Spring Reading

I’ve procrastinated all review writing of late. Spring has been a very pleasant distraction, and while I’ve been reading plenty I haven’t managed to formulate any review posts in the last couple of weeks.

In the spirit of Spring cleaning (and procrastination), I’ve given my blog a little makeover!

Instead of writing lengthy review posts for each book, I’m going to briefly comment on three of my fave reads of Spring so far- none of which are new releases. All of which get 5 out of 5 stars.

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Why did it take me so long to pick this up?? I really have no idea. It’s been on my bookshelves for a couple of years and I finally decided I was in the mood for a serious and thought-provoking novel. Well, The Kite Runner was the perfect choice! Such a sad story with beautiful characterisation and a subtle underlying theme of hope.

Rating: 5/5

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

A friend recommended this book to me after she borrowed my copy of Lost & Found by Brooke Davis. It’s style and child point of view reminded her of Counting by 7s. It does have some quite similar elements, using a child POV, it explores grief and loss, friendship and hope. It finds humour in the depressing bits of life and draws on the role of relationships in creating stability in one’s life. The twelve year old protagonist is a fascinatingly well-written and likeable character.

Rating: 5/5

Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Wow. This book was mesmerising. Set in historical Iceland, the setting of this book is mysterious, dark, cool and fascinating. It’s just as much a character as the people represented in the story. The Australian author captures the time and place of a woman executed for the brutal murder of two men. I really enjoyed the slow unfolding of the story as it moves between the past (the crime) and the present (lead up to the execution). Every time I picked up this book I was completely absorbed and yet I didn’t want to read it too quickly- I wanted to savour every page.

Rating: 5/5

This book & review also counts toward the 2014 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

 

 

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Aussie Book Review: The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

The Sunnyvale Girls The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Australia, September 2014

 Synopsis- Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart.

Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.

When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.

Review- I’ve enjoyed every Fiona Palmer book I’ve read, and when I discovered she’d written a story partly set in rural Australia and partly set in Italy I was downright intrigued! How was she going to weave two of my favourite settings while staying true to the down to earth and hardworking country folk that’s representative of her writing style.  Well, somehow she nailed it!

The Sunnyvale Girls are Felicity (aka Flick), her mum Antonia (Toni) and grandmother Maggie, three generations of strong women working and living on Sunnyvale Farm in outback Western Australia.

At twenty, Flick hasn’t had much luck with men. She’s so preoccupied with the farm that her breakup with Chad hardly even registers.

In her early fifties, single-mum Toni’s whole life revolves around her daughter Flick and the family farm. She feels she’s missed the boat for love and despite the romantic hints she’s been getting from hunky colleague Jimmy, it’d take a hell of a lot for her to let down her guard. Though Jimmy, ten years her junior- is up for the challenge.

Grandmother Maggie, mourns the loss of her first true love- an Italian prisoner of war who was shipped back home before they had the opportunity to make a life together.

When Maggie drops a bombshell at a family dinner, Flick and Toni’s lives are changed forever. Flick, young and full of energy, inspires her mother to see a connection with her biological father and together they travel to Italy for a new, scary and altogether exciting adventure- only to find that the answers they seek were on their doorstep all along. In Italy, Flick finds love and Toni learns to let love in… and forgive her mother.

I really loved this story. I wasn’t sure how I’d find a connection with each of the women in the book, but despite the difference in age between myself as a reader and the women in the book I could connect with each of their experiences of loss, love, hurt and adventure. I loved the two settings and the way in which Palmer stayed true to her writing niche. Having recently visited Italy myself, I really enjoyed seeing how Toni and Flick adapted to the new environment and was open to what new experiences came their way.

Highly recommended!

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

The Sunnyvale Girls can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2014 challenge:

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Aussie Book Review: Savannah Winds by Tamara McKinley

Savannah Winds Savannah Winds by Tamara McKinley

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, September 2014

Synopsis- When Fleur receives word of a surprise inheritance from an aunt she never knew, it couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. Her relationship is crumbling, and she’s caught in the middle of a serious family rift. Consulting her aunt’s long-lost diary, Fleur sets out on a voyage of historical discovery up the coast and through the Gulf Country, to the isolated cattle ranch Savannah Winds. But unbeknownst to Fleur, what she uncovers there could have devastating repercussions for her own life. Set between the 1930s and the modern day, Savannah Winds is an exploration of family ties, bitter rivalry and the strength of enduring love.

Review- Tamara McKinley is a well-established Australian author whose books I have seen around for many years. In fact Dreamscapes has sat on my TBR shelf for some time. Savannah Winds is McKinley’s most recent novel and is set in the present day.

