Thursday, February 28, 2013

Children of Liberty by Paullina Simons

I have been a fan of Paullina Simons for many years now. For a long time I was a moderator on the now defunct message boards and met a few people who are now my offline as well as online friends, I have lined up to get my books signed, I have pushed her books onto other readers and other fangirlish behaviour. I loved books like Red Leaves and Girl in Times Square and especially the Bronze Horseman trilogy, particularly The Bronze Horseman and Bridge to the Holy Cross. I devoured those two books in the space of two very long nights, and so when I heard that Paullina Simon's next book was going to be the story of Alexander Barrington's parents (Alexander being the main male character in The Bronze Horseman trilogy), I was super, super excited.

Some times it doesn't pay to get super, super excited.

The book opens on the eve of the 20th century. Gina Attaviano and her brother Salvatore along with their mother have just made the journey from Italy to their new life in America. It was to have been a journey that the whole family made but their father and older brother unfortunately didn't survive long enough to see their dream come true. The family land in Boston and there they are met by two young men who offer them lodgings before they journey on to the immigrant town of Lawrence, 20 miles away, where they will be living and working.

The two young men and Ben and Harry, and they are working as managers for Harry's father. Their job is to find people as they come off the boats to rent apartments in the buildings that he owns. Ben is charismatic and charming and is instantly smitten by the young Italian girl, but Harry is distant and aloof, like he is in most aspects of his life. He is studying economics at Harvard but is interested in the many different revolutionary theories that abound at this time - socialism and communism among them.

Ben is studying to become an engineer and passionately believes in the proposal to build a canal through Panama, and it on the premise of getting signatures for a petition in relation to the canal that he and Harry begin to spend their spare time in Lawrence with Gina. While Ben is still smitten with Gina, it is the more intense and quiet Harry that captures Gina's eye and she begins to plot and plan ways to gain his attention. She works as much as she can, often in manual jobs, to try and save money both for nice clothes but also to help her family.

When Gina approaches Harry with a business proposal the two young people spend more and more time together, but still Harry does not appear to notice Gina. He is a man of good breeding, who tries to do what is expected of him by his family and the fact that he has a long term girlfriend that everyone expects him to marry is enough for him, even though he knows he doesn't love Alice.

The book jumps forward a few years, and now we find that Harry is engaged to Alice with a wedding on the horizon, he is still trying to finish his studies but now he is working as a teacher at Harvard. This time when he meets Gina (who now goes by the more Americanised name of Jane) sparks fly. This is really, really late in the novel and to be honest it was the most interesting part and not only because we finally got to see some chemistry between the two main characters! It was in this section that I saw glimpses of the storytelling ability that I have seen and loved before from this author!

As I see it, there are a couple of problems with this novel. The first one, which is pretty major, is Harry. We are told that he is funny, but I didn't see it.This is a man who appears to have no drive, no direction. He chafes at the fact that his father still controls all the purse strings but doesn't have much interest at all in actually finding a career. Even his father, who is prepared to wait years for him to finally work out what he is going to do is getting exasperated with him. The only time there is any spark to Harry is when he gets involved in the political discussions around him.

Which brings me to the second issue. There is so much political yada-yada-yada in this book. It goes on and on and on, and there were times when I could feel myself almost dropping off to sleep. This is the complete opposite of my experience reading the first couple of Bronze Horseman books. In that case, I started The Bronze Horseman in the evening, read all night, called in sick the next day so I could sleep (shhhhh....don't tell anyone) and then went to the shop to buy the second book and then proceeded to read that all night. I ended up going to work the next day because, you know, it would be wrong to call in sick from overdosing on an author two days in a row! It possibly says something that I found the talk about first the fight to build the Panama Canal and then the difficulties when the project got underway far more interesting than the part of the story which was focused on Harry.

When Paullina Simons was here last year, she talked about how really this is the first half of Harry and Jane's story. The second half isn't out yet so obviously I can't gauge how much extraneous page filling there is in that book. However, if this book is anything to go by, you could get rid of a whole heap of the political talk,  and then combine the two book into one and hopefully get a good story! I get that it was important to establish the character's ideological beliefs because otherwise how would it make sense that they chose to go and live in Communist Russia, which we know they do through the Bronze Horseman books, but as a reader I felt like I was drowning in it.

What this book did make me want to do is immerse myself back into the world of Tatiana and Alexander so maybe if I have some time I might reread at least some of it. It might give me more of a clue as to why I should be interested in the next part of Alexander's parent's story because based on this book alone, I probably wouldn't be. And I can't tell you how disappointing that is for me.

I am really torn on how to rate this book. If it wasn't a book by an author who I have a great deal of affection for, I would probably have given it either a 2 or 2.5 out of 5. In the end I went for between 2.5 but rounding it up to a generous 3.

Over the years I have often wondered why this author, who is a very successful author here in Australia, is not more well known in her home country of the US. While this book has been picked up by William Morrow to be published there, unfortunately I don't think this is the book that will be the success over there that she needs!

Will I be reading the next book when it comes out? Most likely and if Paullina is back in Australia, then I will probably go and see her again too. I will, however, be trying very hard not to build huge expectations up before I get to read the book.

P.S Apologies to TLC booktours for being a day late with my review. I really struggled with what to say about this book.

Tour Details

Tour schedule:
Paullina Simon's website,
Paullina Simons on Twitter,
Paullina Simons on Facebook.

Synopsis (US version)

Before Tatiana and Alexander . . . before Leningrad and Lazarevo . . . before everything, there was Gina Attaviano, who came from Belpasso to Boston’s Freedom Docks seeking a new and better life. There she meets Harry Barrington. Their bond is instantaneous, urgent . . . but so are the forces against them.

At the turn of the century and the dawning of the modern world, the fortunes and future of the Barringtons and Attavianos become intertwined, on a collision course between the old and the new, between what is expected and what is desired, what is chosen and what is bestowed, what is given and what is taken away. As America races headlong into the future, much will be lost and much will be gained for Gina and Harry, and for a nation and a people that have the blessing and the curse of unrivaled opportunity . . . and unlimited potential.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Library Loot: February 27 to March 5

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!
I was hoping to make it to the library tonight as usual but unfortunately work is kicking my butt and I didn't make it home before it was already closed. Oh well. Good job I had already picked up a whole heap of books.

Here is my loot for this week:

Broken Harbor by Tana French - I was reminded the other day that I still haven't read this book. It is the only one of Tana French's that I haven't yet read.

Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood - As soon as I read Bree's review the other day I decided that it was a book that I wanted to read.

Finding Mr Flood by Ciara Geraghty - I really enjoyed this author's latest book, Lifesaving for Beginners which I read for a readalong recently. Now the plan is to read through her backlist.

The Inn at Eagle Point by Sherryl Woods - Recently I reviewed the Chesapeake Diaries series by Mariah Stewart. In the comments someone suggested that I might like this series which has a similar setting and feel so I thought I would give it a go!

The Return by Victoria Hislop - Last year I really enjoyed discovering Victoria Hislop's books. This one is set in Spain rather than Greece like her others.

Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas - The next Friday Harbor book. I have heard very mixed reviews about this one!

Tart by Lauren Dane - I requested my library by the first and second book in this series as they already had the third book on order. They ended up only getting this one, which is the second, but I can live with that.

Claire has Mr Linky this week, so head over to her blog to share your Library Loot posts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

When I first heard about Kate Forsyth's book Bitter Greens just before it was released here in Australia last year I was instantly intrigued! A retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale mixed in with life at the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV and Renaissance Venice - yes please! Of course, combining these three different elements could either work spectacularly or end up in a jumbled mess. Fortunately, Kate Forsyth's writing skills mean that it turns out to be a great success.

The novel opens with the banishment of Charlotte-Rose de la Force whose status as a blood relative of the King is not enough to save her from banishment from his court following a series of ill advised love affairs. In addition to the affairs, Charlotte-Rose also writes about the going ons of the court anonymously and  she is also known to be a fine wit, but not always for the restraint to know when to not take that step too far when lampooning the members of the court. She is also a former Huguenot, having converted to Catholicism under extreme political pressure, and in order to avoid some of the persecution that is being visited upon others of her faith. From her place in the convent, Charlotte looks back on her life from the very first time she met the King, to her life as maid in waiting in the court, the politics that surrounded her on every side, religious persecution, her love affairs and so much more.

When she arrives at the convent, Charlotte-Rose is stripped of all of her belongings. Whilst she will not be forced to take her vows as a nun until she truly feels the calling to do so, her life will be austere with little to no comfort. After struggling in her new environment, one of the other nuns takes her under her wing. Sister Seraphina is the gardener and takes Charlotte-Rose out with her. Soon the two women are talking while they are gardening and Sister Seraphina begins to tell Charlotte-Rose the story of Margherita, a young girl in Venice.

When her mother was in labour, she was craving salad greens and so her husband snuck into a neighbour's garden and is caught stealing. The owner, La Strega Bella, extracts a promise from the man. In exchange for not chopping of his hand for thieving, he can keep the bitter greens, but when she comes to take the child he must pay the ultimate price by giving her up.

The family lives in fear of the day coming when La Strega Bella claims their lovely daughter Margherita, and when it does they try to bargain with her. Her mind is set though and Margherita is stolen from her family, placed in a convent to be educated and told that her parents never loved her. Margherita's only comfort is in singing and music and she has the voice of an angel, but even this is not to be her long term home. Once again La Strega Bella comes and this time takes the young and beautiful red-haired girl to a tall tower built on the shores of a lake. Here, Margherita is to live alone with her only company to be the monthly visit from the witch. In order to gain access, the witch requires Margherita to let down her long, long hair so that she can climb up it - she is the Rapunzel that we know from fairy tales.

I love the whole story within a story concept and Forsyth is able to smoothly alternate the story between 17th century France and 16th century Venice with great skill. In due course, we get a third story too - that of the courtesan Selena Leonelli. She too is a beautiful woman who has tempestuous relationships with her lovers, most notably the artist Tiziano for whom she is a kind of muse.  Now, thanks to an apprenticeship with a witch, Selena is known as La Strega Bella and she has discovered the secret of staying young and beautiful and she is determined to stay that way no matter what the cost!

Whilst this story contains the bones of a familiar story - our Rapunzel is stuck in her tower by a horrible witch and we know that in due course that a handsome prince will show up to play his part (even though it is not necessarily in the way that you expect) - it is in the details that Forsyth's tale excels and in the way that the three stories combine as a whole. The story is emotionally engaging on so many levels. For example, the first time I realised how Margherita's hair got to be long enough to be used as a ladder, I gasped in horror.  There is an earthiness to the story telling that is engaging - it is by turns shocking, fun, sensuous, and filled with twists and turns that keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.  Whether you love fairy tale retellings, historical fiction or both, this is exceptional storytelling and I highly recommend this book! I am really looking forward to reading this author's next book!

Rating 4.5/5

P.S Above left is the Australian cover which I loved, and on the bottom right is the gorgeous UK cover! I am seriously tempted to buy the UK version so that I have them both.

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #BitterGreensVirtualTour
Kate Forsyth's website
Kate Forsyth on Facebook
Kate Forsyth on Twitter

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from court by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of Bitter Greens ...

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of greens—parsley, wintercress and rapunzel—from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, they give up their daughter to save him from having both hands cut off.

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does...

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.
I read this book for the following challenges:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lifesaving for Beginners Readalong Week 3

This week is the third and final week of the readalong of Lifesaving for Beginner by Ciara Geraghty. I feel like a bit of a cheat sitting down to write this post today because I actually couldn't stick to the schedule because I just had to keep reading so finished the book nearly two weeks ago! Oh well. I guess it is better to be way ahead of the schedule than way behind *cough...War and Peace readalong...cough*.

Given that this post is about the final third of the book,  please be aware that there are


This final third is still about Milo and Faith, but really it is the part of the book where Kat has a big reality check. Her brother Ed collapses with a heart condition, and it is almost as though this is the spur that Kat needed to see that she had been blocking so much emotion that she has removed herself from her friends and family, from her former boyfriend Thomas, from realising the truth about herself.

Suddenly, after years of secrecy, Kat decides that she is going to come clean about that she is in fact Killian Kobain, and in doing so the power is taken away from the person who was blackmailing her. I must confess that the revelation of the identity of the blackmailer was a bit of an anticlimax for me. Bree and I had been having a discussion about who the blackmailer might be, and I was in the ball park but it is hard to get completely right when you never even knew of the existence of the person!

What the revelations about her identity do bring about is a media siege. Both Kat's own home and her parent's home is surrounded by a media scrum as they try to find out more about the huge story that has just broken. With a bit of subterfuge, Kat is able to escape and finds herself heading to England to start working on repairing starting a relationship with Faith and her family. There were a few moments in this section that almost slipped into the slapstick zone, particularly around the upcoming birth of Milo and Faiths dad's new child. It was amusing, but it kind of broke the flow for me.

I did mostly like the end, but there was one thing that I wasn't as keen on and that was the fact that Kat went on to write a novel that was called Lifesaving for Beginners. I guess that it won't bother some people, but I often find that kind of thing when an author inserts themselves into the story or does meta kind of stuff a little irritating. It was but a small blot though. The actual closing scene of the book where Thomas brings his book to be signed was the perfect way to end the book. Whilst it is clear that this is a new beginning for the two of them, it wasn't an ending where we see Kat waltzing down the aisle, or popping out her third child or anything like that. It was understated and hopeful, and really lovely!

In her discussion post this week, Bree posed a couple of questions that I thought I would address here:

What do you think Milo’s role in the story was? Do you think that without him, Kat and Faith would have been able to connect?

