Blog Tour: Difficult Themes in Stories by Helene Young and Prize Pack Giveaway!

As part of the Northern Heat book blog tour, Helene Young has stopped by to chat about a confronting theme she fleshes out in her latest romantic suspense novel, Northern Heat. You can read my review here.

Difficult Themes in Stories by Helene Young

One of the things I love most about writing is being able to bring resilient female characters to life. Many of my girls have non-traditional careers, but that’s because I know women who are currently doing those jobs and excelling at them. It’s important for me to show the strengths and the weaknesses that make them extraordinary, everyday women.

Northern Heat

I also like to explore issues that confront them in their lives and their work. Often there’s an underlying personal theme. In Northern Heat it’s domestic violence. That aspect of the story grew out of conversation with a friend. She’s someone I admire enormously, but I had no idea the truth of her private life. It’s easy to think that domestic violence only affects uneducated lower skilled families. It doesn’t. My friend is a professional woman, university educated, with a beautiful son and daughter. Her husband is also a professional man with a busy career and a need to control everything in his life. That need to control consumed him. His rage was contained in public if things weren’t perfect, but not in private.

The relationship was destroying my friend. She no longer recognised the woman looking back at her in the mirror. The bruises and scars were as much emotional as physical, an eroding of her self-esteem, her beliefs, her right to an opinion. I was talking about Northern Heat to a couple of my male colleagues who are in the cut-throat world of Industrial Relations. They were both shocked at the statistics on domestic violence. The younger one accepted that a marriage where a woman had no power, no independence and lived only to keep her husband placated could be damaging. The older one didn’t see it quite that way. There’s a long way to go in educating the whole community that violence in a relationship can take many forms and is unacceptable.

When the violence is physical it’s easier to identify it. The more insidious type is the one that erodes a woman or child’s self-esteem until they are dependent on the perpetrator. It’s all about power.

Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk is worth 16 minutes of your time.

Over the six months when I was writing Northern Heat I was talking at libraries and reading groups. Without exception when I mentioned that my current work-in-progress was about domestic violence, a woman would find me in a quiet time and share her story, show me her bruises, or describe her nightmare. Never have I had so many people volunteer their stories, including sons and daughters who’d struggled to come to terms with their own families.

It was harrowing at times and I found myself crying with them as they relived what they’d been through. And they were united in telling me that their stories needed to be told, that this invisible crime needed to stop.

Rose Batty has done so much to raise the profile of the problem in the year since her son’s death, but the change needs to come from the community, from us. We talk about zero tolerance for speeding on the road or for drink driving. Violence in a relationship is just as damaging to the fabric of our society.

I hope I’ve done justice to the stories that were shared with me. Kristy, Abby and Freya, my characters in the book who are dealing with domestic violence and the aftermath, all draw a little from the resilient, determined brave women who’ve stood up and said, ‘Enough.’

For anyone experiencing domestic or family violence, dial

1800 RESPECT

 Lifeline provides crisis support and is available 24 hours a day on

131 114

 If the situation is life-threatening, please phone 000 immediately

Helene Young Author Photo (QF)Find Helene at www.heleneyoung.com

Follow on FB at: HeleneYoungAustralianAuthor

On Twitter: @heleneyoung

Or Instagram: heleneyoungauthor

Prize Pack Giveaway!

To celebrate the upcoming release of Helene’s sixth book on 27th May 2015, she’s giving away six prize packs. Four of them are duos of SAFE HARBOUR and NORTHERN HEAT and one major prize is a complete set of her six books. For international readers there is a duo of e-books to be won.

To enter leave a comment here or share the post and/or the trailer on social media site and she’ll double your chances!

Hope to see you through May at the following blogs.

5th May:               http://bookdout.wordpress.com

7th May:               http://auslit.net

10th May:            http://deannasworld1.blogspot.com.au

12th May:           http://www.jennjmcleod.com

14th May:            http://ausromtoday.com

17th May:           https://1girl2manybooks.wordpress.com

19th May:           http://writenotereviews.com

21st May:            https://australianbookshelf.wordpress.com

24th May:             https://nevendbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/reviews/

26th May:           http://teddyree-theeclecticreader.blogspot.com.au

28th May:           http://australianruralromance.com

31st May:             http://talkingbooksblog.net

2nd June:              Wrap up and announce the winner on my blog-

http://www.heleneyoung.com

Northern Heat – Release date 27th May, 2015

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Aussie Book Review: Northern Heat by Helene Young

Northern Heat  Northern Heat by Helene Young

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, May 2015

 Synopsis- In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown’s youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and the opportunity to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark. The local GP is hiding her own secrets and struggling to raise her feisty teenage daughter alone.

