of it.

Lexi’s developing relationship with Slash has been a big thing for me since the third book – I wasn’t too crazy about him as an option in the first book and maybe the second but since the third I’ve been fully on board. I love that it does actually develop – a lot! They’re not just stuck in a holding pattern, she’s not torn between two guys (thankfully that part was cleared up very early on in the series) and they’ve grown as a couple, shared things about each other and moved forward. And they continue to move forward in this one, which I appreciate although once again, the manner in which it happens was kind of another one of those ‘Lexi’ moments. And I really liked the way this one ended. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger and it revolves around Slash and it looks as though the next book is going to be really interesting and quite personal. I do think that the author has done a great job really developing Lexi and Slash’s story and continuing to have it grow over numerous volumes and there’s still plenty left for them.

But this isn’t my favourite one of the series. I’m probably in the minority but I find a lot of the ‘comic’ moments contrived, like they’ve been really thought out and written purely to invoke amusement rather than unfolding naturally. None of them really felt natural and that pulls me out of the story which lessens my enjoyment of it. Lexi is really funny enough on her own. She doesn’t need ‘crazy’ things happening to her to get a laugh. And I really just appreciate her geeky, funny, intelligent side without disasters. However the way in which this book ended has made me so keen for the next book. I really need to find out what’s going to happen there.


Book #1 of 2018


Review: The Upside Of Falling Down by Rebekah Crane

The Upside Of Falling Down
Rebekah Crane
2017, 252p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

For Clementine Haas, finding herself is more than a nice idea. Ever since she woke up in an Irish hospital with complete amnesia, self-discovery has become her mission.

They tell her she’s the lone survivor of a plane crash. They tell her she’s lucky to be alive. But she doesn’t feel lucky. She feels…lost.

With the relentless Irish press bearing down on her, and a father she may not even recognize on his way from America to take her home, Clementine assumes a new identity and enlists a blue-eyed Irish stranger, Kieran O’Connell, to help her escape her forgotten life…and start a new one.

Hiding out in the sleepy town of Waterville, Ireland, Clementine discovers there’s an upside to a life that’s fallen apart. But as her lies grow, so does her affection for Kieran, and the truth about her identity becomes harder and harder to reveal, forcing Clementine to decide: Can she leave her past behind for a new love she’ll never forget? 

I love love love amnesia books, they’re one of my favourite things. I also love books set in Ireland so this sounded absolutely amazing. The premise seems really interesting – I’m also an avid watcher of MayDay or Air Crash Investigations as it’s known here and I find plane crashes in terms of who survives and who doesn’t sometimes really fascinating. Clementine is the sole survivor of a plane crash near Shannon Airport in County Limerick and she wakes in hospital with no recollection of the plane crash or why she was even travelling to Ireland in the first place as she’s from Ohio. When her friendly nurse tells her that her father has arrived to see her, Clementine panics because she doesn’t want to hurt a man she can’t even remember with that fact and so she bails, convincing a stranger to take her away from the hospital.

And this is around the time I began to sort of struggle with this and considering that’s quite early in the story, I figured I was not going to love this. Clementine is a young woman in a vulnerable position, I get that. She’s supposed to be disoriented and terrified but she should’ve been seeking answers, not running from those who could provide them. Her reasons for leaving the hospital are pretty weak and the young man that takes her away, Keiran, probably has an even worse reason for doing what she requests are even worse. She’s the sole survivor of a plane crash, you’d think there’d be quite a lot of people wanting to speak to her, the NTSB first on the list but forget about that because the plane crash isn’t actually important and is rarely mentioned again and no one cares about why it crashed or anything else.

The romance would’ve had to have been pretty good to make me forget the practicalities of being the only survivor in a plane crash not that far from a major airport in a country that has a good aviation safety record and was carrying passengers from America, a country that has probably the best aviation investigation squad. Keiran is a reluctant rich kid, who finds that the perks of Daddy’s money don’t pay off when it means that you have to live your life as Daddy wishes. He’s staying in a country house with his sister and although he regularly disappears in the morning, he leaves Clementine (calling herself Jane, as she can’t identify with Clementine) money in order to purchase necessities as Clementine has spun some story about why she doesn’t have any belongings or money.

