Aussie Book Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

The Secret Years The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, August 2015

 Synopsis- When Lucy Hunter stumbles upon her grandfather Harry’s World War II memorabilia, she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as ‘George’ and a series of heartfelt letters. They are clues about the secret years, a period of Lucy’s family history that has been kept a mystery . . . until now.

How did a cattleman from north Queensland find forbidden love with the Honourable Georgina Lenton of London and persuade her to move to his isolated outback property? And why are the effects of this encounter still reverberating in the lives of Lucy and her mother, Rose, now?

As the passions of the past trickle down the years, three generations of one family pull together. Each must learn in their own way how true love can conquer the greatest challenges of all.

From the wild beauty of the Australian bush to England’s rugged south coast, this is a deeply moving story of heartbreak, heroism and homecoming by a beloved, multi-award-winning author.

Review- This is the first Hannay novel I’ve read that doesn’t fit neatly into the ‘romance’ genre and I really enjoyed it. The Secret Years is set across two eras; World War II and then modern-day Australia, and spans three generations of secrets, romance and heartbreak.

In 1939, George Lenton  (aka the Honourable Georgina Lenton of London) joins the Army Service Corps in England and falls in love with an Australian soldier who lives on a north Queensland cattle farm. From England to New Guinea to Australia, their romance is complicated, dangerous and thrilling.

In modern-day Australia Lucy Hunter has just arrived home from a deployment to Afghanistan and intends to set a wedding date with her fiance Sam. Her first day back on home soil doesn’t quite go to plan and she finds herself no longer engaged and setting off to England to trace her family history. With only a few letters and her grandfather Harry’s medals to go off, she hopes to unearth the tension between her mother Rose and Harry and the secrets that undermine the family’s connectedness.

I felt some trepidation when I began this book as I felt that Lucy’s voice felt a little ‘old world’ and not quite congruent with a young woman in modern-day Australia who worked for the Army (though I was trying not to be influenced by stereotypes!). But I did really warm to her and it wasn’t until she heads off to England (and in parallel George goes to New Guinea) did I become completely engrossed in the story. The suspense picked up, the gaps began to be filled and the romance stepped up. I struggled to put this book down and when I did, the characters remained on my mind. It’s one of the few books I’ve read that sweeps across to eras where I’ve felt emotionally invested in all the characters rather than just aligning myself with one.

I’d highly recommend this one!

Overall Rating

5/5

“Highly Recommended!”

The Secret Years can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #17 reviewed

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Aussie Book Review: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

The Other Side of the World The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, July 2015

 Synopsis- Cambridge 1963. Charlotte struggles to reconnect with the woman she was before children, and to find the time and energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, cannot face the thought of another English winter. A brochure slipped through the letterbox gives him the answer: ‘Australia brings out the best in you’.

Charlotte is too worn out to resist, and before she knows it is travelling to the other side of the world. But on their arrival in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light on both Henry and Charlotte and slowly reveals that their new life is not the answer either was hoping for. Charlotte is left wondering if there is anywhere she belongs, and how far she’ll go to find her way home…

Review- This book turned up unexpectedly for review but I was drawn in by the premise and that the book was set across both England and Australia, so decided to read it.

Set in 1963, there is growing tension between Charlotte and her husband Henry. She is struggling with motherhood and Henry dreams of far away (warmer) destinations. He is tempted by a brochure promoting job opportunities in Australia and despite Charlotte’s initial resistance she does agree to relocate with him in the hope that a new start would bring them closer together. Unfortunately it does the opposite. Henry’s reality does not quite live up to his dreams and Charlotte cannot bear to call the hot, dusty Australia her home.

The Other Side of the World is a character driven novel that unearths the fears and realities of a young family who are trying to find their way in the world. I do have mixed feelings about this book. on the one hand it felt remarkably realistic and believable, but on the other hand I felt the characters were frustrating and self-absorbed. While I could understand and sympathise with Charlotte’s predicament, I didn’t find her the least bit likeable. Charlotte and Henry’s experiences were very much internalised and I felt a big disconnect between them throughout the story (which was the point!), but that’s what I found frustrating, that this couple couldn’t just be honest with one another about how they felt. The biggest letdown for me was the ending, I just couldn’t see how Charlotte and Henry could move forward after what had happened and it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. To go on the journey throughout the whole book with them, only to not really know what happens next- like the biggest part of the story is what happens after the book is finished.

