Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Review: Along Country Roads

Title: Along Country Roads
Author: Mandy Magro
Publisher: 22 May 2017 by Harlequin (Australia), Teen/Mira
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 3 cups


Can love ever be enough to heal two damaged souls?

On the run from her troubled past in a stolen four-wheel drive, Matilda Denver seeks the sanctuary of sleepy Moonstone Valley where she hopes to heal and make a fresh start. But her plans go awry when the vehicle breaks down and she's stranded at the side of a deserted country road.

Ryan Hunter, after working himself into the ground at his interstate truck-driving job since his sister's death, is making his last run before a well-earned month off. On the last stretch home, he happens across a beautiful woman and scraggy dog hitchhiking. It's not long before he connects Matilda's bruises to her past and what she's on the run from. He instinctively wants to protect Matilda and offers her a place to stay at Heartsong Hills.

Although both battling their own demons, they start to discover how much they have in common – and soon they're also battling the strong desire to fall hard for one another. But when Ryan tries to help by organising for the four-wheel drive to be fixed, he unwittingly gives away Matilda's location and her life may be on the line. Can Ryan find her before it's too late?

My Thoughts

Having read Mandy’s previous book, I was looking forward to another escape to the country. All the right ingredients are there for an enjoyable escape as Mandy portrays real characters facing real issues, thus ensuring that the reader is always engaged. There is a bit of background mystery to our two main leads in this tale which helps to build the tension. Add to the mix a sincere and swoon worthy male lead, a female looking to break free and some wonderful secondary characters, even including the stray dog Huckleberry, and what you have here is some great escapism.

‘They were both too broken to be anything other than friends.’

On a serious note, this is a heartbreaking look at the trauma of domestic violence to all of those involved. Nothing is left unturned here as an authentic portrayal of perpetrator, victim and victim’s family are all given credence in this tale. I also appreciated the inclusion of a look at anxiety and how it can inhibit individuals to a staggering degree. I believe Mandy uses this medium to take the opportunity to present serious issues in today’s society and, especially concerning the anxiety attacks some useful strategies, and I applaud her for that.

‘It was a terrible illness and people often shunned those who experienced it because they didn’t understand it. But given the right tools, panic attacks were something to never fear again.’

Unfortunately this one did not quite hit the mark for me, despite the commendable stance taken on some relevant issues. Even though you know what you are getting in for in picking up these lovely rural romances, I found this one to be somewhat cliched. The ‘insta-love’ in the first few hours of meeting was sadly unbelievable for me, as were a few coincidental outcomes.

‘She couldn’t help but admire Ryan’s depth—she’d never met a man quite like him.’
I would still read Mandy again as her detailed Aussie outback locations are always inviting. Combine that with her efforts to always bring a different slant to the usual formulaic approaches on this genre, and one is always assured of some fruitful time spent reading.

‘You read much?’ ‘Whenever I can. It’s my way of shutting off from the world for a while.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: The Heart of Malice

Title: The Heart of Malice
Author: Lisa Edmonds
Publisher: June 13th 2017 by City Owl Press
Pages: 381 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  Urban Fantasy
My Rating: 4 cups


The first time Moses Murphy’s granddaughter killed on his orders, she was six years old.

For twenty years, she was a prisoner of an organized crime syndicate, forced to use her magic to make Moses the most powerful and feared man on the East Coast. To escape his cruelty, she faked her own death and started a new life as Alice Worth. As a private investigator specializing in cases involving the supernatural, Alice walks a precarious line between atoning for the sins of her grandfather’s cabal and keeping her true identity hidden. Hired to investigate the disappearance of a mysterious object of power, Alice enlists the help of Malcolm, a ghost running from a past as nightmarish as her own. It soon becomes clear the missing object was taken by someone with a dangerous secret and an unknown agenda. When her client is kidnapped, Alice must find her and the object of power before a vengeful killer destroys the city and slaughters thousands—starting with Alice.

My Thoughts:
Heart of Malice is the first book in the 'Alice Worth' series by the debuting author Lisa Edmonds and she really kicks this series off in great style! It is Urban Fantasy at its best; with fast paced action, humour and magic bursting off the page from the very first chapter.

