Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Spirits of the Ghan

Title: Spirits of the Ghan
Author: Judy Nunn
Publisher: 2 November 2015 by Random House Australia
Pages: 359 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, Australian
My Rating: 4 cups


Master storyteller Judy Nunn has now sold over 1 million books worldwide. In her spellbinding new bestseller she takes us on a breathtaking journey deep into the red heart of Australia. 
It is 2001 and as the world charges into the new Millennium, a century-old dream is about to be realised in the Red Centre of Australia: the completion of the mighty Ghan railway, a long-lived vision to create the 'backbone of the continent', a line that will finally link Adelaide with the Top End. 

But construction of the final leg between Alice Springs and Darwin will not be without its complications, for much of the desert it will cross is Aboriginal land. 

Hired as a negotiator, Jessica Manning must walk a delicate line to reassure the Elders their sacred sites will be protected. Will her innate understanding of the spiritual landscape, rooted in her own Arunta heritage, win their trust? It's not easy to keep the peace when Matthew Witherton and his survey team are quite literally blasting a rail corridor through the timeless land of the Never-Never.

When the paths of Jessica and Matthew finally cross, their respective cultures collide to reveal a mystery that demands attention. As they struggle against time to solve the puzzle, an ancient wrong is awakened and calls hauntingly across the vastness of the outback.

My Thoughts 
I am always eager to sample some of my fellow countrymen's tales, and Judy Nunn has long been on my list. Nunn has a huge following here in Australia and now, after sampling my first read of hers, I can understand why.  She has a most engaging style and, always a sucker for personal history narrative genres, I found this one really well done. Nunn seamlessly combined well researched history, Aboriginal culture, the great expanse of the Aussie Outback, all weaved together in engrossing personal stories. 

Chapters alternate throughout, especially in the first third of the book as separate scenarios are established. There are generational groups, Indigenous groups, colonial pastoralists, Afghan cameleers,  jazz musicians- just to name a few! The author’s research  especially concerning the Northern Territory was well done. However, the overall focus in on Jess, the young Aboriginal researcher, and Matt, the Adelaide surveyor. A great couple to follow.

My few issues concerned keeping track of the separate tales and hoping that by around 30% of the book they would all come together soon - and eventually they did. So you need to have your wits about you when reading and establishing characters, time periods and places. It is thorough, complex and thought provoking. My second concern came towards the end. Whilst on the one hand I appreciated Nunn's research and attempts to capture Aboriginal authenticity, at times, I found it a little too far fetched to my mind. 

Overall, however, I very much enjoyed the historical references, the characters and the Aussie Outback. If I found some portions a bit too fanciful for my taste, I just had to remind myself that it is a work of fiction. 

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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review: Prejudice and Pride

Title: Prejudice and Pride
Author: Lynn Messina
Publisher: 15 December 2015 by Potatoworks Press
Pages: 238 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance, chick  lit, retellings
My Rating: 4.5 cups


You know Darcy: rich, proud, standoffish, disapproving, one of the greatest romantic heroes of all time. But you don't know this Darcy because THIS Darcy is a woman. 

In PREJUDICE & PRIDE, Lynn Messina’s modern retelling with a gender-bendy twist, everything is vaguely familiar and yet wholly new. Bingley is here, in the form of Charlotte "Bingley" Bingston, an heiress staying at the Netherfield hotel on Central Park, as is Longbourn, transformed from an ancestral home into a perennially cash-strapped art museum on the edge of the city. Naturally, it employs an audacious fundraiser with an amused glint in his eye called Bennet. 

All the favorite characters are present and cleverly updated: Providing the cringe-worthy bon mots is Mr. Meryton, the nerve-wracked executive director of the Longbourn who’s always on the lookout for heiresses to join his museum’s very important committees. (Universally acknowledged truth: Any woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a social committee to chair.) Collin Parsons is still in obsequious, if ironic, awe of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The wicked Georgia Wickham toils as a graphic designer at Redcoat Design by day and schemes against Darcy by night. 

With her trademark wit and style, Lynn Messina takes the genres she does best—chick lit, mashups, and Regency romance—and weaves them into one delightfully entertaining tale that doubles as a fun guessing game.

My Thoughts

"Seriously, Darcy, you have to dance. You can't stand here by yourself all night glaring at everyone. You look ridiculous."