Milo was a fantastic character. His inquisitiveness and openness were the main facets of his personality that allowed him to enable many of the interactions between Kat and Faith. One example is when he rang Kat in the middle of the night to talk to her about Faith. Whilst initially Kat was resistant to the idea of coming to see Faith, I do think that having had that contact, Kat felt more secure when she did try to reach out. I did find it interesting that the author chose to have these scenes set at Christmas time. That can be such a trying time of year for a lot of people and so to then throw in the added complication of a birth mother on top of it being the first Christmas without a loved one added another level of emotional drama to the whole scene.

The whole lifesaving thing was quite an interesting aspect to choose as the title for the book. It is a great title. It certainly made me wonder what on earth the book could be about. Mile talked a lot about his lifesaving class but it was interesting that we never got to observe him in that environment.

Was Kat redeemed as a character? Did you like her/identify more with her at the end of the novel than you did at the beginning? Do you think she evolved in a believable way?

Kat as a character had a long journey in this book, and for the most part I think that she was redeemed. I think that she will always be who she is. I can't imagine that as a result of the events in the book that she will suddenly becomes fun and flirty and always happy, because I don't think that is truly who Kat is. But I do think that she is more open and far more honest both with herself and with the people that she loves, which has to be a good thing.

For those that enjoyed this novel, if you haven’t before, will you be reading any of Ciara Geraghty’s backlist/her future novels? Has this read-a-long introduced you to a new sort of book and a new novelist that you might wish to read more of?

This was my first Ciara Geraghty book, but most definitely won't be the last! I already have one of her other books out from the library and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her future books. I was kept up late into the night reading this book, wanting to get to the end so that I would know what happened!

Oh, and I have to say.... if there was a branch of the Funky Banana cafe near me I would practically be living there! It sounds like such a fab place!

Rating 4/5

Thanks to the fab people at Hachette for organising the readalong and for the book, and to Bree for hosting the discussion.


Kat Kavanagh is not in love....

She has lots of friends, an ordinary job, and she never ever thinks of her past. This is Kat's story. None of it is true.

Milo McIntyre loves his mam, the peanut-butter and banana muffins at the Funky Banana cafe, and the lifesaving class he does after school. He never thinks about his future, until the day it changes forever. This is Milo's story. All of it true.

And there is the other story. The one with a twist of fate, which somehow brings together a boy from Brighton and a woman in Dublin, and uncovers the truth once and for all.

This is the story that's just about to begin.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Salon: The Stella Prize longlist

This week the longlist for the inaugural Stella Prize was announced. Here's a bit about the prize from the website

The Stella Prize is a new major literary award for Australian women’s writing.

The Stella Prize celebrates Australian women’s contribution to literature. Named after one of Australia’s most important female authors, Stella Maria ‘Miles’ Franklin (1879–1954), the prize rewards one writer with a significant monetary prize of $50,000.

The Stella Prize will also raise the profile of women’s writing through the Stella Prize longlists and shortlists, encourage a future generation of women writers, and bring readers to the work of Australian women.

The Stella Prize will be awarded for the first time in 2013, and both fiction and non-fiction books are eligible.

There are, of course, the ongoing arguments about whether such a prize is necessary, whether by excluding men from the prize you demean the value of the of honour. Given that the Orange Prize (or whatever it calls itself these days) still is subject to these ongoing discussions I would expect to hear the same discussion happening here for a long while yet about the Stella.

One that that I do find interesting about the scope of this prize is that it is inclusive of both non-fiction and fiction, and that while I wouldn't go so far as to call it wholeheartedly inclusive of genre fiction, there are a couple of genre entries on the longlist which would suggest that they are not at least dismissive of it! I was interested to see that there were nearly 200 books put forward as part of the nomination process. I would love to know more about this process - questions like how many genre books were put forward for consideration?

As happens whenever we get to longlists for prizes and especially end of year lists, I find that even though I read a lot, there is also a lot that I have missed. This would be my way of admitting that I have only actually read one of the longlisted titles, although I do own one other and have borrowed a third from the library with the intention of reading it a couple of times.

I thought today I would have a brief look at the nominations, with a general comment and the synopsis for each one.

Floundering by Romy Ash (Text Publishing) - A debut novel that I hadn't heard much about before it was long listed.

Tom and Jordy have been living with their gran since the day their mother, Loretta, left them on her doorstep and disappeared.

Now Loretta’s returned, and she wants her boys back.

Tom and Jordy hit the road with Loretta in her beat-up car. The family of three journeys across the country, squabbling, bonding, searching and reconnecting.

But Loretta isn’t mother material. She’s broke, unreliable, lost. And there’s something else that’s not quite right with this reunion.

They reach the west coast and take refuge in a beachside caravan park. Their neighbour, a surly old man, warns the kids to stay away. But when Loretta disappears again the boys have no choice but to ask the old man for help, and now they face new threats and new fears.

This beautifully written and gripping debut is as moving as it is frightening, and as heartbreaking as it is tender.

Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman (UQP) - Another title I hadn't heard a lot about, although it did win the 2011 David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writing.

Growing up on the Mission isn’t easy for clever Grace Oldman. When her classmates tease her for not having a father, she doesn’t know what to say. Papa Neddy says her dad is the Lord God in Heaven, but that doesn’t help when the Mission kids call her a bastard. As Grace slowly pieces together clues that might lead to answers, she struggles to find a place in a community that rejects her for reasons she doesn’t understand.

In Mazin Grace, Dylan Coleman fictionalises her mother’s childhood at the Koonibba Lutheran Mission in South Australia in the 1940s and 50s. Woven through the narrative are the powerful, rhythmic sounds of Aboriginal English and Kokatha language.

Mazin Grace is the inspirational story of a feisty girl who refuses to be told who she is, determined to uncover the truth for herself.

The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin) - This is another of the debut novels on this list, and is the one that I own but haven't read yet. It is inspired by the story of one of Australia's female bushrangers and sounds fascinating, although I have heard it is quite bleak. I first heard of this book at a Wheeler Centre event a few months ago. Even when they were introducing the book I knew it sounded like a book for me!

It is the dawn of the twentieth century in Australia and a woman has done an unspeakable thing.

Twenty-two-year-old Jessie has served a two-year sentence for horse rustling. As a condition of her release she is apprenticed to Fitzgerald 'Fitz' Henry, who wants a woman to allay his loneliness in a valley populated by embittered ex-soldiers. Fitz wastes no time in blackmailing Jessie and involving her in his business of horse rustling and cattle duffing.

When Fitz is wounded in an accident he hires Aboriginal stockman, Jack Brown, to steal horses with Jessie. Soon both Jack Brown and Jessie are struggling against the oppressive and deadening grip of Fitz.

One catastrophic night turns Jessie's life on its head and she must flee for her life. From her lonely outpost, the mountains beckon as a place to escape. First she must bury the evidence. But how do you bury the evidence when the evidence is part of yourself?

Inspired by the life of Jessie Hickman, legendary twentieth-century bushranger, The Burial is a stunning debut novel, a work of haunting originality and power.

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny (Penguin/Viking) - One of the non fiction books on the list. I don't read a lot of non-fiction so this one had passed me by.

At once a non-fiction thriller and a moral maze, this is one man's epic story of trying to find a safe place in the world.

