Aussie Book Review: Crystal Creek by Charlotte Nash

Crystal CreekCrystal Creek by Charlotte Nash

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, March 2015

Synopsis- Medical student Christina Price has worked hard to rise above an upbringing filled with neglect and the assumption that she would never amount to anything. She promised herself she was never going back to Townsville. But when a twist of fate lands her in a Townsville army base clinic, she must confront past hurts if she wants to succeed and, just maybe, find love.

Captain Aiden Bell is used to the hard life of an army officer. But his career has taken an emotional toll that he hasn’t dealt with until meeting Christina stirs memories, desire – and hope.

Review- I have fast become a big Charlotte Nash fan. Crystal Creek is the third loosely linked medical rural romance novel released by this clever Australian author. In Crystal Creek, we are introduced to Captain Aiden Bell who is the brother of Dr Daniella Bell who had the leading role in Nash’s debut novel Ryder’s Ridge. He’s posted at the Army base in Townsville nearby the Hospital where Daniella is also posted; it’s the closest the two have been in proximity for work/ living in many years.

Aiden’s a devout captain, with his career taking priority over lifestyle and love since his fiance left him while on deployment and wiped out his savings and assets. Until he meets quiet and studious medical student Christina Price who arrives at the army base GP clinic on rotation. Despite the 7 year age gap, their transient lifestyles and the fact that they’ll both be out of Townsville on different postings in less than two months; Aiden finds himself drawn to Christina and unable to fight the attraction.

Christina Price has had a tough life; her childhood unstable, her mother an alcoholic and Christina was forced to grow up far quicker than her peers. Her first experience of stability when living part-time with her maternal Aunt was cut short quickly without a clear explanation and then she was left to fend for herself and look after her dysfunctional mother. One chance encounter with a kind school nurse, was all the determined Christina needed to decide she wanted to get into medicine and she would work her butt off to get there. There was no way she’d end up an emotional mess like her mother. When her mother was accepted into a care facility, Christina could finally focus on her studies, earn a living through casual jobs and live independently. Her determination to survive was sometimes at the expense of forming friendships or having a social life. So when she turns up at the Townsville Army Base to start her placement her studious, work and study-focused life is challenged by the pull of friendly and lively locals like her peer Katie, her mentor Travers and his best mate Aiden.

Initially confused by Aiden’s interest and low in confidence, it’s not long before she can’t resist his charms and his quiet, solid presence. It’s a scary leap of faith to trust someone, to depend on them but she takes the risk and their friendship deepens into a passionate romance. With deadlines looming, Christina and Aiden must reconsider their priorities and figure out whether their relationship is worth pursuing beyond time and distance.

What can I say? I loved this book. Aiden’s a wonderful, strong and intelligent character which is also true for Christina. While reading the story, I picked up on a lot of anxiety that filtered through from Christina’s character which sometimes (in other stories) can be a bit repetitive and annoying, but she was so well set up as a character that it was completely understandable and I enjoyed seeing her grow in confidence and in her emotional connections. Nash has a wonderful way of weaving small town character with interesting medical dramas and slow-building romance all into the one book. Highly recommend this author and can’t wait to read the next one!

 

Overall Rating

5/5

“Highly Recommended!”

Crystal Creek can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #5 reviewed

 

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Aussie Book Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

Claiming Noah  Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Simon & Schuster, March 2015

 Synopsis- Catriona and James are desperate for children, and embark on an IVF program. After a gruelling round of treatments, Catriona finally falls pregnant, and they donate their remaining embryo anonymously.

Diana and Liam are on a waiting list to receive an embryo. Sooner than expected, they are thrilled to discover one is available.

After a difficult pregnancy, Catriona gives birth to Sebastian. But severe postnatal depression affects her badly, and quickly turns into deadly psychosis. For her protection and her baby’s, she’s admitted into psychiatric care. When she comes home, she again struggles to bond with her baby, but gradually life finds its own rhythm.

Meanwhile, Diana has given birth to a beautiful little boy, Noah.
But when he is two months old Noah is abducted … and Diana and Liam’s nightmare begins.

Where is Noah?

This gripping, emotional thriller binds together the stories of Catriona and Diana and will leave you on the edge of your seat.

What if your child belonged to someone else?