If you love 'Pride and Prejudice', and are not too much of a traditionalist, you will LOVE this book! I delighted in it and highly recommend it. This is a P&P adaptation set in today's world with all the pop culture #tags and references! Fun! I was a little bamboozled in the first thirty pages or so as there were many names and locations thrown at the reader. But persevere! It's modern with its "Instagramming selfies" and all!

What is most unique about this particular adaptation, is that nearly all the main characters from the original are flipped, that being, Darcy is a girl! (Elizabeth) Bennet is the boy! How original! This would have to be one of the most unique takes on a tale that has been told over and reinvented in so many forms; but this surely is an original and must be given credit for that. As much as an incentive as that may be, I just loved the whole mix together of flipped characters, humour, romance and thought it a great fun read that I tore through despite obviously knowing the outcome. Just goes to prove, it's all about the journey. 

"If that's really your definition of a well-rounded man, then I'm no longer surprised you know only six. I'm shocked you know any at all."

Messina cleverly parallels people, plot and circumstances and draws them into the modern world - you will recognise everything if you are a P&P lover. In fact, you will eagerly anticipate to see how certain famous confrontations are handled. This truly is a classic reinvented that I believe will appeal to both old and new readers alike. This is just a fun read! You get to see some favourite characters in a most fascinating way. Of course some of the characters and a few threads, lean on the somewhat exaggerated side, but I could overlook that, thinking how difficult it must have been to find a modern parallel for each and every situation. 

"And this", Darcy says...."is what you think of me! Thank you for explaining it so fully. Clearly, I'm an awful person."

If you love P&P and are open to a fresh and unique interpretation then this is the book for you. I loved it. 

"And your fault is a tendency to hate everybody."
"And yours," she replies..."is to deliberately misunderstand them."

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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review: An Empty Coast

Title: An Empty Coast
Author: Tony Park
Publisher: 1 November 2015 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 480 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, mystery, thriller, Africa
My Rating: 4 cups


Sonja Kurtz - former soldier, supposedly retired mercenary - is in Vietnam carrying out a personal revenge mission when her daughter sends a call for help.
Emma is on a dig at the edge of Namibia's Etosha National Park studying archaeology and she's discovered a body that dates back to the country's liberation war of the 1980s.
The remains, identified as Hudson Brand, are a key piece of a puzzle that will reveal the location of a modern-day buried treasure. A find people will kill for.
Sonja returns to the country of her birth to find Emma, but she's missing.
Former CIA agent Hudson Brand is very much alive and is also drawn back to Namibia to finally solve a decades-old mystery whose clues are entombed in an empty corner of the desert.

My Thoughts

Tony Park's novels are always page turners, set against an inspiring African backdrop. This one is no different. He uses his tried and true formula found in his novels - a fast moving thriller with deadly outcomes in exotic, yet often, dangerous African locations. This can be read as a standalone, however a couple of characters reappear after roles in previous books. 

'An Empty Coast' is set in Namibia and focusses on poaching and illegal international trade in rhino horn. I have read previous Park novels, but was particularly drawn to this one as I have lived in Namibia. So many memories came flooding back. He resounding details the beautiful, yet stark, landscapes of Etosha and Skeleton Coast National Parks. There is always an interesting plot, but I have to admit to being drawn to the lovingly described scenery and wildlife. 

"Etosha was starkly beautiful....a complete contrast to the lush bush and web of waterways that made up the Okavango".

These are fast paced reads - lots of action, leading to the ultimate major showdown between goodies and baddies, with a little sexual tension thrown in, making these not only readable, but engaging. Don't cast this aside as lacking substance. Tony Park novels contain much noteworthy commentary on a range of topics: the Asian/Russian involvement in illegal smuggling; Namibian history, the war of independence involving Namibia, Angola and South Africa; and, throwbacks to the original German occupation:

 "what we're doing here is confronting the past, not leaving it buried, where some people want it to stay".

It does take a little time for everything to fall into place - however, at about two thirds through, things really start to amp up and get interesting. I do enjoy his books and this was no exception.

"The small screen of the television didn't do justice to the majestic landscapes of Namibia, but all the same it moved something inside her to see the endless skies".

If you are intrigued about Africa and enjoy a well told thriller, then this is the book for you. Perfect mix. 