Fleur’s life has come to a junction, she’s at a point in her life where starting a family is most desirable, however for her paediatrician boyfriend it’s not on the cards and never will be. Just when Fleur is faced with one of the biggest decisions of her life-to stay in the relationship or leave- she inherits two properties from an estranged aunt, turning her life completely upside down.

 On a ‘break’ from her boyfriend, Fleur takes off to Far North QLD to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death, her father’s fables and why her Aunt was not only estranged but left a hefty inheritance to a niece whom she had no relationship with.

Simultaneously, as Fleur uncovers her family history, her boyfriend Greg digs into his childhood trauma and unravels the reason for his aversion to have a child. He reluctantly traipses through his own past in search of the answers for his future.

While the premise for Savannah Winds was enticing, I just didn’t enjoy this story as much as I’d hoped. It was an interesting storyline, the characters were interesting-both past and present- but I felt disappointingly unconnected to Fleur and her boyfriend. I’m not sure how to explain it other than just a feeling of detachment-whether it be down to characterisation or writing style -I’m not sure. The disconnection to the main characters made it difficult to enjoy the overall story, no matter how fascinating the plot was.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it, as it probably comes down to my own personal experience of the story. I’d be interested to hear what other readers have thought of Savannah Winds and I’d still like to give Dreamscapes a go and see what that’s like.

Overall Rating

3/5

“It was okay”

Savannah Winds can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2014 challenge:

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Aussie Book Review: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer

Lyrebird Hill  Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Simon & Schuster, September 2014

 Synopsis- When all that you know comes crashing down, do you run? Or face the truth?

Ruby Cardel has the semblance of a normal life – a loving boyfriend, a fulfilling career – but in one terrible moment, her life unravels. The discovery that the death of her sister, Jamie, was not an accident makes her question all she’s known about herself and her past.

Travelling back home to Lyrebird Hill, Ruby begins to remember the year that has been forever blocked in her memory . . . Snatches of her childhood with beautiful Jamie, and Ruby’s only friendship with the boy from the next property, a troubled foster kid.

Then Ruby uncovers a cache of ancient letters from a long-lost relative, Brenna Magavin, written from her cell in a Tasmanian gaol where she is imprisoned for murder. As she reads, Ruby discovers that her family line is littered with tragedy and violence.

Slowly, the gaps in Ruby’s memory come to her. And as she pieces together the shards of truth, what she finally discovers will shock her to the core – about what happened to Jamie that fateful day, and how she died.

A thrilling tale about family secrets and trusting yourself…

 Review- Lyrebird Hill is the second novel by Australian author Anna Romer that portrays mystery, family drama, romance and an ambiguous crime; plot characteristics established in her debut novel Thornwood House. I loved Romer’s first book and I was thrilled when I discovered the release of Lyrebird Hill and thankfully, this story doesn’t disappoint.

The discovery of her boyfriends’ infidelity and the passing comment of an old neighbour’s perspective on a childhood loss is the catalyst for major change in Ruby Cardel’s life. For the first time since childhood she begins to fight for the truth and she gains a momentum from her longstanding passivity to uncover the exact nature of her sister’s death eighteen years prior. In doing so, she unsettles her mother, the town and her own relatively comfortable life. The story alternates between Ruby’s point of view and that of her long-lost relative Brenna Magavin whom she finds a connection with through a series of letters.

Romer is a master of characterisation and plotting in her stories which is a rare combo to find all at once. She not only creates mystery and intrigue by sparking curiosity in the reader but she makes the reader actually care about what is happening for the characters. Typically a character like Ruby who is both passive and comfortably avoidant of conflict would really annoy me… but Romer did such a great job at setting up the way in which Ruby deals with relationships that I was able to empathise with her immediately. Once the drive kicked in to uncover the truth I completely warmed to her character, as I too wanted to know the truth. Ruby grows immensely throughout this story.

The subtle romantic development between Ruby and a childhood friend was also handled sensitively and realistically and definitely served its purpose in this story. On the other hand, the twist at the end involving her ex-boyfriend did seem a little far-fetched in my opinion- a little more fitting with the typical crime fiction genre- but it was well plotted out anyway.

Highly recommend this author!

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

Lyrebird Hill can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2014 challenge:

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Aussie Book Review: Deadly Obsession by Karen M. Davis

Deadly Obsession  Deadly Obsession by Karen M. Davis

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Simon & Schuster, August 2014

 Synopsis- A young nurse’s body is found at Clovelly Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Apart from a puncture wound in her neck, she is in perfect condition. But she’s also clutching a rose in her hands – and there’s an empty packet of prescription drugs in her pocket.