When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they’ll both lose someone they love.

Review– The arrival of Northern Heat in my letterbox was just the buzz of excitement I needed after a hard day at work. It’s Helene Young’s sixth romantic suspense novel, and remarkably she’s continued to deliver at a standard that satisfies her loyal fan base. Northern Heat is another spine tingling, suspenseful novel set in northern Queensland with a dash of romance and hope to propel the reader from page to page, chapter to chapter. I couldn’t put this down!

Conor drifts from town to town, which for most looks like a life of luxury, but Conor has an underlying agenda when he rocks up to beautiful Cooktown in North Queensland. He wants to track down the man who murdered his wife and daughter. It’s his only reason to live and he doesn’t care if he has to go down with a fight. So his attraction to local doctor Kristy Dark that has taken him by surprise. Could he really fall in love again? Was there a chance for a future despite the tragedies of his past?  When Conor witnesses a murder, his life immediately entwines with Kristy’s and together they take a dangerous path toward unravelling the plans of Cooktown’s villains.

“Thank you for trusting me.

For giving me hope there could be a tomorrow for us.”

Following the death of her young son and her husband, Kristy relocated to Cooktown with teenage daughter Abby hoping to create stability and security. Work and Abby are the only things on her mind until Conor enters her life and everything is turned upside down. Kristy struggles to fight the attraction to Conor while his very presence threatens everything she has built in the past year.

Conor and Kristy have both experienced trauma, grief and loss in their adult lives and while this does connect them it also draws out their internal struggles with trust, guilt and moving forward.

Young packs in plenty of drama, suspense and romantic heat in her latest novel. She also draws on a very confronting and prevalent issue in society, domestic violence. She explores the spectrum of the much misunderstood abusive dynamics in intimate relationships. Kristy’s experience of psychological abuse by her former husband is highlighted as just as damaging as the physical violence experienced by her friend Freya in her marital relationship. Both women coped with the situation in different ways, and in Kristy’s case her husband’s death was not the end of her suffering. In fact the lingering effects of intimate violence had an impact on Kristy’s sense of worth and her ability to trust men. However, she was courageous in her support and validation of Freya’s situation and I admired how Kristy helped her friend find the means and strength to take charge.

I was engrossed in this novel from the very beginning; the characterisation was fantastic, the plot smart and fast-paced, the romance was intense and hot, and the setting beautiful! Highly recommended. I’ll be counting down the days until Young’s next release….

Overall Rating

5/5

“Highly Recommended!”

Northern Heat can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

Tomorrow on the blog, the Northern Heat Blog Tour. Helene stops by for a guest post and there’s a book prize pack giveaway.

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This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #11 reviewed

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Aussie Book Review: The Falls by Cathryn Hein

The Falls  The Falls by Cathryn Hein

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, April 2015

 Synopsis- For as long as she can remember, Teagan Bliss has wanted to manage her family’s property. She’s invested everything in the farm, knowing that when her parents retire she’ll be ready to take the reins. But when a family betrayal leaves her reeling, Teagan is forced to rethink her entire future.

Heartbroken, Teagan flees to her aunt’s property in the idyllic Falls Valley. Vanessa is warm and welcoming and a favourite of the locals who drop in regularly for cocktail hour. Teagan soon catches the attention of sexy local farrier Lucas Knight, and with a new job, new friends and the prospect of a new relationship, she slowly begins to open up again.

But the village is a hotbed of gossip and division and when Teagan gets caught up in town politics, Lucas and Vanessa become concerned. As the tension in town escalates, Teagan must decide who to trust. But when she realises those close to her have been keeping secrets, the fallout may split Teagan apart forever.