Though a well-written novel and engaging, my dislike of the characters really got in the way of me being able to truly enjoy what this story was trying to evoke in the reader.

Overall Rating

3/5

“It was okay”

The Other Side of the World can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #16 reviewed

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Aussie Book Review: Close to Home by Pamela Cook

Close to HomeClose to Home by Pamela Cook

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, July 2015

Synopsis- A captivating story that shows the only thing harder than letting go is moving on.

Orphaned at thirteen, Charlie Anderson has been on her own for half her life. Not that she minds – she has her work as a vet and most days that’s enough. Most days. But when she’s sent to a small town on the New South Wales coast to investigate a possible outbreak of the deadly Hendra virus, Charlie finds herself torn between the haunting memories of her past, her dedication to the job and her attraction to a handsome local.

Travelling to Naringup means coming face to face with what is left of her dysfunctional family – her cousin Emma, who begged Charlie not to leave all those years ago, and her aunt Hazel, who let her go without a backwards glance. But it also means relying on the kindness of strangers and, when she meets local park ranger Joel Drummond, opening her heart to the possibility of something more . . .

As tensions in the country town rise, can Charlie reconcile with the past and find herself a new future in the town she left so long ago?

Review- Pamela Cook is a wonderful Australian rural writer and Close to Home dishes up exactly what I expected of this author.

Working as a Vet for the Department of Primary Industries keeps Charlie Anderson busy and transient. She’s passionate about her work and not at all bothered by her lack of social or love life, because her career is her foremost priority. Throwing herself into her work means she doesn’t have to reflect on her dysfunctional childhood, her hardworking young adult years or where she plans to settle down. Until she’s sent back to her home town of Naringup, a small coastal town in NSW to investigate a suspected outbreak of the Hendra virus.

She basically turns up on the doorstep of her past, when the Hendra virus is tracked to the property of her cousin’s family, a cousin who was once like a sister whom she has had no contact with since she fled the town as a teen. She does not get a welcome homecoming and Charlie is not prepared for the emotional turmoil these memories evoke within her. She copes by focusing on the task at hand and working hard, but even she can’t help but be distracted by the local park ranger Joel Drummond, whose cheeky presence sparks dormant desires.

Charlie’s life is turned upside down. Not only does she suspect her cousin to be in a violent relationship, she’s had to confront the Aunt that betrayed her and on top of all that fight off the urge to succumb to her feelings for Joel. This is one busy woman!

Close to Home is a slow-to-start story, and it did take some time for me to warm to Charlie. Her headstrong approach to work and dismissal of her feelings about her past and toward Joel, meant that she was hard to relate to on an emotional level- until some of those defenses began to fall away. By the halfway mark I was hooked on the story and keen to know what would happen next. A strong heroine, cheeky hero, a close-knit country community and a hint of danger and suspense makes Close to Home an engaging and easy read. I’d recommend it.

Overall Rating

 4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

Close to Home can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #15 reviewed

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Guest Post: Cassandra Webb on her YA fantasy novel ‘Life’

Today on the blog, Australian author Cassandra Webb shares her press release for debut YA fantasy novel Life due for release in July 2015 with Sparkle Publications.

A SPECIAL LAUNCH FOR FREEDOM

cassandra Webb

What would you do if you’re dream of publishing a fantasy novel came true? Donate your proceeds to special needs kids – or at least that’s what Cassandra Webb is doing during this years Byron Bay Writers Festival and at events in Ballina.

Special Needs Children will be the recipients of release sales from Cassandra Webb’s young adult fantasy novel Life. Cassandra Webb is a children’s and young adult author. Her first children’s book, Adorable Alice, released in 2014. Cassandra was inspired by the many hours of reading picture books to her three children. She spent six months working on the concept for Adorable Alice and waited twelve months for New Frontier to pick up the idea. It took another twelve months for the hardcover edition to hit the shelves.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride, but I’ve loved every minute of it,” Cassandra said. Recently Adorable Alice was released in soft cover for $14.99. Cassandra would like to invite you to purchase your copy from your local bookshop – they all stock it – or online at http://www.newfrontier.com.au/books/adorable-alice/900.html

And this author isn’t going to stop there. New Frontier has contracted her for another children’s book, as well Sparkle Publications taking on a third title. She also has a three book young adult paranormal deal with Driven Press and the first in her young adult fantasy series A Magical Saga is due to launch this year.