 Review- I must admit, when this book turned up for review, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I thought, how could a perinatal story compete with the likes of psychiatrist and author Dawn Barker? Fractured and Let Her Go, were extremely well written and stayed with me long after I put it down. Secondly, perinatal mental health is the field in which I work- did I really want to read about it in my spare time? Thirdly, I’M PREGNANT (13 weeks- very exciting!), did I really want to read about distressing perinatal issues while I was in the anxious first trimester of my own pregnancy?

In short: yes, yes and yes. Claiming Noah does compare well to Barker’s. Yes I will pick up a perinatal book because I just can’t help myself and yes, I thought I could handle a depressing story while I was in an emotional & hormonal state. Was it worth it? Yes.

Claiming Noah is the debut novel by Australian author Amanda Ortlepp. It’s a dual viewpoint narrative, with the two female characters who are at the point in their lives where they wish to start a family.

Catriona is in her early thirties and has agreed to undergo IVF so that she can have a baby with her husband James. He’s desperate for a child, and despite her ambivalence she agrees, even though she doesn’t feel particularly maternal. After a serious of procedures and a miscarriage, they finally fall pregnant and have a baby boy named Sebastian. During the pregnancy they decide to adopt out their remaining embryo anonymously.

Diana and Liam also have fertility issues and are on the waiting list for an embryo adoption. They are quickly matched to a donor and fall pregnant successfully. Only a month after Catriona, Diana gives birth to a baby boy named Noah.

Catriona, a once driven and successful career woman is struggling immensely with the transition to motherhood. Everything feels overwhelming and completely out of her control. She soon becomes depressed and has convinced herself that Sebastian doesn’t like her and that she’s just not cut out to be a mother. Left untreated, Catriona hides the symptoms and develops a rare but serious perinatal mental illness known as puerperal psychosis. To protect her and the baby, Catriona is admitted to a psychiatric hospital to be medicated and monitored. When she returns home, she continues to struggle in her feelings toward Sebastian and decides to return to full-time work while James becomes a stay-at-home dad.

At two months old, Diana and Liam face devastating news when their son is kidnapped. There are no clear leads for two years, in this time Diana and Liam’s relationship fall apart and they are both in the midst of grief. When the two couples’ lives intertwine, the story pulls the readers heartstrings in both directions. It’s a story that brings up many ethical and legal dilemmas in this day and age where IVF and adoption is so prevalent.

There were times I found this story quite hard to read, where normally I could look at the issues objectively, I found myself thinking about my own experience of pregnancy and the approach of motherhood. It’s certainly thought-provoking, but it’s also moving and thankfully the ending leaves the reader with some hope.

Claiming Noah touches on many sensitive perinatal issues including fertility issues, miscarriage, perinatal mental health and IVF embryo donation. Underneath all these big issues are real people with complex lives, complicated relationships and a spectrum of coping strategies. What Ortlepp does so well is bring the characters to life, she pulls apart their relationships until your left with exposed fears, entrenched defensive mechanisms and the everyday push and pull of relationships.

Overall Rating

“I really liked this”

4/5

Claiming Noah can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #4 reviewed

 

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Aussie Book Review: Sweet Damage by Rebecca James

Sweet Damage  Sweet Damage by Rebecca James

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, February 2015 (first published 2103)

 Synopsis- ‘I still dream about Anna London’s house. In my dreams it’s as if the house itself has sinister intentions. But in real life it wasn’t the house that was responsible for what happened. It was the people who did the damage …’

When Tim Ellison finds a cheap room to rent in the perfect location in Sydney it looks like a huge stroke of luck. In fact the room comes with a condition, and the owner of the house, the mysterious Anna London, is unfriendly and withdrawn. When strange and terrifying things start happening in the house at night, Tim wonders if taking the room is a mistake. But then his feelings for Anna start to change, and when her past comes back with a vengeance, Tim is caught right in the middle of it.

A thrilling rollercoaster of a story – read it with the lights on!

 Review- The review copy of Sweet Damage I received was a recent reprint with a new cover. It caught my eye because I’d previously read and enjoyed James’ first young adult psychological thriller Beautiful Malice.