Holes, holes everywhere I’m afraid. Jane’s story is not remotely convincing and whilst I’m aware that everyone is a stranger to Clementine, running off from the hospital days after you survived a plane crash (with apparently no injuries other than the amnesia…) is really not the wisest decision to make. Also she didn’t want to hurt her father by not recognising him or not feeling any love for him or anything like that but she completely ignores what disappearing might do to her father, who almost lost his only child once. Surely actually having Clementine’s physical presence, even if mentally she is absent, would be much more comforting than having her vanish from the hospital with a potentially serious medical condition, no money, no knowledge of the country, nothing. I’m honestly not sure what Clementine hoped to accomplish from her flight. She says something about waiting ‘two weeks’ but this seemed some sort of ridiculously random attempt to pacify herself that what she’d done was okay.

I didn’t like Keiran much in the beginning and I’m afraid my dislike for him only grew as I got deeper into the story and more and more about him was revealed, which explains why he buys “Jane’s” dodgy story. He didn’t seem charming and although he seems oddly kind at first, I ended up feeling quite uncomfortable about his actions by the end of the book. They were really controlling, even though it’s wrapped up in his laid back, nice guy persona there’s no doubt that he knew exactly the sorts of things he was doing and it could’ve gone very, very wrong. In fact I think it’s poor writing that one part of what Keiran does is glossed over like it’s no big deal when it’s actually a huge deal. I was lukewarm on him before that but I really ended up disliking him. Actually I didn’t like Clementine that much either. The best characters were the minor characters of Clive and Keiran’s prickly sister Siobahn.

This had a promising premise but overall I just felt that the execution wasn’t up to what I was expecting. The romance wasn’t anywhere near enough for me – I never really felt a connection between Clementine and Keiran and I feel as though it will only be more problematic when Clementine properly recalls everything. Grief is not something that you can forget or skip, even if things didn’t turn out the way someone planned. I actually feel like a lot of this storyline made things so much worse for Clementine and others. I think I would’ve enjoyed this more if, she had to run away, that she did it on her own, without really needing Keiran around to provide for her and for her to cling to. He’s hiding a lot of secrets and I don’t think he was entirely acting out of kindness in the end. It may have developed into something like that but with all the info, looking back makes his appearance and actions seem a bit creepy.


Book #208 of 2017

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Review: It Started With A Tweet by Anna Bell

It Started With A Tweet
Anna Bell
Bonnier Zaffre Publishing
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Can Daisy Hobson log off for love…?

Could you survive a digital detox? This hilarious new romantic comedy from the author of The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart is perfect for fans of Lucy Diamond and Sophie Kinsella.

Daisy Hobson lives her whole life online. A marketing manager by day, she tweets her friends, instagrams every meal and arranges (frankly, appalling) dates on Tinder. But when her social media obsession causes her to make a catastrophic mistake at work, Daisy finds her life going into free-fall . . . 

Her sister Rosie thinks she has the answer to all of Daisy’s problems – a digital detox in a remote cottage in Cumbria, that she just happens to need help doing up. Soon, too, Daisy finds herself with two welcome distractions: sexy French exchange-help Alexis, and Jack, the brusque and rugged man-next-door, who keeps accidentally rescuing her.

But can Daisy, a London girl, ever really settle into life in a tiny, isolated village? And, more importantly, can she survive without her phone?

I have to admit, I read this about six weeks ago because I was looking for a bit of a light in between two other novels but because I’m hopeless, I didn’t write the review straight away. So now even though I remember that I enjoyed this, I’m struggling to recall much about it….which makes me wonder how much I really liked it if nothing is really sticking in my mind that clearly.