Nice car,” I remarked as we approached it.

“Thanks,” he said, and punched me.

I felt him tense up and managed to turn a fraction of a second before he swung, so his massive fist connected with my side instead of my stomach.

Pain exploded in my ribs. I gasped and hit Scott’s chest with both hands. Magic flared, and he flew backward into the side of the restaurant, leaving a man-sized crater in the brick wall. He landed in a crouch with a snarl, his eyes blazing bright red.
For 5 years, Alice Worth has been in hiding from her grandfather Moses Murphy, a powerful and vicious Cabal leader. After fleeing her horrifying imprisonment, Alice fakes her own death, changes her identity and tries her best to keep under the radar of the Cabals and the Supernatural and Paranormal Entity Management Agency while working as an MPI (Mage Private Investigator). Alice is a mage of great power; however, remains scarred physically and emotionally by the horrors she experienced at the hands of the East Coast Cabal, and her aura is tainted by the blood magic she was forced to perform. Alice is a kick ass MPI with a sassy mouth and a tough, take-no-prisoners attitude but her trust issues confine her to a lonely, isolated existence. That is, until Malcolm, a ghost with unusual gifts and a terrible past of his own, becomes mysteriously bound to her. When Alice takes on a case to find an magical object her client believes to be missing from their library, she and her new side-kick, Malcolm, embark on a terrifying series of twists and turns. Their torturous journey leads them to a crazed killer who plans to destroy everything in their path. Added to the craziness is an alpha werewolf, Sean, who lets Alice be the person she needs to be while reigning in his inherently protective nature; as well as a crafty, manipulative vampire with a hidden agenda, and a SPEMA agent who follows the hints and blood trails to her door. I am a big fan of the Urban Fantasy genre with its imaginative world building and exciting story-lines and I feel that Heart of Malice fits the mould beautifully. There is a lot to love about this book as it really has something for everyone! Lots of action, some very cool magic, some fun romance (and a little bit of sexy-time), laughs, and great secondary characters. I feel that Lisa Edmonds is going to be someone to watch closely in the future, and I can't wait to see what else she has up her sleeve! Overall, Heart of Malice is a well written, entertaining story and I am very much looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: The Woolgrower's Companion

Title: The Woolgrower’s Companion
Author: Joy Rhoades
Publisher: 8 June 2017 Random House UK, Vintage Publishing Chatto & Windus
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  historical fiction, Australia
My Rating: 4 cups

Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.
It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.
With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.
Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

My Thoughts

A detailed and well written account of life on the land at the conclusion of WWII in Australia. Times are tough, the drought goes on and personal circumstances make life for Kate a challenge to say the least.

‘You were right, you know,’ Meg called. ‘Sheilas have to be brave every bloody day. Men just need it in bursts, the bastards.’

I enjoyed how each chapter title included a quote from, ‘The Woolgrower’s Companion’; and how the author tried to tie in the text to events that were to immediately unfold. Aside from an interesting narrative, there are many topical issues fictionalised which made for interesting reading.

Firstly there are the Australian Aborigines and the ‘Stolen Generation’ - the whole racism issue and the way society treated, especially young Aboriginal girls, in these circumstances is well handled I feel. There is also the anxiety Kate faces concerning her father’s behaviour. Twofold here as on the one hand he faces PTSD from his time in the war and the loss of his wife, followed by what would appear to be the onset of dementia. A traumatic time for all involved, and once again I feel that the author realistically portrayed both the anguish for family and the great sadness for this largely non prescribed disease of the 1940s. I appreciated also how the book presented the strict social codes of the time with regards to Kate and her relationships with everyone from her father, to absent husband, to Aboriginal maid, to even her dealings with the bank manager. Kate’s struggle to evolve in these various roles is again authentic and gently portrayed. Finally we have the addition of Italian POWs brought to Australia to work on outback stations. Shipped from POW camps for labour on these farms, is a fact I was not familiar with and found most interesting.