Sweet Damage is set in Sydney and features a small, but interesting cast of young adults. It’s written in first person from Tim’s point of view with occasional scenes dedicated to Anna’s viewpoint. Tim Ellison has just returned to Sydney from an overseas trip and he’s couch surfing at his ex-girlfriend’s (Lilla) house until he finds somewhere to rent. The situation is a little awkward because Lilla’s in a new relationship and she’s eager for Tim to move on. When she suggests a houses hare opportunity in Fairview she assertively encourages him to check it out. Tim’s a surfer and a cook at his father’s restaurant and seems pretty happy just going with the flow, so he agrees to see the house. When he arrives, he’s in shock. The house is more like a mansion and he’d only be sharing with one young woman named Anna. To Tim, she’s a little weird and timid but he doesn’t think much of it and he moves in immediately.

Tim soon discovers that his new housemate has some odd habits and mental health issues. She’s agoraphobic and fearful of leaving the home. Strange things happen in the night and Tim begins to question the little he knows about Anna London. They soon develop an unusual but easy friendship, much to Lilla’s distaste and she makes it very clear from the outset that she’ll make life difficult for the budding relationship.

It didn’t take long for me to get into this story. Though I initially found Tim very passive and weak, it was a relief to see him grow and challenge Lilla as the story progressed. Anna is a mysterious character, but as her story and the trauma of her past is uncovered I found her to be more likeable. Lilla on the other hand, is very difficult to like!

Keeping with James’ style, there’s a twist at the end which came as a slight surprise. Overall I was pretty happy with how the story was resolved, though I didn’t find Anna’s spontaneous recovery (following even more traumatic events) to be very believable. James’ writes enthralling young adult thrillers with likeable characters in familiar settings.

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

Sweet Damage can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #3

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Aussie Book Review: The Country Practice by Meredith Appleyard

The Country Practice  The Country Practice by Meredith Appleyard

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, February 2015

 Synopsis- After working in a London hospital emergency room, a month as a GP in rural South Australia can’t be that hard – or can it?

Meghan Kimble is taking control of her life. Newly single, she’s returned to Australia to follow her dream of working as a GP. And her first stop is a month-long locum in the colourful community of Magpie Creek.

It’s been months since the town has had a doctor and Meghan is generating more than her fair share of attention, especially from forthright farmer Sean Ashby. A handsome man with a difficult past, Sean isn’t shy about making his intentions known to the redheaded medico.

Against her better judgement, Meghan finds herself charmed by the enigmatic Sean. But time is against her and when love threatens to derail her career plans, she is forced to reassess her priorities in ways she never imagined. Is Meghan ready to fall for all that life in Magpie Creek has to offer?

Set in vibrant small-town Australia, this heart-warming contemporary rural romance heralds an exciting new voice in Australian fiction.

 Review- The Country Practice is the debut rural romance novel by Australian author Meredith Appleyard, published by Penguin Random House.

Meghan Kimble is ready for a new start. She’s ended a stagnant relationship that took her to a mundane job in London and has returned to South Australia as a locum GP in rural communities. Her first stop is Magpie Creek, a town who work hard to make her feel welcome as they’re desperate to keep a permanent GP.

Meghan is hardworking and eager to get straight into it, even starting a day early and stabilising a cardiac arrest victim who collapses in the Hospital corridor. It’s where she has her first encounter with the charming, broody farmer Sean Ashby. From that day on she is worked off her feet with the demands of the job, and swept off her feet by the unlikely friendship (and romance) that forms with Sean.

I read this book quickly and enjoyed the author’s voice, pacing, intelligent and complex characters and of course the realistic community feel of Magpie Creek. Meghan is determined, passionate and eager to put herself and her career before any man, but her feelings for Sean intercept her plans.

I really appreciated the author’s medical background in creating an bright, realistic and likeable female lead and it added an extra layer of depth to the story that I found particularly interesting. Working in healthcare myself, I was drawn to this element of the story just as much as the character and setting.

The slow-building romance between Meghan and Sean is realistic, believable and full of emotional depth and complexities. Meghan and Sean both have issues to sort through before they can make the relationship work and ascertain whether they can build on it beyond the short time-frame of Meghan’s stay. Sean is the main driving force behind their budding relationship, but gets cold-feet near the end of the story. I felt a little frustrated with him at this point and wanted him to deal with his issues quicker than he did, but I think the author sensibly resolved the conflict between Meghan and Sean without tying up the loose ends too neatly.