"Namibia has emerged as a beautiful, peaceful country and I'm proud to be here and proud to play a small part".

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, December 6, 2015

Review: The Other Half Of My Heart

Title: The Other Half Of My Heart
Author: Stephanie Butland
Publisher: 22 October 2015 by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary, drama
My Rating: 4 cups

“It smelled bittersweetly of sourdough, and there was the trace of hot, fresh bread in the air. She took a deep breath and unlocked the door”

Fifteen years ago Bettina May’s life’s veered off course in one disastrous night. Still reeling from the shock of losing everything she thought was hers, Bettina opens a bakery in a village and throws herself into the comfort of bread-making.

She spends her days kneading dough and measuring ingredients. She meets someone. She begins to heal.

Until someone who knows what happens that night walks into Bettina's bakery. In the pause of a heartbeat, fifteen years disappear and Bettina remembers a time she thought was lost for ever . . .

Can she ever go back?
My Thoughts

"My full name is Bettina May Randolph. When I was a teenager, I called myself Tina. Tina Randolph. I worked at the Flood stable in Missingham. And - something happened, and I've never really got over it."

I was pleasantly surprised with this read, it kept me interested right to the end and was certainly not your usual predictable ending, as there were some surprising twists along the way. The book cover and the title itself lead you to believe this is just another chick-lit type romance, but far from it. It's an emotional, bittersweet tale that delves into all types of relationships and the loves and loses that often come hand in hand with them.

"She's starting to want more ... she feels exposed ... which is the opposite of what she'e been for the last fifteen year. But - the quietest of voices suggests ... maybe it's time".

Bettina's life was forever altered after a terrible accident and she didn't think she could ever move on from it. There are so many varied relationships conveyed throughout this story that a person is bound to make a connection on some level. It's not just the romantic - old and new flames - but also family loyalties, that are tackled in this tale.

"The other half of her mind, that's buzzing like a wasp in an upturned wine glass, she's wondering whether she is just as trapped in the past as her mother much of what she does, she does because of what happened all that time ago".

The book is well written considering that it alternates between Bettina's past when she was known as Tina, to her contemporary life, until the two finally merge. It is realistic and engaging, as Butland cleverly portrays a very poignant story about how life can change in an instant with lasting consequences; and if those involved never fully process it, those pent up emotions can have long term repercussions. 

This is a book to get lost in as it's beautifully written and will take you on an emotional journey. 

"This is wordlessness without waiting, or punishment, or heavy unsaid words".

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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Dashing Through the Snow

Title: Dashing Through the Snow
Author: Debbie Macomber
Publisher: 19 November 2015 by Random House UK, Cornerstone
Pages: 256 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, holiday/Christmas, romance, chick lit
My Rating: 2.5 cups

Savor the magic of the season with #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber’s newest Christmas novel, filled with warmth, humor, the promise of love, and a dash of unexpected adventure.

Ashley Davison, a graduate student in California, desperately wants to spend the holidays with her family in Seattle. Dashiell Sutherland, a former army intelligence officer, has a job interview in Seattle and must arrive by December 23. Though frantic to book a last-minute flight out of San Francisco, both are out of luck: Every flight is full, and there’s only one rental car available. Ashley and Dash reluctantly decide to share the car, but neither anticipates the wild ride ahead.

At first they drive in silence, but forced into close quarters Ashley and Dash can’t help but open up. Not only do they find they have a lot in common, but there’s even a spark of romance in the air. Their feelings catch them off guard—never before has either been so excited about a first meeting. But the two are in for more twists and turns along the way as they rescue a lost puppy, run into petty thieves, and even get caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Though Ashley and Dash may never reach Seattle in time for Christmas, the season is still full of surprises—and their greatest wishes may yet come true.

My Thoughts
I just love Christmas books, and promise myself one such book at this time of year to help get me in the festive spirit. Let's put it out there right from the start, this is a fun, holiday romance.  I just loved that it was light and funny (I read it in a weekend) - no deep and meaningful to be found in this read. 

Sometimes you need those books - you know the kind - where you know exactly what is going to happen from the first moment they meet. This is about the journey to that destination and the fun things that happen along the way. It is silly, it is predictable - and that's okay, for that is the point of this story.