Investigating the scene, Detective Lexie Rogers and her partner Brad Sommers know something is not right. It appears to be a staged suicide. And as they begin to dig deeper, Lexie discovers the case is too close to home.

The dead girl was a work colleague of Lexie’s ex-husband, who is now a paramedic – and she was also a friend of the woman who broke up Lexie’s marriage. Struggling as she is with her breakup with Josh Harrison, who pushed her away after the suicide of his sister, and the numbing flashbacks of the violent attacks she’s suffered in the past, Lexie throws herself into the case. When she’s handed the lead on the investigation, Lexie sets out to solve the murder and prove she’s up to the job.

 Review- Deadly Obsession is the crime fiction sequel to Karen M Davis’s first novel Sinister Intent and picks up about six months later. Protagonist Lexie Rogers is training as a detective and when a young woman’s body is discovered in Clovelly, her partner lets her take the lead of the investigation. She’s pretty keen to throw herself into her work and forget about the fact that her grieving ex-boyfriend Josh Harrison has abandoned her for a trip in Bali and has been out of touch for one month.

With Davis’s knack for plot twists and turns, it soon becomes clear that there are numerous suspects; some more obvious than others and somehow the murderer’s path of destruction finds their way to Lexie’s doorstep. With fears that her boss will think she attracts psycho murderers (Sinister Intent is evidence of this) she keeps it from her boss and tries to get to the bottom of the mystery before she becomes a victim.

While Josh’s viewpoint is interspersed throughout the novel, he is physically MIA from Sydney for the first 100+ pages and doesn’t share a scene with Lexie until about page 150 or even more. With the introduction of Lexie’s ex-husband Zac as a murder suspect and her colleague Batman who has the hots for her… there were moments in the story when I wasn’t quite sure what the authors plans were for Lexie in the romance department. Josh was plenty irritating throughout the story given he pushed Lexie away and has a bit of a drinking problem. But I was pretty pleased with where it ended up and I’d be interested to know what would be next for Lexie in Josh if a third book were to be in the works.

Undercover cop bikie Rex makes an appearance in this story too, with his connection to Lexie still under wraps they manage to work together on parallel investigations by sharing information and alerting to danger when needed.

Overall, I really enjoyed Deadly Obsession. There are plenty of plot twists, interesting characters, it’s in a familiar city and there’s just enough romantic sparks to keep me invested in the story. I’m really interested to see whether Davis intends to continue the series with Lexie as protagonist…and if so I’d definitely pick up the next book to find out what adventures (or psychos) are in store for her next.

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

Deadly Obsession can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2014 challenge:

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Aussie Book Review: The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls

The Lace Balcony  The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Simon & Schuster, August, 2014

 Synopsis- Vianna Francis, known in the colony as ‘The Sydney Venus’, is a notorious young mistress in keeping to a former gentleman convict, who uses her to entice wealthy men to his gaming tables. A woman of mystery, Vianna is a magnet for scandal.

Was she the mistress of a Royal duke? A lady’s maid who learned the tricks of the world’s oldest profession when in service to a Parisian courtesan? Or the widow of a young man executed on the gallows?

Men of high rank are determined to possess this passionate, mercenary beauty. The L’Estrange half-brothers were born only months apart. One brother is an idealistic dreamer, the other a volatile adventurer. And the rivals have two things in common – a fatal attraction to get-rich schemes that run afoul of the law – and their obsession with Vianna.

Review- The Lace Balcony is the third Australian historical fiction novel with romantic elements to be released by Johanna Nicholls. I completely devoured her first two novels (Ghost Gum Valley & Ironbark) as early Australian fiction is quite rare to stumble across by modern day writers. So when I learned of this book’s release, I was really excited to read it.

Set in the late 1820’s, The Lace Balcony tells the story of Fanny Byron who arrives in Sydney with her 2 year old sister Daisy with no money or job. She’s vulnerable in a new country and needs an income to survive. A gentleman named Severin takes her under his wing and uses young Daisy as the motivating force behind Fanny making her fortune as the renowned Vianna Francis who makes a reputation for herself as the Sydney Town Venus. A courtesan who is ‘protected’ by Severin but performs as a singer/ entertainer luring in men to his gambling business.  When the money runs low, he manipulates Vianna into a contract to perform 7 night’s straight; each night she is to choose a man to dine with and at the end of the week, she chooses the highest bidder to keep her as their mistress for one year in the hope of settling debts and ensuring young Daisy’s needs are met.