Daisy works as a marketing media manager so she spends her days (and her nights) constantly connected and online. Her job is to be on social media but she is also addicted herself, uploading pictures of her meals or her cocktails to instagram and trawling Tinder searching for the one. When she accidentally tweets something quite risque from her work account, it goes ‘viral’ and Daisy finds her life upside down. Her sister Rosie decides that Daisy needs a break from all her technology and she kind of railroads her into a DIY project, hoping that the two sisters might be able to connect whilst doing it. At first Daisy is angry, resentful and like a junkie craving her fix. She desperately wants her phone (which is somewhere inaccessible thanks to Rosie) and will stop at nothing to try and get online.

I can relate to Daisy actually. I’m pretty attached to my phone and spend a lot of the day checking facebook and instagram, getting angry scrolling through twitter and the idea of a digital detox is kind of refreshing. It’s hard though because a phone can be a lot of things to many people. I live interstate from my family so it’s a way to keep up with their lives. Without my phone I’d miss birth announcements, photos of my growing nieces and god how could I survive without my mother documenting pretty much everything she does on facebook from getting their roof resprayed to what happened at work that day. In an increasingly busy (and shrinking) world, social media gives many people a way to keep in touch with friends and family, converse with like minded strangers, access news and current events easily and generally just locate information. Unfortunately where there’s a positive there’s always a negative and social media can be at times, a very disturbing place. When something picks up traction it can be very difficult to hide from it and it can have severe consequences on the people affected. In this case, Daisy makes a gross error by tweeting something crass from her professional account rather than her personal account and has to suffer the consequences, one of them being the loss of her job.

I really enjoyed when Daisy’s sister dragged her away from the city and technology to detox a bit and learn to prioritise her life and think about what makes her happy. At times Daisy was petulant and annoying and her sister bossy and patronising but the relationship rang very true for bickering sisters. I liked their journey towards understanding each other, confiding in each other and finding out what they truly enjoyed doing together. Both of them put in a lot of hard work as well and it was probably quite satisfying for them to achieve the things they did.

Whilst in the wilderness, Daisy meets one of her neighbours, Jack and although they start doing a few cute things like leaving each other letters and meeting up for walks, it didn’t really have enough for me. I like the romance thread to be a bit stronger and even though this is Daisy’s journey of self discovery, Jack is a part of her journey and I wanted a bit more detail of what was happening between them, especially towards the end. Lots more detail, actually! Jack was an interesting character and I liked him and enjoyed his and Daisy’s interactions with each other. Several other locals added some colour as well and it was surprising just how Daisy’s wants changed the more time she spent in a place that she hadn’t even wanted to go and when she went back to London, the way in which she viewed social interactions was very different.

All in all I did enjoy this – it was fun and full of humour, just wish there was a little more meat to the romance.


Book #183 of 2017



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Review: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra

Little Secrets
Anna Snoekstra
Harlequin AUS
2017, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside.

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story.

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t nearly enough to cover rent. Rose needs a story — a big one.

Little dolls full of secrets.

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, precise porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbour turns on neighbour and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed. 

I found this book very unsatisfying, despite all of the hype around it and the praise I’ve read.

There are several things happening here – firstly there’s an arsonist in the small town of Colmstock and the latest fire claimed the life of a young boy. Then residents start finding small doll’s on their front steps, which look eerily like their young daughters. And Rose Blakey, 25, is desperate for a break that will kickstart the career she so desperately wants – journalist. She sees opportunity when knocked back on yet another application. She’s in a unique position to bring what’s happening in Colmstock to the wider community and there’s not much she wouldn’t do in order to get what she wants. The time is ticking and Rose is on a deadline.

The premise intrigued me and the set up was quite good. Snoekstra does a good job of nailing a dying town. The unemployment is high, there’s a meth problem, the local newspaper has closed and families are struggling to get by. Rose’s own mother works long hours at a chicken production plant and her stepfather is gone days at a time supposedly driving trucks. Rose still lives at home although her stepfather has made it clear that it’s time she moved on. They need the room, he and her mother have three young kids of their own. Rose herself works at the local pub pulling beers for the local police community and anyone else that might wander in to blow the week’s wages.