When Ali Al Jenabi flees Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, he is forced to leave his family behind in Iraq. What follows is an incredible international odyssey through the shadow world of fake passports, crowded camps and illegal border crossings, living every day with excruciating uncertainty about what the next will bring.

Through betrayal, triumph, misfortune – even romance and heartbreak – Ali is sustained by his fierce love of freedom and family. Continually pushed to the limits of his endurance, eventually he must confront what he has been forced to become.

With enormous power and insight, The People Smuggler tells a story of daily heroism, bringing to life the forces that drive so many people to put their lives in unscrupulous hands. It is an utterly gripping portrait of a man cut loose from the protections of civilisation, attempting to retain his dignity and humanity while taking whatever path he can out of an impossible position.

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin) - Michelle de Kretser is no stranger to literary prizes. I have read one of her earlier books and have this on my list to get to one day.

A mesmerising literary novel, Questions of Travel charts two very different lives. Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides. Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.

Around these two superbly drawn characters, a double narrative assembles an enthralling array of people, places and stories - from Theo, whose life plays out in the long shadow of the past, to Hana, an Ethiopian woman determined to reinvent herself in Australia.

Award-winning author Michelle de Kretser illuminates travel, work and modern dreams in this brilliant evocation of the way we live now. Wonderfully written, Questions of Travel is an extraordinary work of imagination - a transformative, very funny and intensely moving novel

Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth (Scribe Publications) - I heard Amy Espeseth read from this book at a Wheeler Centre event a few months ago and found her descriptions powerful, but the scene she read was one that I found disturbing. This is another debut novel.

Ruth and her cousin Naomi live in rural Wisconsin, part of an isolated religious community. The girls’ lives are ruled by the rhythms of nature — the harsh winters, the hunting seasons, the harvesting of crops — and by their families’ beliefs. Beneath the surface of this closed, frozen world, hidden dangers lurk.

Then Ruth learns that Naomi harbours a terrible secret. She searches for solace in the mysteries of the natural world: broken fawns, migrating birds, and the strange fish deep beneath the ice. Can the girls’ prayers for deliverance be answered?

Sufficient Grace is a story of lost innocence and the unfailing bond between two young women. It is at once devastating and beautiful, and ultimately transcendent.

The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (5 Islands Press) - I knew nothing about this book. It is a novel in verse, which I must confess I have never read.

The Sunlit Zone is a moving elegy of love and loss, admirable for its narrative sweep and the family dynamic that drives it. A risk-taking work of rare, imaginative power.

The Sunlit Zone combines the narrative drive of the novel with the perfect pitch of true poetry. A darkly futuristic vision shot through with bolts of light. Brilliant, poignant, disconcerting.
- Adrian Hyland, author of Kinglake 350 and Diamond Dove:

This novel in verse, at once magical and irresistible, draws us in to a vivid future. In Lisa Jacobson’s telling, the Australian fascination with salt water and sea change is made over anew. Romance holds hands with science and takes to the ocean.
- Chris Wallace-Crabbe, author of The Domestic Sublime and By and Large.

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe Publications) - A short story collection from an author I have heard of, but never read.

From prize-winning short-story writer Cate Kennedy comes a new collection to rival her highly acclaimed Dark Roots. In Like a House on Fire, Kennedy once again takes ordinary lives and dissects their ironies, injustices and pleasures with her humane eye and wry sense of humour. In ‘Laminex and Mirrors’, a young woman working as a cleaner in a hospital helps an elderly patient defy doctor’s orders. In ‘Cross-Country’, a jilted lover manages to misinterpret her ex’s new life. And in ‘Ashes’, a son accompanies his mother on a journey to scatter his father’s remains, while lifelong resentments simmer in the background. Cate Kennedy’s poignant short stories find the beauty and tragedy in illness and mortality, life and love.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin) - The one book on the list that I have read....and loved! Just never quite got around to finishing my review of the book! This book was also published under the title Brides of Rollrock Island.

'Why would I? People are uneasy enough with me - if I start bringing up sea-wives, they'll take against me good and proper.'
'It could be secret.'
'Could it?'

On remote Rollrock Island, the sea-witch Misskaella discovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, any man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But what cost will be borne by the people of Rollrock - the men, the women, the children - once Misskaella sets her heart on doing such a thing?

Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire and revenge, of loyalty, heartache and human weakness, and of the unforeseen consequences of all-consuming love.

The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller (UQP) - Non fiction

A superior memoir by an accomplished writer at the height of her powers

For 40,000 years the Central NSW area of Wellington was Aboriginal – Wiradjuri – land. Following the arrival of white men, it became a penal settlement, mission station, gold-mining town and farming centre with a history of white comfort and black marginalisation. In the late 20th century, it was also the subject of the first post-Mabo Native Title claim, bringing new hope – and new controversy – to the area and its people.

Wiradjuri land is also where author Patti Miller was born and, mid-life, it begins to exert a compelling emotional pull, demanding her return. Post-children, having lived a dream life in Paris, it is hard for her to understand, or ignore, and so she is drawn into the story at the heart of Australian identity – who are we in relation to our beloved but stolen country?

Wellington and the Wiradjuri people are the main characters – and in revealing their complex narratives, Patti uncovers her own. Are her connections to this place through her convict forefathers, or through another, secret history? She sets out on a journey of exploration and takes us with her. Black and white politics, the processes of colonisation, family mythologies, generational conflict and the power of place are evoked as Patti weaves a story that is very personal and, at the same time, a universal story of country and belonging.

The Mind of a Thief is about identity, history, place and belonging and, perhaps most of all, about how we create ourselves through our stories.
An Opening by Stephanie Radok (Wakefield Press)

Artist and writer Stephanie Radok possesses a unique international perspective. For over twenty years she has written about and witnessed the emergence of contemporary Aboriginal art and the responses of Australian art to global diasporas.

In An Opening: Twelve love stories about art, Stephanie Radok takes us on a walk with her dog and finds that it is possible to re-imagine the suburb as the site of epiphanies and attachments.
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Pan Macmillan/Picador) - A few years ago now I read and thoroughly enjoyed Tiffany's previous book Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living. I have had this book out from the library a couple of times. Time to request it again I think.

On the outskirts of an Australian country town in the 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a family of kookaburras that roost in a tree near his house. Harry observes the kookaburras through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song. As Harry watches the birds, his next door neighbour has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Ardent, hard-working Betty has escaped to the country with her two fatherless children. Betty is pleased that her son, Michael, wants to spend time with the gentle farmer next door. But when Harry decides to teach Michael about the opposite sex, perilous boundaries are crossed.

Mateship with Birds is a novel about young lust and mature love. It is a hymn to the rhythm of country life – to vicious birds, virginal cows, adored dogs and ill-used sheep. On one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, a collection of misfits question the nature of what a family can be.

The shortlist will be announced on March 20 and I have vague ideas of attempting to read the shortlist, although that would mean keeping my schedule clear - something that I am not the best at! The inaugural winner will be announced on April 16

For a wrap up of reviews of the book that have been longlisted and reviewed as part of the challenge, head to the Australian Women Writer's Challenge website.