While her relationship with Severin is quite toxic; he is controlling and abusive; though she does develop affection for him and of course her survival is heavily dependent on his keeping. However, she is propelled forward knowing that she has experienced one fleeting moment with a young felon by the name of Will whom, on a whim, she kissed as his last request before he was executed. It is some time before she discovers that Will is actually Mungo Quayle and he wants to take her as his wife. In the midst of all this Mungo Quayle’s half-brother Felix L’Estrange is bidding on Severin’s gambling contract to win her as his mistress.

Three men, three different paths.

The Lace Balcony is told from the perspective of Fanny (a.k.a Vianna), Felix and Mungo as they each make choices that bring them together and inevitably drive them apart. It’s fair to say this story is quite lengthy at over 500 pages long and to be honest, it was well over the 100 page mark when it finally drew me in and kick started that desire to want to find out more. Up until that point it was a slow start and I was uncertain about where this story was heading.

While I enjoyed the plot twists and Mungo’s enthusiasm and passion invested in gaining Fanny’s trust and affections, I experienced mixed feelings about Fanny herself. As a reader I felt quite frustrated by her at times. I could completely understand her vulnerability and how a vulnerable woman can end up in an abusive relationship- especially during that time period… but it was frustrating to see Fanny, at times, play the martyr and have the belief that she deserved that life. Sometimes she was brave and stood up for herself and other times she was passive and helpless. Unfortunately her motivation to look after Daisy just didn’t feel that believable. Especially since any interaction with Daisy shared with the reader was quite minimal at the beginning of the story and then we don’t see her again after that… so Fanny’s connection and protectiveness of Daisy wasn’t instilled at the outset so her desire to continue choosing a life as a courtesan was even more frustrating because it was apparently all for this step-sister. As a reader I tended to like and relate to Mungo more than anyone else in the novel, so at least I could root for him to achieve his desires at the end of the story.

It probably sounds like I didn’t enjoy this story, but I actually did. I like the plot, I love the setting and era and I also enjoyed the varied secondary characters, but I really struggled to relate and empathise with Fanny (a.k.a Vianna) which did impact on my experience as a reader.

 Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

The Lace Balcony can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2014 challenge:

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Book Review: Glass Houses by Rachel Caine

Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires, #1)  Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1) by Rachel Caine

Paperback

TBR pile

Allison & Busby, 2006

 Synopsis- The debut of an exciting new series set in Morganville, Texas, where you would be well advised to avoid being out after dark.

College freshman Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. When Claire heads off-campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life, but they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood. Will she be able to face the town’s terror or will she drown like everyone else?

 Review- I’ve had the first four books of this series (in two volumes) sitting on my bookself for a long time. I’ve seen some fantastic reviews about the series so I thought it was about time I give it a go.

To be honest, I was hoping I wouldn’t like it. It’d be a relief to not get hooked on another series.

Despite my best intentions, I did enjoy Glass Houses. Too much! And because the next book was already in my hands (combined in volume 1) there was no excuse to just keep on reading! I’ll be starting on volume 2 soon… darn!

Anyway, there have been plenty of summaries for this book so I won’t go into the plot too much. Basically, 16 year old Claire starts college at Morganville as an advanced placement for her physics degree. She’s super smart (she mentions that a lot!) and quickly becomes the target of bullying by the “hot but not so smart” clan led by Monica Morrell, the mayor’s daughter. After a rather serious attempt to kill her, Claire flees the dorms and is reluctantly accepted as the new housemate at Glass Houses, where eighteen year old Michael, Shane and Eve reside. It’s there she discovers that vampires exist and are accepted (somewhat) in the Morganville community. Unfortunately, given Monica’s connections, Claire is a target yet again… this time by the vamp society. Her friends get pulled into the mess and before we know it they are all in big trouble.

I liked the four main characters in the book (housemates: Michael, Shane, Even & Claire) and I particularly liked seeing Claire become assertive and take charge of her life. What I didn’t like was the ongoing reference to her being a ‘kid’ and ‘jailbait’ by her friends because of her age. This made it hard for the reader to forget her age… so I was a little torn about whether I wanted her to have a relationship with Shane who is two years older. In Australia, the legal age is 16 for consensual sexual relationships (I think!)… in the US it’s obviously older so a much bigger deal if a 16 year old hooks up with an 18 year old than over here (in a legal sense anyway).

Anyway, whether I wanted to or not, I was drawn into the plot… I didn’t know what was going to happen and I really wanted to… so that’s why I got through the book so quickly. The cliffhanger for Glass Houses was a little unfair… because I was all ready to put the book down-but couldn’t- and ended up continuing right on to book 2!

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

Glass Houses can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

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