There’s so much to love about this story, and if you are keen to delve into a well-written Australian rural romance, then you won’t be disappointed with The Country Practice.

To see my Q&A with Meredith posted earlier in the week click HERE.

Overall Rating

5/5

“Highly Recommended!”

The Country Practice can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

 

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Q&A with Australian Debut Author Meredith Appleyard

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Australian debut rural romance author, Meredith Appleyard.

Meredith, thank you for taking the time to stop by The Australian Bookshelf to talk about your debut novel with Penguin Random House, The Country Practice.

South Australia is my favourite state in Australia (I fell in love with the Clare Valley and Barossa!), why did you choose to set your story in country South Australia?

Born and bred in SA, and although I’ve travelled I’ve always ended up back here. I am country South Australian and proud of it! The Flinders Ranges are one of my most favourite places, and I love the Outback. The fictional country town of Magpie Creek is set in the country around Peterborough/Orroroo – there is something about the wide open spaces, the scrub and salt bush, against the bruised backdrop of the Flinders Ranges.

You’ve worked as a nurse and a midwife in country settings. What does your healthcare background bring to your writing?

An understanding of how complex and multi-dimensional small country communities are. Ive met some wonderful people and worked with a few real characters over the years. And Ive had some amazing experiences and the opportunity to make a difference in some peoples lives.

Who are your favourite Australian authors who write rural fiction?

I enjoy Rachel Johns, Tricia Stringer, Helene Young, Bronwyn Parry and Fiona Palmer.

Some of my favourite authors too! And just for fun, when writing do you prefer…

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate? Coffee to get me started, tea to keep me going.

Plotting, pantsing or both? A bit of both I reckon. I need to have a rough idea of where Im going but am more than happy if my characters take me someplace else! Its what makes it fun.

Quiet solitude or background noise? Im definitely a quiet solitude kind of a writer.

A warm, sunny day or a rainy day? A bit of variety works. Easy to write happy and sunny when it is!

Typing or pen and notepad? Typing. I sometimes think the pathway for my creativity is through my fingertips. I love the whole cut and paste thing, and Im not afraid of select and delete either!

 

The Country Practice

After working in a London hospital emergency room, a month as a GP in rural South Australia can’t be that hard – or can it?

Meghan Kimble is taking control of her life. Newly single, she’s returned to Australia to follow her dream of working as a GP. And her first stop is a month-long locum in the colourful community of Magpie Creek.

It’s been months since the town has had a doctor and Meghan is generating more than her fair share of attention, especially from forthright farmer Sean Ashby. A handsome man with a difficult past, Sean isn’t shy about making his intentions known to the redheaded medico.

Against her better judgement, Meghan finds herself charmed by the enigmatic Sean. But time is against her and when love threatens to derail her career plans, she is forced to reassess her priorities in ways she never imagined. Is Meghan ready to fall for all that life in Magpie Creek has to offer?

Set in vibrant small-town Australia, this heart-warming contemporary rural romance heralds an exciting new voice in Australian fiction.

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Book Review: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Wolf Winter  Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, February 2015

 Synopsis- A brilliantly written and gripping historical Nordic Noir thriller with all the intrigue and atmosphere of Burial Rites, the pent-up passion of The Piano and the suspense of The Tenderness of Wolves.

There are six homesteads on Blackasen Mountain.

A day’s journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.

But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.

It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour’s walk from their cottage.

The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn’t care; she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain.

They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?

 Review- Wolf Winter is a ‘historical Nordic Noir thriller’ set in the 1700’s in Swedish Lapland that’s been compared to the award-winning Icelandic novel Burial Rites.

The story is set on Blackasen Mountain where six homesteads lie. There’s an empty town one day’s journey away. Entering the small fragmented community is a new family of settlers. Maija, her husband Paavo and their two daughters Fredericka (14yrs) and Dorotea (8).

Soon after their arrival, the girls stumble across a body near their cottage; the man’s been cleanly slashed down the middle. The villagers claim it was a wolf or bear, but Maija is adamant that the injury causing death was perpetrated by a human. One of their own. Maija will stop at nothing- no matter who she upsets- to uncover the man’s murderer. The local Priest, also newly arrived, reluctantly joins her and soon the pair are undergoing an uneasy investigation. On Blackasen Mountain there’s a power struggle between mountain and people, and between the families in the settlement.