The arson is very dramatic and the dolls seem very creepy so I think I was probably enjoying this for the first third or so but then….it kind of loses its way for me. Pretty much everyone is horrible in this book and there are some episodes of gross behaviour from so many. Rose is actually a big disappointment as a main character although perhaps she really has picked the most perfect career that she could, given her actions in this novel. I am not sure if what happens with her getting published would be likely but her articles all felt ridiculously Daily Mail-esque with terrible writing. Her friend I had some sympathy for in the beginning as her life seems very difficult and it’s clear she needs some stability. She’s quite willing to throw Rose under the bus in order to get it though. The behaviour of the local police force is abominable in a myriad of ways without even the most basic of understanding about what the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia is. They’re a sad portrayal of a country police force but to be honest, I didn’t have to stretch my imagination too far in order for it to seem credible but I feel as though it went a bit too far after the first incident. The second one was just bizarre.

My biggest problem was that a lot of the resolutions were just…..lackluster. The build up had been good for a while but it was only in the last few pages that one important aspect of the story was resolved and it actually made me laugh when I read it (and not in a good way). It just seemed so silly. Also the book was littered with inconsistent characters (Rose’s stepfather being the primary one) and there were 4 or 5 threads going on that it felt as though none of them could really be done properly.

A disappointing read unfortunately.


Book #205 of 2017

Little Secrets is book #60 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Country Girl by Cathryn Hein

The Country Girl
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin AUS
2017, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Bestselling Australian author Cathryn Hein returns with a moving and uplifting rural romance about facing hard truths and moving on in pursuit of life.

After landing a major cookbook deal, star food blogger Tash Ranger swaps city life for the family farm. But Tash’s homecoming is bittersweet, for now she can no longer avoid seeing her best friend Maddie, who was severely injured in a riding accident and unable to communicate. No one knows that Maddie and Tash had a deep falling out and with every visit Tash must pretend to be the friend everyone believes her to be.

Patrick Lawson, Maddie’s fiancé, battles despair and hope daily as Maddie lies imprisoned in her body, gradually losing his faith in her recovery. When Tash returns to Castlereagh Road with her joy and boundless appetite for life, he realises finally what his loved ones have been trying to tell him for months – that Maddie wouldn’t want him to throw his life away. It’s time to move on. But letting go is no easy feat, especially if moving on means Tash. He’s a country boy and she is a star on the rise with ambitions that could propel her out of reach.

Can these two friends step out of the shadow of Maddie’s tragic life and accept love, or is the past forever destined to dictate their future?

Tash Ranger has made her career as a food vlogger, her good recipes and camera presence building her a steady following. In an attempt to keep her output fresh she’s moving back to her family farm – the Urban Ranger goes (back to the) country! It’s the place Tash grew up and she’s remodelling her grandfather’s old flat for cooking and filming. She has lots of ideas about fresh, local produce but it’s not supposed to be a permanent thing. Her mind is always ticking over, thinking of new ideas, keeping her output new and innovative.

Tash knows Patrick Lawson as first the boyfriend and then later the fiance of her childhood best friend Maddie. A shocking accident means that Maddie is no longer the person she was, but Patrick has remained loyal to her. He still visits her every day and he intends to keep his promises to her. This is severely complicated by Tash’s return and the reactions that Patrick has whilst around her. It starts off as overprotective as he seeks to stop Tash from doing the very thing that injured Maddie and he is very adamant about it. Tash however, is not really into being bossed around by Patrick, nor is she incapable of making her own judgements. Tash challenges Patrick and isn’t afraid to tell him off and despite their rocky start when Tash arrives back in town, they keep crossing paths.