Currently Reading

Tart by Lauren Dane (why yes I have just talked about all these literature books and then confessed to reading a menage a trois contemporary romance - that's just how I roll!) and listening to Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

Up Next

Children of Destiny by Paullina Simons

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reconstructing Jackson by Holly Bush

This book is kind of unusual for me to read, mainly because I don't go out of my way to read self published books. I don't have anything against them other than the fact that I want to not be taking risks on poor format, spelling, grammar and lacklustre storytelling. While I have read other self published books this year, it has been from authors that I already know that I like and trust.

What prompted me to want to read this book though was the fact that I had seen some good reviews of previous books by the author and I liked the idea of a book being set just after the American Civil War. I was prepared to take the chance. And, for the most part, it is a risk that I am glad that I took! There were a few typos, but these days you can get those even in books published by the big name publishers, and I think there was a certain.... something... missing from the writing. Having said that, there were risks that the author took in telling the story that I couldn't necessarily see being allowed by a traditional publisher that made the reader journey a worthwhile one for me.

Reed Jackson is heading to Fenton, Missouri looking for a new start with plans to set up a business as a lawyer in the town. Reed was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. He lost one leg and severely damaged the other leg in the course of the fighting, leaving him wheelchair bound, but it was his other losses that hurt just as much, if not more. Not only did he lose the plantation that was his birthright when his father passed it on to his younger brother, but he also lost his fiancee as part of the same transaction. Reed is a bitter man, lamenting his losses even as he tries to start again, but most definitely not wanting anyone to feel pity towards him.

A big part of the story though, is not just about Reed as a man who has lost so much but also about a man who is a product of his time and upbringing trying to come to terms with the changes in the world. When Reed comes to Fenton, he takes a room in the hotel that is run by his cousin and his wife, which is managed by Beulah Freeman, a freed slave. For Reed, the idea of sitting down at the same table is something that is totally foreign to his previous life, let alone the idea of becoming friends with a former slave. But with the end of the war and the victory of the North, the normal social rules that were once so rigid are collapsing and men like Reed need to learn the new ways if they are to adapt successfully.

You can't have a romance with only one character though and so now we come to Miss Belle Richards. Where Reed is the quintessential, wealthy Southern gentleman, Belle is more of the dirt poor, completely dysfunctional family type girl. Her father and two redneck brothers see her as their servant to order around, to have serve them  and to beat if she steps out of line. Belle is, however, determined to escape from their clutches, and she will do whatever she can to facilitate that. Her first step is learning to read. When her brother finds out though, the consequences are severe and Reed's instinct to offer her protection in any way he can leads to an unlikely marriage.

I mentioned earlier about Reed having to come to terms with the new social rules. It is important to note that the author does not shy away from using the kind of language that may have been prevalent at the that time. She also does not back away from the violence and uncertainly that would have followed the war, to the point that there are some scenes in this book that are quite confronting. Holly Bush is not afraid to push her characters into situations where they are in danger. I was a little uncomfortable with one of the situations that Reed found himself in. It did fit with his fierce need to be able to prove that he could not only provide Belle with the kind of life that she could have only imagined as a possibility before, but also to be able to protect her should the need arise but the question of whether it was too far is probably one for each individual reader to decide.

I really enjoyed this story. I liked Holly Bush's voice and I would be happy to read more from her. I do think that there is a certain aspect of the writing that isn't quite there yet for me. The word that I keep coming back to is sophistication but I am not sure that really gets to the heart of the matter. The ideas and the story were good, the writing was quite good, it was just that some of the plot transitions were too direct or something. For example, in the first chapter we are introduced to the woe-is-me depths of Reed as a character. In the next chapter, we are immersed in Belle's terrible world. Whilst that is understandable in terms of establishing character, when there is that abruptness in lots of the scene changes it becomes noticeable. I guess one of the things that I would be looking for in future is some kind of smoother transition from one scene to the next. Don't get me wrong, this is a minor complaint on my part - it won't stop me from reading more from Holly Bush.

I am glad I took a chance on this one!

Rating 4/5

Thanks to Amy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for my copy of the book.

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1867 . . . Southern lawyer and Civil War veteran, Reed Jackson, returns to his family’s plantation in a wheelchair. His father deems him unfit, and deeds the Jackson holdings, including his intended bride, to a younger brother. Angry and bitter, Reed moves west to Fenton, Missouri, home to a cousin with a successful business, intending to start over.

Belle Richards, a dirt poor farm girl aching to learn how to read, cleans, cooks and holds together her family’s meager property. A violent brother and a drunken father plot to marry her off, and gain a new horse in the bargain. But Belle’s got other plans, and risks her life to reach them.

Reed is captivated by Belle from their first meeting, but wheelchair bound, is unable to protect her from violence. Bleak times will challenge Reed and Belle's courage and dreams as they forge a new beginning from the ashes of war and ignorance.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fables: Wolves by Bill Willingham

This book is volume 8 in the Fables series, and as such there will definitely be spoilers for previous issues, even more so than usual because I really, really loved this instalment. It may even be my equal favourite of all of them so far! You can read my reviews of the previous books in the series here.

*******SPOILERS AHOY********

This is the book that I have been anticipating for the last few instalments because, finally, Bigby Wolf is finally back! And I can tell you that I did cheer when I realised!

As much as I have enjoyed exploring the other fables worlds I was so pleased to see that this volume was so much more focused and that Snow White and Bigby were front and centre.

The first story is called Wolves and features Mowgli travelling the world searching the world for Bigby Wolf - a man who really doesn't want to be found. From the Russian seaports, Mowgli is almost ready to give up until he realises that he needs to stop thinking of the man he is searching for but rather think of the wolf that he is tracking.

Bigby has been trying to forget the past he left behind, including the woman he loved, and if he has to do it by living in the isolated forests, by drinking too much and consoling himself in any way he can then so be it.

Mowgli is however determined, mainly because Fabletown has a task that only Bigby can fulfil - ensuring that the Adversary gets some retribution for his actions against the Fables. The fact that this task may provide the means for Bigby to see both Snow and his cubs again is also a major factor of motivation.

Snow and Bigby have been separated for years because he is banned from going to the Farm and Snow is forced to live there until such time as her children can show that they can maintain a human form and therefore go unnoticed in the mundy world.

In my favourite section of the collection, which is called Happily Ever After, we get to follow Bigby on his seemingly impossible task but alternating with his story we also get glimpses of Snow trying to train her growing children to stay human so that they can leave the farm. I am sure just by the title of this story you can tell exactly what happens! As a romance fan...I loved it!    *sniff, sniff*

The final section of the book moves away from Bigby and instead focuses on Cinderella. In Big and Small we find out that Cinderella isn't just the owner of a high end shoe shop, but rather that she plays an important part in the diplomatic work related to Fabletown.