 Review- The latest novel by Cathryn Hein, The Falls is set in a rural town in New South Wales. Teagen Bliss is devastated by her parent’s betrayal and the loss of her dream to manage her family’s farm in South Australia. She flees to her Aunt Vanessa’s home in NSW for respite, only to discover that she feels completely hopeless and depressed. With the support and nurturance of her Aunt, Teagan starts to find some sense of worth in working on the property and picking up a local job working with horses. Her Aunt’s friend and horse farrier Lucas Knight also helps to pass the time. Teagan is instantly attracted to him, but is no emotional state to enter into a relationship- not that she believes he’d ever have a romantic interest in her anyway. They develop a close friendship and Lucas proves to be a reliable friend and a committed lover; both of which Teagan finds completely overwhelming and unable to allow herself to enjoy. Her past experiences have landed her some major trust issues.

There are a lot of characters in The Falls, which helped to create a real community feel and a sense of place in Falls Valley. However, I felt that all the other characters and sub-plots got in the way of really fleshing out the conflict faced by Teagan and Lucas. The novel felt way too long for the rural romance genre and the numerous sub-plots really slowed down the pace of the story. Though I liked Teagan, her determination and hard-working demeanour, I felt the growth in her characterisation came quite late in the book when she acknowledges that she’s not coping. I’d have liked to see this happen earlier so that she could grow from that experience. In a long-winded story, the ending seemed a little rushed in that respect. As for the hero of the story, Lucas, I found him to be way too perfect and completely unrelateable. There’s so much focus on how amazingly good-looking he is and how Teagan cannot believe someone who stepped out of a Mills and Boone novel could ever be interested in her, that it completely overshadowed him as a man with any kind of substance. He certainly proves to be a reliable and supportive friend to Teagan, but I’d have preferred for these qualities to shine through rather than his glistening chest and warrior-like hair!

I’ve really enjoyed Hein’s novels in the past, but The Falls just didn’t do much for me. I struggled with the characterisation, the plot and the romantic elements. I did however love the setting, the small-town politics and the lessons that can be learnt from slowing down and enjoying a country way of life. While it wasn’t quite up to my expectations, if you’re a fan of Hein it is worth the read and I won’t hesitate to pick up any other of hers in the future.

Overall Rating

3/5

“It was okay”

The Falls can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #9 reviewed

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Aussie Book Review: Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy

Stay With Me Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, April 2015

 Synopsis- Tess is in trouble. Stuck on a farm outside Byron Bay, cut off from family and friends, Tess knows she must find a way to escape her violent partner to save her life and the life of her child …

A chance meeting offers a way out – but can she ever trust again? Tess embarks on a desperate road trip back to the heart of her past. But what will be waiting for her at home? Will her family forgive her – and can she forgive them?

 Review- Engrossing from the very beginning, McCarthy’s latest page-turner Stay With Me delivers a story that will definitely stay with you even once you’ve put it down. Seventeen year old Tess takes a break in Byron Bay with some friends. Raised by her three older siblings, she struggles to live up to their expectations of her and find her place in the world. Directionless, isolated and looking for an adventure, it’s when Tess meets Jay that her life turns upside down. He’s a man quite a few years older than her who pays her special attention and it’s this fascination with the budding attraction that instigates an impulsive decision to remain in Byron rather than returning to her family; much to their disappointment. Their relationship quickly becomes serious and Tess realises she’s in way over her head. Jay is controlling, manipulative and isolates her from the few friends she’s made in the town. She’s pregnant shortly after and that’s when the violence begins to escalate beyond psychological to physical. Tess does whatever she can to survive and protect her young daughter Nellie.

The story is told through Tess’s viewpoint in the present moment when she’s aged twenty-one and makes the brave choice to flee the situation, and through a serious of flashbacks and memories of her childhood and adolescence. Though it was sad, it was also completely believable that a vulnerable young teen would naively be seduced into an abusive relationship. McCarthy sensitively and realistically portrays Tess’s experience of domestic violence in this novel. The story oozes anxiety which reflects the impact of the trauma on Tess and the fear of the repercussions upon leaving the situation with her daughter. It adds a suspenseful element to the story also.

Stay With Me is very well written and adequately explores the difficulties faced by young women and their children who are abusive households. It also demonstrates just how hard it is for women in these situations to leave, and that when they do, their lives are endangered. I also felt McCarthy fleshed out the sibling relationships in a very relateable way and the tense dynamics when Tess is reunited with them. A very engrossing read.