I’m not going to lie – I had some reservations about this pairing before I started the story. Tash knows Patrick as her best friend’s boyfriend. It’s true that Maddie isn’t the same anymore and won’t ever be the same. But I was wary about the whole “best friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend’s best friend’ sort of thing. It’s not an entanglement I usually enjoy although the circumstances in this story were very different. And the way it was handled definitely won me over. Patrick is so obviously such a tortured soul. He’s still so young but he’s stuck by Maddie, even though they will never be able to have that life together that they’d planned anymore. He’s so determined to keep his promises, despite the fact that other people are concerned about him an want him to embrace his life. The way that the attraction between him and Tash unfolds felt really natural and that like Patrick was ready to move on, he just had to make that conscious decision to actually do so, which he was struggling with because he had made promises to Maddie. I have to admit, Patrick didn’t endear himself to me at first – there’s an incident towards the beginning of the story that’s a bit hard to take although I know the logistics of why Patrick wanted to do something but ultimately the fault doesn’t lie where he was trying to place it. He needs something to blame though, and that’s the easiest option. There’s also how bossy and arrogant he was with Tash, but she puts him in his place relatively quickly and once he kind of settled down a bit and realised no one had a death wish, he began to grow on me. I thought that his internal struggle was very well written and I could really feel his pain and indecision. The desire to do what he’d promised versus the possibility of a more fulfilling life with someone who was in a position to love him in return.

I absolutely loved Tash’s job as a food vlogger and the devotion to her creations in this story. There’s lots of amazing meals described – Cathryn Hein is a pretty enthusiastic cook so I wouldn’t be surprised if most are these are some of her favourite dishes! Tash spends quite a bit of time with her grandfather starting up the farm’s vegetable garden too and I loved their chats – her grandfather goes kind of “viral” which was cute. He was a fantastic character, a cheeky older man who in some ways reminded me of my own (sadly gone now) grandfather. Mine could be cheeky as well and enjoyed a story over a veggie garden. I think if I’d asked him to help me revive one he’d have been in on that before you could blink.

The Country Girl definitely won me over, which is no surprise really because Cathryn Hein is one of my favourite authors and her rurals are always sweet with a bit of a sassy twist. I went from my original slight skepticism to fully on board with Patrick and Tash because I think they were bringing out the best in each other as well as showing each other that they had options.


Book #203 of 2017

The Country Girl is book #59 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Year One by Nora Roberts

Year One (Chronicles Of The One #1)
Nora Roberts
2017, 419p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

It began on New Year’s Eve.

The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.

As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.

In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.

The end has come. The beginning comes next.

I’ve been reading Nora Roberts for probably over 20 years. I’ve read a countless amount of her romances and although I haven’t kept up with the In Death series that she writes under the name of J.D. Robb, I’ve read a handful here and there. This is something very different yet again and I was intrigued from the time I first heard about it.

I’ve read a few books where an apocalyptic event wipes out a huge portion of the world’s population via some sort of hideous disease and this book starts the same way. It begins in Scotland, with a family who are flying back home to America and from there it sweeps the globe as people come in contact with infected people and take it with them overseas on holidays, for business, etc. It also appears that if you’re immune, you’re immune. Exposure results in a relatively quick downward spiral and so the people who are left standing at the end of a few weeks are generally believed to be unable to contract the disease, or if they do, it doesn’t affect them in the same way it does the majority. They begin to band together, creating camps, communities, learning to protect themselves against the threats that still remain.

For the first half of this book, it honestly didn’t feel like Roberts was bringing anything new to the post-apocalyptic table. It felt like reading an episode of The Walking Dead but instead of zombies, there are crusaders who want to take resources for themselves and distrust those in the surviving population who are ‘gifted’ in ways that are difficult to explain. The gift seems to manifest in either a good or evil way – it’s almost like witchcraft although there are othes that display traits of elves or fairies, even Lycans. That is touched upon briefly when gifteds are encountered in the storyline but it really only starts to seemingly play a prominent role in the latter half of the book. The first half is mostly dedicated to the disease wiping out half the world and the immune finding each other and banding together. A catastrophic invasion scatters them toward the end of the book and after that we follow only one main character, whereas previously we had followed several.

I was into the post-apocalyptic story because I love a good one of those. I am a big fan of the genre and I love the ways in which society can fall and be rebuilt. I enjoyed the journeys of the characters to find each other and the way they began a new civilisation and attempted to govern, working together as a group. Those with skills pitched in and those who didn’t found other ways to contribute. And there are always dissenters, wherever you go, whatever the circumstances so those that appreciated the anarchy of the world were included too. But…..