I loved the fact that we got to see some magic beanstalk action in this novel (and no that isn't a euphemism) and enjoyed visiting the cloudlands, especially as Cinderella tries to get a major peace treaty signed before the kingship changes hands AGAIN, but for me the undoubted highlight of this book is the culmination of Bigby and Snow's relationship.

It was interesting that there was a full script of the novel included in this editions, which I don't recall seeing before.

By following Kailana's handy dandy guide to the Fables series, I see that now I need to read the stand-alone volume 1001 Nights of Snowfall. I only wish that I didn't have to get every volume of this series through inter library loan. I get very impatient waiting for each new volume to arrive!

If you have any interest in fairy tales, even if you do not normally read graphic novels, I highly recommend this series! As you would expect, it is best to start at the beginning to get the full effect!

Other contributing artists for this volume include Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Shawn McManus and Andrew Pepoy

Rating 4.5/5

Into the Woods

The community of Fables living undercover in our midst has endured plenty of suffering at the hands of their longtime antagonist, the Adversary. Now it's time to return the favor and put the would-be conqueror on notice that the cost of subjugating this last stronghold of independent magic will be higher than even he can bear. The one Fable who can accomplish this mission, however, has hidden himself away in the wild and will take some convincing if he can even be found. Luckily for Fabletown, there's something more than a trip behind enemy lines awaiting Bigby Wolf's return.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Library Loot: February 20 to 26

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I had been being good with the number of books I was taking back being more than the number of books I was borrowing but as indicated by the word had, that has kind of reversed!

Here's the loot that I got this week:

The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes - After loving the last three new releases from Jojo Moyes, I am starting to work my way through her backlist.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman - I loved If I Stay and Where I Went so I am excited to read this book. I am a bit concerned about having to wait a year for the next book which is directly related to this one.

Easy by Tammara Webber - There was lots of buzz about this book when it was self published. Now it has been picked up by the big publishers.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - I decided to reread this book, which was one of only two books that I gave the grading of 5/5 last year, for a book club discussion. I have now bought it but it wouldn't be delivered in time so I borrowed it again.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - I have been meaning to read this ever since it came out. Maybe this is the time.

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra - I actually have owned this book since it first came out but I haven't ever read it. I was looking for a new audiobook to listen to and this was there, so I thought I would listen to it instead of reading it.

Own the Night by Lady Antebellum - Just because I have the other Lady Antebellum Cds. I am a bit concerned though. I put the disc in my computer to listen to it, and now I opened the tray to put it back in the case and it isn't there. I have no idea where the disc is. I guess i have a couple of weeks to find it!

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PS - Sorry I was a bit late with this post. Had a visitor and was up until late talking!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lifesaving for Beginners Readalong Week 2

Shhh... don't tell anyone but I am actually writing the start of this post on Thursday night, even though I am not going to post it until probably Tuesday. Why am I doing that you might ask. Because I really want to be able to go and pick up the book and keep reading until I am finished! I am finding the book very, very readable and very difficult to put down.

So in this week's discussion we are very much in the meat of the book so

**************Spoilers Ahoy*******************

So the book did go where I thought it was going to go when I read last week's section. While it was pretty obvious, I did enjoy the reveal and the way that Kat stayed true to character even if that means that she behaves badly in the eyes of other people. Kat takes much longer than you or I might to process her feelings and doesn't cope well with emotional ambushes -something I think we have seen time and time again through the book.

I thought Faith was incredibly brave to just turn up in Ireland at Kat's parents, and it was the first time that I felt that we got to see anything much personality wise of her parents. I did enjoy the reunion between Faith and Kat's parents.I am not sure I would have run off to Ireland the way she did, and especially not with Milo in tow, but it turned out that he really was the catalyst that made so many of the connections for Faith.

My heart broke for young Kat as we found out how the adoption came about. I can't imagine not realising that you were pregnant, although I guess if you were a completely innocent 15 year old you could deny the obvious. As for Kat's parent being unaware, I can see how that would be happen. When I had my son I took him into my workplace and the receptionist (who I saw most days) asked me if I had been on holidays at which point I held up the baby capsule to show her my bundle of joy and she hadn't even realised that I was pregnant! I do suspect though, that it wasn't so much that Kat wasn't showing much but rather that her parents were just too distracted by whatever it was that they were doing to notice.

The birth scene broke my heart. Kat's mother turned up not even knowing that her daughter was pregnant and suddenly took control. There was no discussion, no options put forward. The baby was just whisked away with Kat not even knowing if she had a daughter or a son. One thing that I found confronting was the fact that as a family, Kat and her parents never ever spoke about the baby again. In her discussion post, Bree has identified denial and doing the right thing as two of the big themes of this section of the book and if you want just one example of it, then this would be it.

The moment when Thomas finds out about Faith was interesting for me. I understand completely why his feelings were hurt about this but I also wondered if given a little bit of time to digest the news he wouldn't see that this is how Kat deals with all the biggest issues in her life. Denial, repression and yet more denial.

And how about Thomas? I must say I think he moved on way too quickly and I lost a teeny bit of respect for him when he told Kat the news that he was engaged to someone else. I am sure in the end everything will work out, but there is a bit of a journey to happen here.

I have now finished the book, but I will hold off on discussing the end of the book until next week's discussion post is up! The fact that I have already requested my next Ciara Geraghty novel from the library will possibly give you some clue as to my final reaction about the book!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Long Way Home by Mariah Stewart

Ellis Ryder Chapman loses almost everything thanks to her father being the mastermind behind a Ponzi style investment scheme which collapses. Her father, and her fiance who was also involved, are both in jail. She has lost her fancy car, jewellery, home and most of her friends. Whilst there was no question that she was involved in the scheme, the FBI determined that her lifestyle was funded by the profits of the scheme and therefore it was all forfeited to be redistributed to the victims of the scheme. As for the friends, well, it turns out that only one of them was a true friend in the first place.

The only thing that Ellis now has left is a house in St Dennis. It has been vacant for years but because it clearly belonged to Ellis' mother and did not come from the proceeds of her father's schemes, it is
Ellis's to keep.  There are, however, strings attached. The major one is that once she takes ownership, Ellis, or rather Ellie Ryder as she is now calling herself, must live in the house for six months before she can sell it, and she cannot sell anything from inside the house for that time either.

Ellis is determined that she is going to fix the house up in the six months that she is being forced to live there and then she will be out of there! She doesn't know where to, or what she will do, but she just needs to make it through the six months without finding out who she really is. Not as easy as it sounds in a town like St Dennis.

First person to deal with is Cameron Connor who has been looking after the basic requirements of the house for many years, with the idea in mind that one day he will own the house that is so important to him. It is only as the story progresses that we find out why this is so. He is less than happy to find out that the house has been 'sold' without his knowledge and is determined that he will convince the new owner that he should be given first option.

He also knows that something doesn't quite add up with Ellie. She drives a fancy car (borrowed, but he doesn't know that), she claims to be broke and to have bought the house as a fixer upper but clearly has no experience in doing this kind of project. Something isn't quite right.