A little slow at times and with characters needing a little more depth (for example it would have been good to have alternate narrators and not just Kate - what of her father? husband? Luca?) to truly feel engaged with these sad circumstances. However, the author has done her research, even down to all the Australian slang, making this a recommended read should this time period appeal to you.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: Seven Days in May

Title: Seven Days in May
Author: Kim Izzo
Publisher: 2 May 2017 by Harper 360
Pages: 356 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, world war I
My Rating: 5 cups


For readers of Kate Williams, Beatriz Williams and Jennifer Robson, a captivating novel of love and resilience during the Great War, inspired by the author’s family history.

As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.

In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war.

As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate.

My Thoughts

This book was such an unexpected surprise - I was enthralled from cover to cover. It incorporated so much and so well, that I found each and every aspect engaging - and there are many. This is what historical fiction is all about - transporting you to another time and place, and on this occasion, from war torn London to the deck of a ship doomed for tragedy.

‘... received anonymous telegrams warning them not to sail on the Lusitania because “she was doomed,” the implication being the great ship was going to be torpedoed.’

Firstly you have the tale of the Lusitania. I consider myself a fairly well read historian but the light Izzo sheds on some facts here is heart-rending. Firstly let’s just consider how well she has written to take such an established story (we all know the ship is doomed) and make it into a page turning travesty. The sinking of the ship is so vivid, in fact quite graphic, that images from James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ immediately spring to mind. And knowing that it’s all true, is gut wrenching: of the 1959 passengers who sailed that fateful day, only 764 survived, of 33 babies on board only 6 survived. Some of the conspiracy theories are raised, the main one focussing around, “Does Churchill want the Germans to target a neutral ship just to get the Americans to join the war?”

‘Churchill would use it to lure the Americans into the conflict. Somehow in Isabel’s mind she thought that if she intercepted a message at the right time then she could prevent tragedy. What was the purpose of breaking codes if they couldn’t be used to save lives?’

Secondly there is the role of women during this period of time. Everything from women’s political rights, to reproductive rights, to Isabel and her working rights in the light of an extra-matrimonial affair. Isabel is such an interesting character and her role in ‘Room 40’ - the top secret office set on breaking through codes for the British Admiralty office - and her quest and concern is honourable to the very end.

‘Ever since she had transcribed the ship’s name on the target list she felt responsible for it.’

Then there is the fall of the English aristocracy and the investment of American dollars to keep them afloat. What were people prepared to do for their manor or a title? The high-life of American heiresses and stories of the rich and famous, that would eventually go down with the ship, are recounted here. Izzo gives you  a true indication of the stark contrasts between how the rich compared to steerage passengers fared in the first few days of this luxury liner sailing.

‘Her sister belonged in a world that was fading from fashion only she was too immersed in it to see it. The European penchant for titles and class was on the edge of collapse; the war was going to see to that.’

‘He was caught between ideology and tradition, needs and wants, morality and duty. His honesty, however, was not for sale.’

Overall what you have here is a rich historical tale of two really strong female leads who are intelligent and inspirational in many ways. The writing is so engaging - I can smell the cigarette smoke in Room 40 and feel the sea breeze aboard the Lusitania - Izzo does it so well. The depth of research and integration with fiction is truly commendable - it’s real and authentic through and through. The alternating tale between what happens on board ship, with real time what happens behind the scenes at Whitehall and the Admiralty is engrossing. The final scenes of the torpedo and sinking of the ship are indeed harrowing and gut wrenching.  

“The Lusitania ... not only are they the most luxurious and safest transatlantic passenger liners in the world, they also have the capacity to become the fastest and most powerful armed cruisers in the war, should the need arise.”

I couldn't put this book down and highly recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction.