I’m not as convinced about the supernatural part of the story. It felt a bit clunky for me and it wasn’t explored any where near enough, especially with Lana and Max before the disease even begins. There’s no real explanation and some of the abilities that manifested just seemed really random. People fall into two camps – either good or evil. Those without gifts fall into either two camps – those ok with what they see and those that are really really not. The battle scene felt foreshadowed really obviously although I was surprised by one particular event. After that I’m just not sure I could buy a character being able to make it so far on their own, especially in their condition and the rest of the book felt a bit contrived. I was left wondering what had happened to the others from the town that had been built. I guess they will crop up at some stage in book 2 but it was a bit weird to leave them behind considering they’d been along for most of the ride in this book.

I know it’s just the first book and it will be built on and more explained and some of the groundwork was quite good. I’m really keen to know what’s happening in other parts of the world as well, although with communications mostly down this wasn’t an option in this book. Hopefully there’ll be some more info – even though I didn’t super love this, I think I’m interested enough to read the next one and see where it’s all going.


Book #192 of 2017



Review: To The Duke, With Love by Amelia Grey

To The Duke, With Love (Rakes Of St James #2)
Amelia Grey
St Martin’s Press
2017, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

There may be times when a gentleman is desperate to gain a lady’s attention, but a gentleman would never resort to desperate measures to obtain it.
―A Proper Gentleman’s Guide to Wooing the Perfect Lady

Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn is guardian for his sweet, younger sister. Due to his misguided past as one of the infamous Rakes of St James, Hawk is hoping to avoid the Season by securing a match for her before it begins. He has the perfect gentleman in mind, but for one infuriating―and unexpectedly intoxicating―obstacle: the intended groom’s own sister, Miss Loretta Quick.

Having narrowly avoided her own arranged marriage to an unacceptable nobleman, Loretta is determined that her dear brother―a gentle, good-natured soul―should marry for love. Matching wits with Hawk may be her greatest challenge yet. . .until she realizes it may also be her greatest pleasure. For the young duke’s irresistible charm has not only begun to crumble her stubborn resolve, it has claimed her heart in true love as well. . .

I’ve read books by Amelia Grey before and I actually thought I’d read the first in this series but I haven’t. I read the first book in the Heirs Club of Scoundrels series, not the Rakes of St James series. Honestly, it’s surprisingly difficult to keep all these complicatedly named series’ straight about rakish Dukes.

The Duke of Hawthorn intends to marry his younger sister off to a man he has handpicked for her. His sister trusts him to weed out the rakes (like himself), the wastrels, the ones who gamble too much or who aren’t as deep in the pocket as they like to be seen as. However when he goes to broach the idea with his choice, he discovers that the man is absent from the house and instead he encounters his sister, Miss Loretta Quick. The Duke finds her immediately interesting – she’s not afraid to question him, confront him and she’s definitely not a fan of his plan to marry his sister and her brother.

Loretta once had a marriage arranged for her and it ended in disaster and her social isolation. Now she lives her days in one of her uncle’s houses, where the only person she really sees is her brother. The Duke is somewhat of a novelty but Loretta is horrified by his plan. She’s determined that her brother have the freedom to marry a woman of his choosing, someone that he can build a life of love with. Not someone coldly chosen on the back of breeding and social compatibility. She makes it defiantly clear to the Duke that she will counsel her brother against this match, no matter how many interesting things the Duke makes her feel.

This book was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I appreciated the bluntness with which it deals with the idea of arranged marriages. The Duke is undertaking his duty as head of the family to ensure that his sister marries someone worthy of her and he’s not just looking for the man with the title or the most money. He’s also taking into account his sister’s temperament and the sort of lifestyle to which she has become expected, which is interesting. He wants a man who will treat her kindly, not just one who can further the family dynasty. His sister is perfectly content to trust in her brother’s choice, not really caring about having an input. She looks to avoid the stress of a season by being betrothed before it begins, having been somewhat frightened about it by her chaperone. Loretta on the other hand, is perhaps before her time, wanting her brother to marry for love and happiness, not family connections and good breeding. There was a lot of spirited debate between Loretta and the Duke about arranged marriages and the pros and cons as well as debates about other things. Loretta is certainly quite forthright and perhaps her social isolation has really made her treat everyone equally. The Duke finds it very refreshing that she talks back to him, because, you know, he’s a Duke and people don’t do that to them.