“The first title in my A Magical Saga series is called Life. It’s about a teenager in a medieval type fantasy world who finds herself in a lot of trouble. The kind of trouble that has her questioning her morals and pushing her limits to survive. There’s a bit of magic, her best friend is a horse, and there’s a cute guy who keeps saving her life.”

Life will release at the end of July 2015, in time for the Byron Bay Writers Festival and all money made by the author during the release will go towards the purchasing of art supplies at a Special School.

The book, Life, is set in a world where Magic is outlawed, but slave trading is a legitimate profession, which causes some problems for Kemla when she’s captured by slave traders and accused of possessing magic. This series is highly recommended for all the Tamora Pierce fans out there. With a strong female protagonist, who manages to get herself into a lot of trouble, and a cute male slave trader who keeps making sure she can’t escape.

“The book has strong themes of freedom,” says the author. “Story telling is a type of freedom, and so is making art. A way of setting your imagination free and I want to encourage every child to experience that freedom.”

To preorder your copy go to: www.sparklepublications.com.au or the ‘purchase’ tab at www.cassadnrawebb.com Just for the last week of July, 2015, readers can grab a free digital copy from smashwords, to get a taste for the story before snapping up the paperback. Just enter the code: QQ65C

We hope you love it, enough to then head over to www.sparklepublications.com.au and purchase a copy – if you haven’t already done so. All preordered copies will be signed by the author and delivered at the beginning of the launch, with the author’s proceeds going directly to special needs children.

The author is also looking forward to organizing a launch party in Ballina, which everyone is invited to.

“Chasing your dreams isn’t always easy, but I encourage everyone to keep at it. It’s worth the effort,” says Cassandra, who has her sights set on releasing many more books in the future.

life

 

 

 

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Blog Tour: The Writing Journey of JM Pearce

On the blog today, debut Australian author JM Pearce stops by on her blog tour to chat about her writing journey and how her background in policing has influenced her writing style.

Set in the Queensland bush, A Time to Run is a tense, gritty crime thriller featuring a cop-turned-victim and a chilling serial killer.

JM Pearce

JM Pearce

 

It’s been an interesting journey to become the author of a published crime novel. Especially since I set out trying to write picture books. It’s a bit of a jump from rhyming verse for five year olds to serial killers but I see now it was a no-brainer.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen. I banged it out on a typewriter on whatever pieces of paper I could lay my hands on. So the paper was multi-coloured and the plot was patchy. I think I still have it somewhere in a drawer – what I don’t have is the fortitude to read it again. I’m fairly certain it is awful.

I studied journalism thinking this would be a way of combining my love of writing with the need to earn a wage. It did exactly the opposite. It sucked the life out of writing for me. For nearly fifteen years after that, I didn’t write. I didn’t feel inspired. My life was busy.

But then I became a mother. I read to my children from a very early age. I read books I’d loved as a child, plus books I had never heard of. Time and time again, with a book in hand and children in my lap, I would think “I could do better”. So I tried to channel Dr Seuss. Zany stories about children and animals, written in rhyme. The first competition I entered into, I came about 145th out of 150 entries. Pow! Take that!

But I was writing again, and I felt the compulsion to keep at it. I quickly realised two things. Publishing is an enormously competitive industry and having kids is not enough to qualify you to write children’s books. But then I saw that I did have something that set me apart from other writers. I was a police officer. A serving police officer, with many years experience. I had a point of difference, a voice of authority and the badge to prove it.

Everything in my story is fictional, but so much of it has been inspired by things I’ve seen, people I’ve worked with or jobs I’ve been too. The old adage of ‘write what you know’ has given me the edge.

My characters are usually an amalgamation of actual people. I can hear them talk as I’m writing their dialogue. The investigative procedures are based on real experiences. I know the legislation. I also know the difficulties and the constraints. Although I’ve never investigated a murder before, I have sworn warrants and raided houses, I’ve apprehended a wanted criminal, I’ve caught out liars in interviews. In know what it feels like.