“We need to forget what happened and move on. We had seven wonderful days together ... let that be enough.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Review: Jewel In The North

Title: Jewel In The North (Flinders Ranges Series #3)
Author: Tricia Stringer
Publisher: 24 April 2017 Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 488 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups


Jewel in the North: A longstanding feud of land and love, a family torn apart and a quest for the ultimate prize…
A breathtaking historical family saga of love, death and forgiveness and a quest for the Jewel in the North
1895 The Flinders Ranges are a beautiful but harsh landscape as Joseph Baker, a pastoralist in that unforgiving environment, knows all too well. For three generations his family have farmed the land, married and had children at their property at Wildu Creek, but now, struggling with hostility from the local community for his choice of wife, Joseph finds himself fighting to save not just his friends and family but his very existence.
His son William has his own battles to fight: not only the drought that takes over the land but his own despair, as he faces rejection from the woman he loves. Meanwhile, a ruthless enemy will stop at nothing to take from William what he considers to be his. Could the vicious and cunning Charles Wiltshire be his nemesis? Or does another man, in a quest for the Jewel of the North, hold the key to his destruction?
As the First World War looms on the horizon, two men struggle to survive both the elements and each other on a quest to find that they hold dear — but only one will have the courage to stand strong.
The deeply satisfying conclusion to the bestselling Flinders Ranges series.

My Thoughts

This was the final instalment in a  three generational saga, titled ‘Flinders Ranges Series’ by Tricia Stringer. Each of the three novels can be read as a stand-alone book, with each instalment providing it’s own storyline in relation to the time period. Some characters carry over, especially seeing as this was the final book of the trilogy; however, there is no real confusion (I had not read the preceding two books).

This book alone was a wonderful indepth look at society at the turn of the century in Australia, set against the backdrop of the rugged outback - a harsh and often cruel country, especially during times of drought. Life on the land was hard and this is a first hand account of what it might have been like to live during such a pioneering time.

Moving from the late 1800s through the turn of the century, the history teacher in me particularly enjoyed the Federation celebrations. With the focus on two main families - the Bakers and the Wiltshires - this is family drama at it’s finest: love and loss, joy and grief played out amongst these two feuding families over the years. It was I feel,  a realistic portrayal of life on the land and the hardships they endured in their struggle for survival. You got a real sense of community in the outback and what life at the time may have been like.

That being said, there is quite an array of characters (given it spans over three books/generations) and each is given their voice - so you must be concentrating on the various relationships and understandings. Probably the most difficult thing I found was the time jumps - there did not appear to be ‘rhyme or reason’ to the chapter/dates provided. I found this a little disconcerting that a month, then maybe six months or longer may have passed by. I could not comprehend the significance of these dates and often large jumps in time.

Anyway, if you are looking to lose yourself back to the time of Australia becoming a nation and a genuine reflection of what life had been like, with the love and losses for those involved, then Tricia Stringers trilogy is for you.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: The Paris Wedding

Title: The Paris Wedding
Author: Charlotte Nash
Publisher: 27 June 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary, romance
My Rating: 5 cups


Ten years ago, Rachael West chose not to move to Sydney with high-school sweetheart Matthew. Instead she stayed on the family wheat farm, caring for her seriously ill mother and letting go of her dreams. Now, Matthew is marrying someone else. And Rachael is invited to the wedding, a lavish affair in Paris, courtesy of the flamboyant family of Matthew's fiancée - a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at someone else's expense in Europe's most romantic city.

She is utterly unprepared for what the week brings. Friendships will be upended, secrets will be revealed - and on the eve of the wedding, Rachael is faced with an impossible dilemma: should she give up on the promise of love, or destroy another woman's life for a chance at happiness?

If you enjoy reading Rachael Treasure and Rachael Johns, you'll fall in love with this deliciously poignant story about family and friends, and love lost and found.

My Thoughts

‘Maybe this trip was that way forward, its hope winking like Venus in the sky: tiny and distant, but enough to guide her through the darkness.’

What a lovely read this book was! What I liked most about it, was how well written it was, flowing along really quickly, with lots of story lines to keep you engaged and not just primarily all about the romance.

‘The movie of Matthew’s life had kept playing long after Rachel had been written out of the script.’

Rachael’s storyline alone is interesting enough; feeling left behind as she cares for her ailing mother while everybody else’s life goes on. Nash genuinely captures that emotion, and it’s not just about finding a partner, but fulfilling lost dreams. Add to that the stories of Matthew and his change of heart, or Rachael’s sister and her family struggling on the land, even Rachael’s best friend and her marriage issues, and it becomes clear how Nash demonstrates a real depth to this story.