But I have to admit, I found this book a bit boring. I didn’t really feel the connection/chemistry between the Duke and Loretta at all and sometime the debates became well, tedious, rather than exciting. Their interactions really didn’t hold my interest at all and I found the Duke not particularly rakish, despite his formidable reputation.   Loretta seemed to spend a lot of time halfheartedly protesting something based on a ridiculous vow she’d made years ago and I honestly didn’t really get the angst circling around it. As if her uncle, who was intent on punishing her for her rebelliousness, would protest at her marrying a Duke of all people and bring up that vow from years ago. It just made no sense and there was a lot of time devoted to it at the end of the book. Also the story with the Duke’s sister and Loretta’s brother could’ve been a really interesting secondary plot but it fizzled out and both of them lacked personality. In fact it made all the debates basically meaningless.


Book #191 of 2017

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Review: Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Without Merit
Colleen Hoover
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

I’ve only read one Colleen Hoover book before and it was years ago. I remember being underwhelmed but I’ve heard so much about how her writing and stories have improved and this sounded really interesting with quite a bit publisher push so I decided to give it a go.

Merit’s life is a bit of a mess. Her family is dysfunctional in the extreme – they live in an old converted church that her father purchased from his nemesis. Her mother (divorced from her father, agoraphobic) lives in the basement and never ventures out. The rest of the family – her father, his new wife, their young child together, Merit, her twin sister Honor and their brother Utah live upstairs. It’s not an ideal situation and it seems that there’s plenty of friction within the family.

For me, the biggest problem is that there’s just too much going on in this book. Merit is suffering from depression and anxiety (although is unaware/unwilling to examine it) and she spends a lot of time retreating into herself, skipping school and generally just avoiding as much as she can. Apart from that there’s also sexual assault, agoraphobia, hypochondria, other forms of mental illness, terminal illness and the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. It makes it really hard to connect to any part of the story because it’s always skipping to something else and addressing the next issue. There’s so many that for me, none of them felt examined in depth or given the amount of page time that they deserve. I especially did not like the way in which the sexual assault was treated. This was something that had plagued the victim for years, had really affected them and when they finally decided to blow open the secret it seemed to take one conversation for everything to be resolved and forgiven and I didn’t think that was at all acceptable or realistic. The perpetrator may have been “confused” but they were by far old enough to know that what they were doing was wrong and predatory behaviour and just plain not okay. And the fact that it was ignored for so long by them was ridiculous. And the reaction of almost jealousy by someone who wasn’t preyed upon? Really? Just….no. Nope. And then there was the tangled mess of what was really happening between Merit’s parents and his new wife situation which was just a few too many twists and turns for me. Add in the new wife’s brother to stir the pot in a way that seems far too obvious and there were so many things that were just clunky and too heavily handled. It really lacked the finesse to gently air out these serious subjects and the emotions and tangled relationships involved here. Especially as it felt like it only took about 2-3 conversations to sort out most of these issues and a whole bunch of stuff could’ve been solved if the family had not kept so many weird secrets and tried to shove things under the rug.

I was excited about this because it had been talked up so much to me, but ultimately it just wasn’t my sort of read. I kept wanting more – so much of it just kept hinging on the fact that no one communicated and all these people were living these separate lives despite all being under the same roof. And there were a lot of people living under this roof. The only character I really probably liked was Sagan and half the time he felt too good to really be true and why on earth was he bothering with Merit and all this mess when she was so horrifically bad to him? Because she was. Absolutely awful. Part of it stems from a misunderstanding when they meet, where Sagan seems to believe that she is her twin. But it continues on for so long.

Ultimately this was disappointing and will probably be my last crack at a Colleen Hoover book, even though I still have one that I bought ages ago on my iBooks. I just don’t think her ways of telling a story are for me.


Book #180 of 2017