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

Stay With Me can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #8 reviewed

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Aussie Book Review: From India With Love by Latika Bourke

From India with Love  From India With Love by Latika Bourke

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, April 2015

Synopsis- Latika Bourke was adopted from India, aged eight months. Growing up in Bathurst, New South Wales she felt a deep connection to her Australian home and her Australian family.

It wasn’t until she heard her name uttered in the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire that Latika recognised she knew nothing of her Indian roots, the world she was born into and what she could have become had she not been brought to Australia as a baby.

As Latika carved out a successful career for herself as an award-winning political journalist, she became more and more curious about her heritage and what it meant to be born in India and raised in Australia. And so began a deeply personal and sometimes confronting journey back to her birthplace to unravel the mysteries of her heritage.

From India with Love is a beautiful story of finding your place in the world and finding peace with the path that led you there.

Review- From India with Love is a remarkable memoir by Latika Bourke, a woman born in India and adopted by an Australian family as an infant. Latika’s insight into her early years and pre-adoption was quite fascinating. Her parents were keen to raise a large family but when their second biological child was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis they turned their attention to adoptions. After two failed inter-country adoption attempts they successfully adopted Rani and then Damien from India before Latika also joined their family. Her adoptive parents went on to have another 3 biological children and so they ended up with 8 children!

Latika speaks quite positively of her adoption experience; she wholeheartedly identified as a proud Australian and actively rejected any elements of her Indian roots. It was actually quite refreshing to hear about an adoption that has had positive outcomes, but it was obvious that Latika had some definite defences when it came to anything to do with India. I’ve visited (and loved) India, I adore the food and have an obsession for Indian literature and Bollywood movies and I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth Latika would reject her Indian roots!

As the story of her life progresses, it’s revealed that a reluctant sitting of watching the Slumdog Millionaire movie was her wake up call. For the first time she allowed herself to think about what her life could have been like if she hadn’t been adopted. Her curiosity was sparked by this movie and she began to consider visiting the country of her birth. It was a couple more years before she made the big leap and booked a trip to northern India with her partner Graham. India had a strong impact on her; it was confronting and invigorating and it seems that the missing parts of her identity fell into place. Her experience of returning to the orphanage where she spent the first few months of her life was particularly touching.

As an adult, Latika has carved a successful career in journalism and undoubtedly her newfound passion for her country of birth will evolve through her influential role in the media. From India with Love is a light-hearted, easy read with a likeable character who challenges her own defenses and steps out of her comfort zone to resolve the only aspect of her adoption she was uncomfortable with; the elements of her Indian identity. A great read.

Overall Rating

 

4/5

“I loved this book!”

From India With Love can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #7 reviewed

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Book Review: The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Discreet Hero The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, March 2015

Synopsis- Felicito Yanaque has raised himself from poverty to ownership of a trucking business. His two sons work for him. He receives a threatening letter demanding protection money. The police don’t take him seriously, Felicito refuses to pay up and gets sucked into a nightmare. He becomes a reluctant public hero. Then his mistress is kidnapped, and matters become seriously complicated. And he finds that his troubles have begun very close to home.

His fate is interwoven with the story of Rigoberto, a wealthy Lima insurance executive. His boss and old friend, Ismael, suddenly announces that he is marrying his housekeeper, a chola from Piura, to the consternation of his twin sons, a pair of brutal wasters. Ismael escapes to Europe with his new bride, leaving Rigoberto to face the twins’ threats, and their claims that he connived with a scheming woman to rob an old man of his fortune. Rigoberto is hounded by the press and TV. Meanwhile, his only son is having visions of a mysterious stranger who may or may not be the devil…

Review- The Discreet Hero is the Nobel Prize Winning title by Mario Vargas Llosa, which was translated from Spanish to English in this edition. The South American setting and the award credentials attracted me to this book.

In the first couple of chapters we are introduced to the main cast of characters with two parallel storylines that later intersect.