After their cow dies (and with it their milk/ meat supply), Paavo goes to the coast to get a job, just before the snow sets in. Known as a Wolf Winter, Maija and her daughters must fight to survive against the elements of the cold, lack of food and heating, and isolation.

That’s as far as I’ll go into the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it. Wolf Winter is a wonderfully written story that does compare favourably to Burial Rites (read recently and rated 5/5), in the sense that it’s a brooding historical novel where the star character is the setting, Blackasen Mountain in Sweden. I don’t feel like I ever really got to know the human characters in much depth, but I was drawn to them, particularly Maija and Fredericka and the inner conflict they faced. There’s a blurry line between reality and the supernatural, so much so that I was often left questioning what was real and what was imagined. This element to the story really draws in the reader; it adds layers to the suspense and complexities of the characters. I can’t really describe why I loved this book as much as I did, but it took me on a journey and I didn’t want it to end.

Overall Rating

5/5

“Highly Recommended!”

Wolf Winter can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

 

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2015 Historical Novel Society Australasia Conference

Wonderful Australian Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice, would like to get word about the upcoming 2015 Historical Novel Society Australasia Conference to be held in March 2015.

hsna2015 Historical Novel Society Australasia Conference

 On the weekend of 20-22 March 2015, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) is holding its inaugural conference at the historic Balmain Town Hall, Sydney, exploring the theme of ‘The Historical Novel in Peace and War’. The conference will be a celebration of the historical fiction genre in a weekend of talks, panels, debates, book launches and readings.

balmainBalmain Town Hall

The opening night reception will be held at the prestigious State Library of NSW on Friday 20 March where a lively round table debate will be conducted on the topic: ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?’ The two day informative and interactive weekend program on 21-22 March will showcase 40 speakers discussing craft, research, inspiration, publishing, social media and personal histories. Among these are internationally acclaimed historical novelists such as Kate Forsyth, Colin Falconer, Felicity Pulman, Toni Jordan, Juliet Marillier, Sulari Gentill, Sophie Masson and Jesse Blackadder.

The Day One sessions conclude with a ‘First Pages’ competition where aspiring historical novelists will have their submissions read aloud to industry experts. The session will also provide other attendees with a chance to learn what attracts agents and publishers when seeking new historical fiction. And you won’t want to miss out on our ‘In Bed with History’ panel on Day Two where Kate Forsyth, Colin Falconer and Jesse Blackadder will read some of their saucier excerpts!

There are three skills-based super sessions that are being run concurrently with the main conference program. Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry expert, Irina Dunn. Dr Gillian Polack is offering two small group workshops focussed on how to weave research into compelling and authentic historical fiction. The third session will focus on how to use social media to build an author platform with author Elisabeth Storrs and review blogger, Margaret Bates. In addition to the super sessions, the HNSA is pleased to be partnering with Swinburne University of Technology to provide the opportunity to submit an academic paper to a special edition of The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction on the theme ‘Phryne Fisher and Other Fantasies: The Female Detective in History’.

There will also be some exciting social events. The conference will be launched at the Friday opening night reception where attendees will also celebrate the launch of Felicity Pulman’s Unholy Alliance. At the conference dinner on Saturday, attendees will have opportunities to mingle with leading authors and join us for the launch of Sherryl Clark’s, Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War, and listen to our after-dinner speaker, Kate Forsyth. Why not book your ticket to sit next to one of our author hosts as a special treat?

The HNSA is offering some great deals! The first 40 ticketholders to purchase a Standard Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow by Barbara Gaskell Denvil, The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans or My Holocaust Story: Hanna by Goldie Alexander. The first 50 fully paid ticketholders to the conference dinner will receive a free copy of Sherryl Clark’s, Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War. And all ticketholders to the opening night reception will receive a free e-book bundle of Felicity Pulman’s Janna Chronicles!

So why not register for the HNSA Conference now! You can buy tickets here!

More information about the conference program and speakers can be found at www.hnsa.org.au

 

Help us spread the word about the conference. Here’s a tweet you could use.

Register for #HNSA2015 Conference for some great #historicalfiction and #giveaways!

http://ow.ly/IVL7x

 

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