Review: Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

 

Title: Zac and Mia

Author: A.J. Betts

Published: HMH Books for Young Readers September 2014

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Status: Read from September 11 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A.J. Betts won the Text Prize for YA and Children’s Writing in 2012 for her unpublished manuscript of Zac and Mia. Set in Western Australia, it is the story of two teenagers who meet while receiving treatment for cancer.

Seventeen year old Zac Meier is partway through an enforced period of isolation after a bone marrow transplant to treat his second re-occurrence of acute myeloid leukemia. Stuck in the adult oncology ward, with only his mother and the nurses asking about his bowel movements for company, when a blast of Lady Gaga penetrates the thin adjoining wall of his hospital room, Zac is intrigued by his new neighbour, Mia.
Before her diagnosis of osteosarcoma Mia gave little thought to the future but she could never have imagined she would face it as a ‘one legged freak’. Furious with everyone and everything, including herself, and desperate to deny the reality of her situation, Mia tries to run as far away as she can from her old life.

The narrative is shared between the perspectives of Zac and Mia. Betts characterisation is credible and I felt her portrayal of her protagonist’s emotions and behaviours was realistic.

Zac is an easy character to like, he is sweet, thoughtful and deals with the indignities cancer treatment forces upon him graciously. His family is supportive, with his mother rarely leaving his bedside. He has a sense of humour about his situation, and remains hopeful even despite his bleak odds of long term survival.

“I don’t moan about treatment because what’s the point? The way I figure it, this is just a blip. The average life span for an Australian male is currently seventy nine years or 948 months. This hospital stay, plus the rounds of chemo and the follow up visits, add up to about nine months. That’s only 1.05 percent of my life spent with needles and chemicals, which, put into perspective, is less that one of the tiles of the eighty-four on the ceiling. So, in the scheme of things, it’s nothing.”

Mia is a seemingly less sympathetic character, she is bitter, angry and absorbed by her own misery after her diagnosis, however I never held that against her. In truth, Mia is simply terrified and, completely overwhelmed, lashes out indiscriminately.

“Lucky?
While my friends were dancing at Summadayze, I was kept in observation with intravenous morphine. I pitched in and out of the world, visited by shrinks who attempted to talk about change and perspective and body image and luck. Then they hooked me up to more chemo. I couldn’t eat, wouldn’t talk, didn’t watch when the wound was unbandaged or the staples taken out. I tried to trick myself beyond my fucked-up body, slipping between vivid dreams until the morphine was taken away and I was left to live like this.”

The relationship that develops between Zac and Mia is well crafted and believable. Despite their differences, the pair form a tentative friendship, starting with a few taps on the hospital wall dividing them. It isn’t until Mia unexpectedly turns up on Zac’s doorstep once he is home though that the pair really begin to get to know one another.

While there is a touch of romance, it is important to note that Zac and Mia isn’t a love story. This is a story about friendship, understanding, family and finding the strength to face life’s difficult challenges. It is poignant and sweet, though Betts doesn’t gloss over the darker realities of battling cancer.

The comparisons between Zac and Mia and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars are almost inevitable given the similar premise, so I think it is important to point out that author interviews have them drafting their novels at about the same time and published only months apart (Text publishing 2012) . I loved The Fault In Our Stars but of the two, I think Zac and Mia is the more genuine story.

Zac and Mia is available to purchase from

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Review: Can You Keep a Secret? by Caroline Overington

 

Title: Can You Keep a Secret?

Author: Caroline Overington

Published: Random House AU September 2014

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Status: Read from September 09 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

It happens on very rare occasions that I can’t quite figure out how to articulate my thoughts about a book. I have written and rewritten my thoughts about Can You Keep A Secret? a half a dozen times and still can’t pull together anything cohesive.

I think it is because I didn’t like it for reasons that are purely emotive. I know that when I finished the last page I dropped my Kindle in a mixture of frustration and incredulity. Some sort of trust had been broken between the author and myself that I can only partially attribute to the protagonist’s ‘secret’, and feels too complicated to explain.

Can You Keep a Secret? is available to purchase from

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Also by Caroline Overington reviewed at Book’d Out


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Review: The French Prize by Cathryn Hein

 

Title: The French Prize

Author: Cathryn Hein

Published: MIRA: Harlequin AU September 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from September 10 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
The French Prize is a contemporary romantic adventure set in Provence, a change of pace for author Cathryn Hein who has a reputation for her heartwarming Australian rural romance novels.

Dr Olivia Walker is a historian obsessed with finding the mythical sword, Durendal, said to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court. When she is employed by the wealthy Raimund Blacard to recover La Tasse due Chevalier Gris, ‘The Cup of the Grey Knight’, she is one step closer to realising her dream and silencing her detractors, for etched around the rim is a clue to legendary sword’s location.
For centuries the descendants of one of Charlemagne’s most trusted aides, Guy of Nabonne, have been the guardians of Durendal but in the 14th century its hiding place was lost. Foreign Legion Captain Raimund Blacard is the last of his family line and he is determined to recover the sword before his murderous rival Gaston, and to Olivia’s horror, destroy it.

In part, The French Prize is an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt for a lost relic as Olivia and Raimund search for the clues that will lead them to Durendal. The sword, and the legends of Roland and Charlemagne, are historical facts which have been incorporated into the story and then blended with Hein’s imagination.