For me to read a book over a weekend is quite an accomplishment - but this is not a long read - in fact, just the right length for all the craziness that goes on. I liked the story and the characters enough to just accept it for what it was - no more, no less. There is talk is of a Hallmark movie in the USA, to which this could be perfectly adapted. 

'Dashing Through the Snow' is a lively short book, very fast to read, and I enjoyed it. If you like romantic Christmas books with a light plot, then you should give this one a try.

"Her plans had been thwarted in the most surprising of ways. Instead, she'd found herself dashing through the snow in a twist of fate".

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, November 14, 2015

Review: The Beach Hut by Cassandra Parkin

Title: The Beach Hut
Author: Cassandra Parkin
Publisher: 5 September 2015 by Legend Times Group
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups

It is autumn time and on a peaceful Cornish beach, Finn and his sister Ava defy planning regulations and achieve a childhood dream when they build themselves an illegal beach hut. This tiny haven will be their home until Ava departs at Midwinter for a round-the-world adventure. In the town, local publican Donald is determined to get rid of them. Still mourning the death of his wife, all he wants is a quiet place where he can forget the past and raise his daughter Alicia in safety. But Alicia is wrestling with demons of her own. As the sunshine fades and winter approaches, the beach hut stirs old memories for everyone. Their lives become entwined in surprising ways and the secrets of past and present are finally exposed.

My Thoughts

In a Cornish coastal town, two siblings have built an illegal beach hut, fulfilling their childhood dream. However, their bohemian lifestyle rocks some of the locals and intrigues others. Contrary to it's name, this is no light, refreshing beach read. Hidden secrets slowly unfold (a little too slowly for me at times), intermingled with flashback and fairytales makes this a rather complex read. All the threads slowly come together for dramatic twists by the end. This is a book all about relationships - of every variety - but mostly familial ones and learning to let go.  

"The time they'd wasted; the years they'd been robbed of. He thought he'd made his peace with all this years ago but now here it was again."

The story itself is very well written, yet a format of going back in time to the past and back to the present alternatively, for me, most definitely interrupted the flow. I have to confess to getting confused and in the end stopped clicking the contents page on my Kindle to check time spans. Each of the characters are fairly unique and multidimensional.  There is an extraordinarily strong bond between between brother an sister, Ava and Finn, but I also found this to be somewhat over the top and at times exceedingly eccentric. Individually, I found Ava and Finn fascinating, but put them together and it all becomes a bit of an eye roll for me. 

Finn's fairy tales (not the light, flippant variety, but rather the deep and meaningful kind) are interspersed among the chapters in this book and in some way relate to the characters of the story and what was going on or had happened in their life, as a way of explaining things. For me, the jury is still out on their inclusion.

Even with the ending of the story, you are left with mystery and melancholy and have to draw some conclusions yourself. Don't be mistaken, this is an emotional ride for the reader. However, for this reader, the journey branched out in too many places that I found it difficult to reconcile. However, it is well written, thoughtful and authentic, and for many, unforgettable.

"Together we're invincible," Finn said. Ava nodded. "Us two against the world."

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.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: The Adventuress

Author: Tasha Alexander

Publisher: 13 October 2015 by Minotaur Books/St Martins Press
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 2 cups
Emily and husband Colin have come to the French Riviera for what should be a joyous occasion - the engagement party of her lifelong friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and Amity Wells, an American heiress. But the merrymaking is cut short with the shocking death of one of the party in an apparent suicide. Not convinced by the coroner's verdict, Emily must employ all of her investigative skills to discover the truth and avert another tragedy.

My Thoughts

This was my first book by Tasha Alexander: knowing her to be an author of light historical fiction I had eagerly anticipated delving into this genre once more. I am unsure of what the other titles were like in the series, but this instalment I found to be predictable and the plot unconvincing. At times it was engaging but overall, a rather disappointing read.

Lady Emily and friends travel to Nice to celebrate the engagement of one of her closest friends whereupon,  murder and the ensuing investigation follow. As stated it was very disappointing that the identity of the murderer was fairly obvious so soon into the book. Therefore I felt it lacked any real mystery, even where the 'why' and 'how' were concerned. It would appear from reading other reviews, that many deducted who, how and why fairly quickly as well. But this provides me with two dilemmas: 1. the only incentive to continue reading, therefore, is from the enjoyment of traveling throughout the French Riviera in the Victorian era (something that was written about reasonably well); and, 2. if I, and countless others, figured it out so early on in the piece, why didn't the clever Lady Emily?