‘Two days ago she’d woken up in the place she’d spent her whole life, with wide open spaces rolling away to the horizon. Here, every inch was spoken for, hundreds of years of occupation resulting in the city as it existed in this moment.’

The contrast in detail from the Australian Outback to the streets of Paris is wonderful. On the one hand you have struggling farmers and life in a small rural community compared to the dashing elegance of the Parisian metropolis, with all the glitz and glamour it has to offer. The descriptions of visiting famous landmarks are vivid and you feel as if you are there. What I most appreciated, however, was the poetic resonance that portrayed Paris in such a special way:

‘Under a sky of steel clouds, the city held the river in stone hands stitching across it with arches and bridges.’

Two more points to note. One, if you are at all interested in sewing and design of clothes, there is the added bonus of Rachael (and her mother) being a talented seamstress and outfits are discussed, designed and brought to life. Also, I was suitably impressed with the ending, not to give anything away, but suffice to say it was not your expected stock standard outcome for books of this genre. Well done Charlotte Nash. I am delighted to add another Aussie author on my crusade of rural romance discoveries, I highly recommend this book.

‘All those years ago, the break up with Matthew had felt like being abandoned on the side of the highway, watching the tail-lights of the future disappearing over the horizon.’

I received a free copy of this in a Goodreads giveaway.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: The Romance Reader's Guide to Life

Title: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life
Author: Sharon Pywell
Publisher: 1 May 2017 Simon & Schuster
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  fiction
My Rating: 2.5 cups

As a young girl, Neave was often stuck in a world that didn’t know what to do with her. As her mother not unkindly told her, she was never going to grow up to be a great beauty. Her glamorous sister, Lilly, moved easily through the world, a parade of handsome men in pursuit. Her brother didn’t want a girl joining his group of friends. And their small town of Lynn, Massachusetts, didn’t have a place for a girl whose feelings often put her at war with the world -- often this meant her mother, her brother, and the town librarian who wanted to keep her away from the Dangerous Books she really wanted to read.
But through an unexpected friendship, Neave finds herself with a forbidden copy of The Pirate Lover, a steamy romance, and Neave discovers a world of passion, love, and betrayal. And it is to this world that as a grown up she retreats to again and again when real life becomes too much.
Neave finds herself rereading The Pirate Lover more than she ever would have expected because as she gets older, life does not follow the romances she gobbled up as a child. When Neave and Lilly are about to realize their professional dream, Lilly suddenly disappears. Neave must put her beloved books down and take center stage, something she has been running from her entire life. And she must figure out what happened to Lilly – and if she’s next.
Who Neave turns to help her makes Sharon Pywell's The Romance Reader's Guide to Life one of the most original, entertaining, exciting, and chilling novels you will read this year.

My Thoughts

‘They think that women who read romances are idiots. I assure you, they are not.” “No?”
“No. They are people who trust that love exists and that it is more powerful than bad logic or bad writing.’

This book turned out to be very different from what I was expecting. It is a romance and it is historical fiction, but it’s a lot more complicated than that! The concept is quite clever, but I have to admit to being confused and not engaged by unlikeable characters. It’s not a straightforward story with two narrators and inserted throughout, a historical romance. Confused? I was. Throw into that mix some ‘left of centre’ aspects such as a talking cross-dressing dog and this was not really the book for me.
The book alternates between the sisters - Lilly from "where she is now" with Mr. Boppit (above mentioned dog) and Neave, to portray what their lives had been like. Although presented from a unique perspective, it’s surrealism stretches credibility. The pirate romance, that is interspersed with the main story, is most definitely a separate story until the parallels come together towards the end.
This book was meant as a commentary on romance, with regards to those who read it compared to real life. It is most definitely original and well written. So if you are up for a dark read, that incorporates a little of everything from historical fiction to paranormal, then this quirky little read is for you.

‘She’s not ugly but she’s bookish, which is not a real enchanting characteristic in the world I lived in.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release