I also believe taking police statements has affected my writing style. There is a certain artform in listening to someone’s rambling, jumbled version of events, and turning it into a crisp cohesive story which can be easily understood by whoever picks it up.

Police work isn’t like a TV show. Crime shows aren’t real. Even the reality-type shows cut out the boring bits, the nitty gritty left behind after the adrenaline-soaked action subsides. So that’s where I’ll hang my hat. I write an authentic account.

Yes, it’s fiction but it could really happen like this. I know it could. Trust me. I’m a copper.

lego

 

For more information about JM Pearce’s novel or blog tour, check out her blog @  http://jmpeace.com/2015/06/18/blog-tour-a-time-to-run/

Be sure to stop by other book blogs on the tour for lots of great reviews, blog posts and interviews.

Friday June 26 Sandi Wallace blog – Q&A

Wednesday, July 1 Cops and Novels (JM Peace author blog) – extract

Friday, July 3 Tien’s Blurb – Review

Saturday, July 4 Carpe Librum – Review

Monday, July 6 – Reading, Writing and Riesling – Review

Tuesday, July 7 – Tien’s Blurb – Guest Post

Wednesday, July 8 – Debbish.com – Review

Thursday, July 9 – Reading, Writing and Riesling – Q&A

Friday, July 10 – Reading, Writing and Riesling – Giveaway

Monday, July 13 Carpe Librum – Q&A

Tuesday, July 14 – Debbish.com – Q&A

Wednesday, July 15 –Two Little Humans and Me – Guest Post

Thursday, July 16 Book’d Out – Review and Guest Post

Friday, July 17 –Book Muster Down Under – Review

Monday, July 20 The Australian Bookshelf – Guest Post

Wednesday, July 22 – All the Books I Can Read – Review and Guest Post

Thursday, July 23 Confessions from Romaholics – Review

Friday July 24 A Happy, Healthy Life – Review and Q&A

 

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Guest Post: Fiona McArthur on midwifery and storytelling

Today on the blog, Australian author and midwife Fiona McArthur stops by to chat about how her midwifery background has influenced her storytelling. My review for The Homestead Girls was posted here yesterday.

Fiona McArthur

Hi Lauren, lovely to be here on The Australian Bookshelf to celebrate the release of The Homestead Girls. You asked me ‘how my midwifery practice has influenced my storylines.’

The short answer is it took me a long time to realise that my midwifery and telling the stories of inspiring women, births and midwives was my mission in life.

The longer story is that when I first began writing with a view to being published, I wrote what I thought the publisher wanted. So, the standard Mills and Boon short romance with a boss and a secretary that I’d read. Not surprisingly, it didn’t ring true (because I’ve never been a secretary) and it sounded stilted even to me. I’ve been a nurse (and then a midwife) since I was seventeen. Not surprisingly, I never finished that book.

I tried a couple more secretary books, but then moved a little closer to the hospital and tried a dietician and a doctor. Again, not my forte, and my characters remained ‘adequate’. Didn’t finish that one either. My newly learnt lesson – if the author is bored it’s a bad sign!

Then I wrote a student nurse manuscript – getting closer – but another three chapters and a rejection and no real growth in my writing.

Thankfully I was having yearly doses of enthusiasm at the Romance Writers of Australia conferences, or I would have given up years ago. After the one in 1998, I started a book with a midwife as heroine, threw in all the complimentary therapies that were just taking off in my hospital in the mid ‘90s that I dreamed about implementing, added a doctor who hated them for personal reasons, and started to live the story. I finally wasn’t bored.

I made finalist in the first chapter competition, then three chapters, but this time I listened to beautiful, wiser heads and finished the book. I sat on it for a month, then polished the story, and packaged it up, paid my $30 postage, and sent the book to London. That story was Delivering Love, first published in 2001, and has just been re-released (ouch). I would have loved to have gone through it and updated it but I’m not complaining. I wrote it with sincerity. It’s actually fascinating to see the changes in society through my eyes when I was fifteen years younger and I even had a review recently that said “the author obviously knows nothing about midwifery”. LOL

Which brings us to 35 medical romance books and, I hope, writing growth later, to writing Contemporary Rural Medical for Penguin. My first book for Penguin was Red Sand Sunrise and the feeling I had when I wrote that book was like parachuting. It billowed out catching my breath, and I loved the women, the drama of birth, the outback landscape and the scope of writing about more than two people. Though, as in real life, there will always be a love interest for someone, it’s just not my focus.