"the obvious solution is not always the correct one." 

Sadly, this red herring was not enough and yes! it was that obvious. You could not help but pine for more suspense and mystery; for even if it were a character based study, some of the secondary characters were lacking charm. Amity, in fact her entire family inclusive of strange brother, were unlikeable. I found the ending to be most unsatisfactory, in fact to my mind, it bordered on ridiculous at times. Strange, weird, rather neatly and clinically wrapped up. 

Having read other Victorian era based murder mysteries, I found this to be rather the poor cousin.

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, October 18, 2015

Review: Wild Lands

Wild Lands 

Author: Nicole Alexander
Publisher: 1 September 2015 by Random House Australia
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups
From bestselling author Nicole Alexander comes an epic novel of bravery, loyalty and impossible love that takes the reader on a spellbinding journey from the streets of early Sydney to the heart of Australia's wild, untamed lands.

New South Wales, 1838, and settlers in search of fertile country are venturing far outside the colony. Literally cutting a swathe through the bush with their bare hands, they lay claim to territory beyond government jurisdiction - and the reach of the law. 

As she accepts a position on one such farm, seventeen-year-old Kate Carter is unaware she is entering a land of outlaws, adventurers and murderous natives.

Because the first people of this new world will no longer accept the white man's advance, and retaliatory attacks on both sides have made it a frontier on the brink of war.

Into Kate's path comes Bronzewing, a young white man schooled by a settler family yet raised within an Aboriginal tribe. Caught between two worlds, Bronzewing strives to protect his adopted people and their vanishing civilisation.

But as he and Kate will discover, 'beyond the outer limits' is a beautiful yet terrifying place, where it's impossible to know who is friend and who is enemy . . .
My Thoughts
"This land belonged to others while in contrast the settlers tried to impose their will on a mysterious place and its people. No good could come of such behaviour."
Let me state it from the outset, I loved 'Wild Lands'. This was my first Nicole Alexander book and I was most impressed. The descriptions are rich and vivid; the characters true and deep; the story strong and heartbreaking. In essence this is a tale of early life in the 1800s in Australia in which white settlers began to expand their habitation beyond the coast and the heartbreak of the Aboriginal people seeing it taken by force.
"The mountains are a buffer from the vast wilds on the other side. The thought of all that immeasurable space stretching towards a setting sun intrigued Kate. 'What's out there?' 'Natives, escaped convicts, bushrangers. I pity a man who must travel to the beyonds."
The story really flowed as characters, settings and scenarios came together and held my attention throughout all of the 400 plus pages. Initially its a story of two journeys - Kate and Adam - as both the white and Aboriginal perspectives are explored. I was in eager anticipation of when their paths would finally cross. Kate is such a strong character you cannot help but admire her.
"Kate only saw two roads that could be taken: abide by her decision to leave and start a new life, whatever that may be, or remain where she was and live as a hypocrite."
And I have to admit that Adam's journey was particularly moving:
"The stars were his ceiling, the warm earth his bed and he was subject to no-one."
 "Adam strides two worlds while we sit safely within ours."
Nicole Alexander's knowledge of the Australian outback is rich and luscious. She details the beauty and danger in words than easily bring to mind the range of locations presented. The history contained here is well researched and keeps you guessing to see what would happen next when fictional characters are poured into the mix. Even if you are familiar with Australian history or someone who would like to delve deeper into the 'Wild Lands' of Australia and the whole black versus white issue, then I urge you to consider this book.
"All people must realise that assimilation is the only way. 'But how can we all live together if we're not prepared to see another's point of view?"
I found it to be a really well thought out novel exploring the good and bad in both sides with characters that will stay with you long after you finish reading. In fact, I wish there was more, for I would love to learn 'where to from here' for many of the characters. And as for Kate's final speech, it's fabulously delivered to those men:
"The law?" Kate spat the word out. "What law, sir?" .... "That is quite enough are overwrought and should return to the house immediately". "No, it is not enough. It is by far not enough." .....
"You are choosing a criminal over justice, the civilised over the uncivilised world."  
"For a long time now the two have been blurred to me."
This story is really very powerful and I highly recommend adding it to your reading list.

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.