Ellie has always worked in PR for her dad, but that career is no longer an option for her, so while she figures out what she is going to do with her life, she starts on the mammoth task of renovating the house. Cameron provides her advice on how to go about it, giving them the perfect opportunity to spend more time with each other and for their feelings to deepen. Cameron has plenty of experience of his own at living with the consequences of a parent's action, but Ellie needs to know that she can trust him enough to share her own story and to get beyond her worries that the town will turn it's back on her when they know who she really is.

Along the way, Cameron and other townspeople are able to help Ellie fill in some of the gaps of who she is, about her mother Lynley (one of the original supermodels) and her mother's ancestors, with surprising outcomes. And then there is the less welcome surprise from her father, but Ellie takes it all in her stride with little difficulty - maybe a bit too easily but still.

Cameron is an all round decent bloke, maybe surprisingly so once we find out his story. He knows what he wants, but he is also prepared to help Ellie out with his long term aim of getting hold of the house almost a side issue. The only thing that didn't really gel for me was when his sister came to his defense towards the end and made it seem as though he was something of a commitment-phobe when there was little evidence of that anywhere else in the book. Sure, he didn't talk about any relationships in his past which is possibly a bit odd given his age and apparent good looks and great personality. Just felt a little out of left field to me.

There is no question that this is a very pleasant read, quite safe, the sex is very tame and very easy storytelling with little to no conflict. Along the way, there are plenty of cameos from the characters in the earlier books in the series, plus the  now seemingly obligatory wedding. Throw in a ghost, some newly discovered art gems, a town celebration of Founding Father's day complete with pirates and you have a very nice way to while away a couple of hours. If I had to choose, I would say I prefer my stories to be a little meatier and denser but that's a personal choice.

This is book 6 in the Chesapeake Diaries series, and the reader is left with no doubt that there will be a book 7 with one particular plot line being left way open for presumably the next book. For me, the ending was very, very rushed. It was nice that the ending happened the way it did, but you would think that the other character might have had some clue at what they were thinking about the future.

I am not complaining that there will so obviously be new books in the series because I do enjoy my visits to St Dennis. I would love to have an icecream from Steffie's shop Scoop, and to taste Brooke's cupcakes and to stuff myself with seafood! The town sounds like such an idyllic place to while away a day or ten (and yes, I know it is a made up town but I am sure that there must be some real ones that would fit the bill on the Chesapeake Bay.

Rating 4/5

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As the only child of a wealthy investment manager, Ellie Chapman has never known anything besides a life of perfect privilege. But her years of good fortune come to an abrupt end when her father is exposed for swindling billions of dollars from innocent investors in a massive Ponzi scheme. And just like that, Ellie loses everything: money, job, home—even her fiancé, who’s jailed as her father’s partner in crime. With no job prospects on the horizon, no cash, and her family name in tatters, Ellie has only one place to go.
Sleepy St. Dennis, Maryland, is hardly where Ellie intends to stay, however. Keeping her identity a secret, she plans to sell the house her late mother left her in the small town and use the proceeds to move on with her life. Unfortunately, her ticket to a new beginning is in dire need of a laundry list of pricey improvements, many of which she’ll have to do herself. And until the house on Bay View Road is fit to be sold, the sole place Ellie will be traveling is the hardware store. But as the many charms of St. Dennis–not to mention Cameron O’Connor, the handsome local contractor who has secrets of his own–begin to work their magic, what begins as a lesson in do-it-yourself renovations might just end up as Ellie’s very own rejuvenation.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Chesapeake Diaries series by Mariah Stewart

Tomorrow I am hosting the blog tour for The Long Way Home which is the sixth book in the Chesapeake Bay series by Mariah Stewart. As I was thinking about what I was going to say for that book, quickly realised that I hadn't actually reviewed any of the other books in the series.  Bad book reviewer!

I thought I would therefore give some general thoughts about the series and then some lightening style reviews of the previous books in the series, ready for tomorrow's review.

The series is set in the small town of St Dennis which is situated in the Chesapeake Bay. Now, until I started reading romance again, I actually had no clue about the Chesapeake Bay area. I first heard of it in the first Nora Robert's trilogy that I read that was also set in the bay, and since then I must confess that I have been seduced into believing that it might be my kind of place! Sleepy towns that once relied on fishing but now also rely on the tourists that come during the summer. Great food, good people who are doing their best to keep their towns alive.

The diary of the series title is kept by Grace Sinclair, an older lady whose family owns the local inn, and who runs the local newspaper amongst other things. Two of her own children live away from the town but that doesn't stop her from observing on the comings and goings of the younger generation as new people settle in the town and as the locals fight hard to keep their town's character but also allow it's continued evolution. Grace and her friends are keen to see all their loved ones fall in love, and are quite happy to allow for the slightest influence from those that have gone before them. The supernatural touch is very light though so don't let that put you off.

If I remember correctly, I first heard of this series thanks to a book trailer that was featured on some one's blog. I could have sworn that the trailer was for the first two or three book in the series but I can't find that one, so maybe I am thinking of something else. It was a couple of years since I started reading the series so it is possibly not a surprise I can't remember!

The first book in the series is Coming Home, and as I understand it, features a character from one of Mariah Stewart's earlier romantic suspense series. Now, I very rarely read romantic suspense, so I was content to start with just this series and not to go back to the beginning of the other series and follow it through until I got to this one.

If I was to use just one word to describe this series, it would probably be nice. It's a nice town, filled with pretty nice people and the books themselves are very easy to read. Whilst they are very definitely contemporary romances, they are pretty tame when it comes to the sexual side of things.

I have read all of these from the library, except for the last one which I received via Netgalley for the purpose of getting up to date before reviewing the latest book in the series.

So let's take a look at each of the books in the series:

Coming Home

When Vanessa Keaton's escapes an abusive marriage, she returns to the only place she has ever really called home. Whilst Hal is not really her stepfather any more, he and her half brother Beck have never treated Vanessa as anything other than family after she was dumped on their doorstep by her neglectful mother Maggie. Now, she has rebuilt her life. She has a successful dress boutique in the small town of St Dennis called Bling, she has friends and she is happy being single.

With Beck getting married, his fiancee has asked her to look after her reclusive brother, Grady Shields, who will be in town for just a few days for the wedding. Grady is ex FBI but now he lives in the isolated wilds of Montana. He operates adventure tours, but mostly he just wants to be alone and has done so since the death of his wife while he was an FBI agent. He is also pretty sure he doesn't need a babysitter for the few days he is in town, but he can't deny his attraction to Vanessa.

When there are a series of incidents where Vanessa and her business appear to be the targets, Grady steps in, determined to protect her, no matter what it takes.

This is one of, if not, the only books in the series to have that romantic suspense style subplot. It isn't my favourite thing, but I can live with it occasionally.