Felicito Yanaque is a successful trucker businessman who is content with his life; he has a wife, two adult sons and a young mistress named Mabel. Until he receives a blackmail letter suggesting he pays an ongoing ‘insurance’ or else he may experience problems. A usually quiet and non-confrontational man, his inner pride is challenged and he declares that he will not let these people walk all over him. A value deeply installed in him as a child. He reports the matter to the police immediately and when another letter arrives, he publicly shames them in the local newspaper. When his business is burned to the ground and his beloved Mabel is kidnapped Felicito must decide whether to give in or fight for his rights.

Meanwhile, following a near-death experience, successful insurance business man Ismael has decided it’s time to retire. Not only will he retire, but he will marry his much younger servant Armida and do everything in his power to wipe out the inheritance of his despised twin sons. The marriage is witnessed by his driver and also good friend Rigoberto. Following the wedding, he leaves for Italy for an extended honeymoon while his friends suffer the backlash of his sons’ rage.  Rigoberto’s life is turned upside down as he’s threatened by Ismael’s sons. While he and his wife deal with the unusual circumstances of their son’s new friend.

The Discreet Hero is slow to start and actually quite slow to finish too! It didn’t quite live up to my expectations and perhaps this is partly due to the translation or maybe just the way in which it’s written. There are plenty of dramas that happen throughout the story but they didn’t have much of an impact on me because of the way they were revealed; usually via a character relaying what happened, rather than the reader being swept up in the moment by the action. This is the biggest downfall, in my opinion.

The two main characters Felicito and Ismael were quite similar, both with two sons and deceit in the family. I’d have liked to see a bigger contrast between the two. I’d also expected Peruvian politics and the social situation to play a bigger role in the story, but even this felt dampened down. Overall, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I’d hoped but it was interesting in terms of the setting and the secret lives of the characters.

Overall Rating

3/5

“It was okay”

The Discreet Hero can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

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Book Review: Season of Salt and Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Season of Salt and Honey Season of Salt and Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Pan Macmillan, April 2015

 Synopsis- Francesca ‘Frankie’ Caputo has it all figured out. She’s finally going to marry the man she loves and then they will live happily ever after. But when a freak accident cuts her fiancé Alex’s life tragically short, all of Frankie’s future plans suddenly disintegrate.

Drowning in grief, Frankie flees from her overbearing Italian-American family, and escapes to an abandoned cabin owned by Alex’s parents in a remote part of Washington forest.

As her heart slowly begins to heal, Frankie discovers a freedom that’s both exhilarating and unsettling to everything she has always known for sure. So when her old life comes crashing back in, Frankie must decide: will she slip quietly back into her safe, former existence? Or will a stronger, wiser Frankie Caputo stand up and claim her new life?

Review- Season of Salt & Honey is Hannah Tunnicliffe’s second novel and has stayed true to her style of incorporating intense human emotions, sound characterisation and lots of scrumptious food (and recipes!). Last year I read The Colour of Tea which is set in China; but the setting for Season of Salt and Honey is completely different. It’s in the Washington wilderness.

Frankie Caputo is devastated by the sudden loss of her high school sweetheart and fiancé Alex. On the day of his funeral, she escapes the stifling indulgences of her American-Italian family and hides away in Alex’s family’s compact cabin in the Washington forest. It’s not long before she’s tracked down by Alex’s brother, her sister Bella, her father and a few opinionated Aunties. Despite their protests, she stays on and begins to come to terms, not only with the loss but the painful possibility that she may have lost Alex long before he died.

Bella, her estranged sister stays with her, despite Frankie’s continuous rejection of her presence. There’s an interesting dynamic that develops between the two sisters as they get to know each other again, understand their past choices and find a way to move forward.The cabin is tucked away, surrounded by a little community that often has appearances from Merriem the informally appointed guardian of the community and there’s also father and daughter duo, Jack and Huia.

I really enjoy Tunnicliffe’s writing style, the way the story slowly unfolds and with it each layer of the main character falls away until you discover their true fears and defenses. Frankie is a likeable character whose grief didn’t overpower the story, cleverly contrasted by bright personalities Bella and Huia. It was nice to see Frankie grow and develop throughout the story in such a small time frame. She keeps people at arm’s length which I found frustrating at times, but this was less prevalent as the story progressed. I’d really recommend Season of Salt and Honey.

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

Season of Salt and Honey can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

Hannah Tunnicliffe’s recipe for Spring Risotto

Excerpt from Season of Salt and Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Excerpt from Season of Salt and Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe

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