The Homestead Girls is another step on the journey of sharing my absolute awe, admiration and faith in women and the overall goodness of people. Of course, somewhere in the story, we have a birth. So yes, my midwifery has not only influenced my storylines, but the people I’ve met through my profession have made a huge impact in my life and I feel very fortunate.

Have a fabulous week, everyone.

Warmest regards Fi

The Homestead Girls

After her teenage daughter Mia falls in with the wrong crowd, Dr Billie Green decides it’s time to leave the city and return home to far western NSW. When an opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of joining the Flying Doctor Service comes along, she jumps at the chance. Flight nurse Daphne Prince – who is thrilled to have another woman join the otherwise male crew – and their handsome new boss, Morgan Blake, instantly make her feel welcome.

Just out of town, drought-stricken grazier Soretta Byrnes has been struggling to make ends meet and in desperation has opened her station house to boarders. Tempted by its faded splendour and beautiful outback setting, Billie, Mia and Daphne decide to move in and the four of them are soon joined by eccentric eighty-year-old Lorna Lamerton.

The unlikely housemates are cautious at first, but soon they are offering each other frank advice and staunch support as they tackle medical emergencies, romantic adventures and the challenges of growing up and getting older. But when one of their lives is threatened, the strong friendship they have forged will face the ultimate test . . .

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Aussie Book Review: The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

The Homestead Girls  The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Penguin Random House, June 2015

 Synopsis- After her teenage daughter Mia falls in with the wrong crowd, Dr Billie Green decides it’s time to leave the city and return home to far western NSW. When an opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of joining the Flying Doctor Service comes along, she jumps at the chance. Flight nurse Daphne Prince – who is thrilled to have another woman join the otherwise male crew – and their handsome new boss, Morgan Blake, instantly make her feel welcome.

Just out of town, drought-stricken grazier Soretta Byrnes has been struggling to make ends meet and in desperation has opened her station house to boarders. Tempted by its faded splendour and beautiful outback setting, Billie, Mia and Daphne decide to move in and the four of them are soon joined by eccentric eighty-year-old Lorna Lamerton.

The unlikely housemates are cautious at first, but soon they are offering each other frank advice and staunch support as they tackle medical emergencies, romantic adventures and the challenges of growing up and getting older. But when one of their lives is threatened, the strong friendship they have forged will face the ultimate test . . .

 Review- The Homestead Girls is the second novel by Australian author and midwife Fiona McArthur. It follows the lives of three women in the fictitious town of Mica Ridge.

Billie hopes for a new start with her teenage daughter Mia when they relocate to her childhood hometown and she takes up a position with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (FDS). They move onto the property owned by Daphne, a generous nurse on the FDS team.

Soon, the three women move onto large working farm run by Soretta, a strong young woman whose struggling to make ends meet when her grandfather is admitted to Hospital. It’s not long before word gets out about town that these single women are forming a close bond and supporting each other. Lornetta, an older woman, joins them for a little adventure as she fears she’s losing her mind. The women find a way to work through their fears and find hope in the future. Even young Mia does a complete turnaround with some guidance and her new hobby looking after the animals on the farm.

I didn’t really get into the novel until halfway through as there were a number of characters and viewpoints to familiarise myself with and it made it difficult to really connect with a single character until they were more developed. There’s a couple of romantic subplots in the story as well, though I didn’t really warm to Morgan who was Billie’s love interest. There was some chemistry, but I felt their interactions were a little stilted. Quite a contrast to the relaxed, romantic nature of the relationship that develops between Daphne and her co-pilot Rex. I think I’d have enjoyed this novel more if the characters were better fleshed out which could have been achieved with it being a longer novel (it’s only 286 pages), or sticking to the viewpoint of 1-2 characters. Overall it was an easy and quick read and the FDS influence on the story was particularly fascinating and the most engaging element of the story for me.

Please stop back by tomorrow to read the guest post by Fiona about the influence of her midwifery background on her storytelling.

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

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

This book was read as part of the AWW2015 challenge:

Book #14 reviewed

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