Rating 4/5

Home Again

Dallas MacGregor is the quintessential small town girl who makes it big in Hollywood! She is a major Hollywood star, living the dream. Big houses, expensive cars, cheating love rat soon to be ex husband. Wait...what? When she finds out that some explosive sex tapes are about to be released to the public she decide that it is time for her to disappear out of the public eye for a while and so she escapes with her six year old son to her aunt's house in the small town of St Dennis. If nothing else, Dallas is one of the town's home, so she knows that her appearance there will be kept on the low down while the scandal blows over and the divorce is finalised

Dallas and her brother spent their formative years in the town living with their aunt Beryl, who also happens to have been a very successful actress in her own right. When Dallas left the town behind, she also left behind her first love, Grant Wyler. He is now the local town vet, who is divorced with a daughter of his own. It doesn't take much for their feelings to reunite, but how can Dallas maintain her successful career, be a good mother,  and maintain a relationship with Grant, especially when her slimy ex turns up causing trouble. Will she be able to work it out, or will her story echo the one that her Aunt Beryl went through when she chose her career over the man she loved.

I really liked this one for a couple of reasons. I loved the idea that Dallas found a book that she wanted to do and that she was trying to find a way to do it in St Dennis. I also really enjoyed Beryl's story a lot!

Rating 4/5

Almost Home

Steffie Wyler is an ice-cream maker extraordinaire. She has always lived in St Dennis and she has no real desire to move anywhere else. She has a successful ice cream business called One Scoop or Two that is right on the waterfront, she is constantly coming up with new, divine sounding flavours. Really, her life is exactly what she imagined it would be when she was growing up, except for the bit where she thought she would be married to Wade MacGregor.

There is no doubt that there are still sparks between them, especially when Wade comes back to town for his friend's wedding. Wade has been building up a successful micro-brewery business in Texas and is in town for only a few days. Things are just heating up between Steffie and Wade when he receives a phone call and leaves town immediately, leaving Steffie confused and wondering what exactly happened.

When Wade comes back, it is with a small child in tow, which leaves her with even more questions. Was he married and is he divorced? Why has he closed his business down in Texas? How long is he staying in town this time?

Keeping secrets in a town like St Dennis is always difficult. The big question is what will happen when the truth comes out!

I have to say, one of the highlights of this book is all the flavours that Steffie comes up with for her shop. If I lived in St Dennis I would be at the ice cream shop just about every day.

Rating 4/5

Hometown Girl

When we first meet Brooke Madison Bowers in this series, it was in the context that she was the rival to Dallas MacGregor for Grant's affection back in high school. Brooke wasn't always the best person back in the day and that makes it difficult for the two women to be friends now. However, when their two boys become best buddies, it is time to put the past behind them. Brooke is doing her best to mend the relationships from the past, as well as helping her son to adjust to the fact that his daddy is never coming home, having been killed whilst serving overseas. In addition, she is trying to start a business of her own so that she can support herself and her son. She makes the most amazing sounding cupcakes! Fortunately part of her plan is to sell her cupcakes at Steffie's ice cream shop so I would only have to make one stop each day!

Jesse Enright has just moved to the town, hoping to earn a partnership in his grandfather's law firm. The Enright's have been members of the St. Dennis community for many generations, but Jesse had the misfortune to be the son of the black sheep of the family - a man that his grandparents disowned many years before. Jesse needs to prove to his grandfather that not only is he nothing like his father, but he is a good lawyer and that he will be a fine addition to the family business. He also wants to settle down with the right woman.

Unfortunately for Jesse, his right woman believes that she has had her one chance at happiness and that she will go it alone from now on, so he has to convince her that this is one time when she gets a second chance.

Rating 3.5/5

Home for the Summer

Lucy Sinclair is a successful wedding planner based in Los Angeles. She comes back to her hometown of St Dennis infrequently, claiming to be too busy with her business to come more regularly, but when she gets offered the chance to do a second celebrity wedding in town, she knows that the time has come when she has to face her demons, for the summer at least.

Clay Madison never quite figured out what happened with his friendship with Lucy. She was his best friend until something happened, and he had no clue what, and then she left town as soon as she could cutting nearly all ties. Now Clay is an organic farmer, working on a partnership to develop organic beers with Wade. Life is good for Clay, but he still thinks of Lucy as his what-if woman. When she comes back to town, he takes his chances to be with her, but she is so busy that it is difficult to find time, and she is so reluctant to talk about what changed between them all those years ago.

Whereas most of the other romances developed over a relatively short period, this one took longer to develop, which I think was the right thing to do for these two people, but I did find it distracting that the story jumped forward weeks at a time without any real indication to the reader and I do think think that the fact that I didn't really feel the chemistry between the two of them wasn't helped by the slowness of their relationship.

Rating 3/5

So there you have it! Check out my review of the latest book in the series, The Long Way Home, tomorrow.

Currently reading

The Little Russian by Susan Sherman, Reconstructing Jackson by Holly Bush and listening to Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

Up Next

Shadows and Stronghold by Elizabeth Chadwick

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Brownies ... two ways!

Today I am sharing two recipes for brownies. The first one is a new to me recipe but the other is one that I have made a few times now. My son loves them, my nephews loved them and so has pretty much everyone else who has tried them. I am making both recipes tonight, mainly because my son screwed his nose up at the idea of the first one!

First, the new recipe.

Just before Christmas UK publisher Choc-Lit had a series of short stories that were being released one at a time in the lead up to the big day. Each of the stories was really short, and each of them had a recipe that was included. This was one of those recipes. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I was going to have to try and make it because I love the combination of white chocolate and raspberry. The story associated with this one was appropriately called Raspberries by Jane Lovering.

White Chocolate, Lemon and Raspberry Brownies

250g white chocolate
75g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
zest of 1/2 lemon
125g sugar
2 large eggs
150g flour
150g raspberries, left whole*

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4

Melt the chocolate. Blend the butter, vanilla essence, lemon zest and sugar together.

Add the melted chocolate and the eggs to the mixture, then sift in the flour and then add the raspberries.

Add into a brownie pan and cook for approximately 30 mins and serve warm and gooey from the oven

*Raspberries are mega expensive here, so I used frozen raspberries which I had thawed earlier.

Other recipes that were part of the collection that I really wanted to try were Coca Cola cake, Banana Mousse and Cercle au Chocolat (Chocolate Ring) but I can't remember if I actually wrote those recipes down. I am going to have to go and look for recipes for when I want to try them!

I should add that mine took a lot longer than 30 minutes to cook! Not quite sure why, but they took forever! I think I must have stuffed up the measurements or something.

The other recipe is for Triple Choc Brownies and comes from an Australian Women's Weekly cookbook called Cook: How to Cook Absolutely Everything.

Triple Choc Brownies

125g melted butter
200g dark eating chocolate, melted*
1/2 cup (110g) caster suger (superfine sugar)
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/4 cups (185g) plain flour
150g white eating chocolate, chopped coarsely*
100g milk eating chocolate, chopped coarsely*

Preheat over to moderate (180C/160C fan-forced). Lightly grease and line deep 19cm square cake pan with baking paper.

Combine ingredients in large bowl. Spread mixture into pan: bake about 35 minutes or until mixture is firm to touch. Cool in pan.

* I am too lazy to do the chopping thing so I use dark chocolate melts and white and milk chocolate bits!

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