If I am honest the romance was a touch heavy for me personally with all the yearning and the brooding, it didn’t quite overwhelm the plot but I did feel like it threatened to on occasion. That said, the chemistry, relationship development and conflict between Olivia and Raimund was believable within the context of the story.

Olivia, as a passionate historian who has chased the legend of Durendal for most of her life, is horrified by Raimund’s plans to destroy the sword and hopes to convince him to spare it. She naively refuses to let the hunt go, even with Gaston posing a very real threat, but proves capable and resourceful.
Raimund is all about duty and honour but his elder brother’s murder at the hands of Gaston has him swearing to destroy the sword, despite his family’s legacy of guardianship. Grieving and weary, he sees himself as cursed which is why he rebuffs Olivia despite their obvious mutual attraction.

Hein’s settings are nicely realised, from the landscape of the French countryside to the hidden room storing Raimund’s family treasures, her characters are well drawn and the plot is neatly crafted. Combining romance with well paced action and suspense, The French Prize is an engaging novel.

 

The French Prize is available to purchase from

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Also by Cathryn Hein reviewed at Book’d Out

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Review: Already Dead by Jaye Ford

 

Title: Already Dead

Author: Jaye Ford

Published: Random House AU September 2014

Status: Read on September 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“She was waiting for traffic lights at the start of rush hour on a Monday afternoon when a man opened her front passenger door, got in and pointed a gun at her chest…
‘Drive’.”

Miranda Jack (Jax) is stunned when a strange man climbs into her car and forces her to drive north on the highway at gunpoint. He is highly agitated, pressing the gun barrel into her ribs while looking frantically over his shoulder, and when Jax asks what he wants, who he is, he roars at her; I’m already dead. That’s my name now. That’s what they called me. That’s me. Nice to meet you. I’m Already Dead.”
Two hours later, Jax stands trembling on the roads edge, the man’s gun in her hand, surrounded by police, and trying to understand what just happened. Brendan Walsh, her abductor, is dead, and Jax is wondering how much of what he told her during their crazed journey is true. The investigating detective seems certain that Brendan’s ravings can be dismissed as the paranoid delusions of a soldier suffering PTSD but Jax, a journalist, isn’t so sure. She needs answers… but the questions she is asking may prove deadly.

Thrilling from the very first page, Already Dead, is an exciting tale of suspense. I read it in a single sitting, absorbed by the intensity of emotion, the fast paced action and the complex characterisation.

Jax is an interesting protagonist. Still struggling with her husband’s unsolved murder barely 12 months earlier, it is because she has no answers about his death that she becomes obsessed with investigating Brendan’s. Ford brilliantly captures Jax’s vacillating emotions through out the story creating a believable and appealing character who draws on her instincts and inner strength to expose the truth.

Ford’s exploration of the issues associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Already Dead gives added depth to this work of crime fiction. Walsh has struggled to readjust to civilian life after two tours in Afghanistan and people are quick blame PTSD for his accusations. Jax, in the wake of the abduction, is also suffering from the disorder’s symptoms – nightmares and anxiety, exacerbated by her still fresh grief and a history of tragedy. After her ordeal Jax, and Detective Aiden Hawke, are quick to dismiss her continuing sense of unease as a reaction to the stress, allowing events to quickly spiral out of control.

Well crafted with page turning appeal, Jaye Ford’s fourth novel, Already Dead, is a gripping psychological thriller. You will never feel safe idling at traffic lights again.

 

Already Dead is available to purchase from

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Also by Jaye Ford reviewed at Book’d Out


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Review: Craven by Melanie Casey

 

Title: Craven {Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson #2}

Author: Melanie Casey

Published: Pantera Press May 2014

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Status: Read from August 29 to 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Craven, by Melanie Casey, is the sequel to Hindsight, featuring Cass Lehman, a woman with the psychic gift of retrocognition, and South Australian police detective, Ed Dyson.

As the book opens we learn that Cass has taken the leap and left home, securing a teacher’s position at a college in Adelaide. Cass is hoping for a fresh start but during her very first lesson she is recognised by her students and almost immediately becomes a target of gossip and derision.
Ed is conspicuously absent, it seems their romance stalled in the intervening months, though we soon learn that Ed is also in Adelaide, working with a local command on a year long secondment, and when Cass’s car is painted in blood with ‘Freak’ scrawled across the windshield he is the first person she calls. Thrown together as Cass’s stalker grows more violent, Cass is inevitably drawn into Ed’s latest case – a search for a serial killer.

Though I still really like concept of this series I was disappointed by the execution of this novel. I had issues with the uneven pacing and with what I felt were several underdeveloped elements in the plot. There was too much focus on the mundane details of Ed’s often circular investigation, and the obnoxiousness of his new partner. The identification of the stalker taunting Cass seemed come from nowhere since he barely rated a mention in the story.

The killer did have an interesting story and his motivations were suitably dark and twisted. There were moments of high tension, though much of the real action is crammed into the last few chapters when Cass is once again at the mercy of an insane murderer.

Despite the flaws in Craven I am still intrigued by the potential of this series and I hope Casey regains her footing in the third installment.

 

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Review: Mothers and Daughters by Kylie Ladd

 

Title: Mothers and Daughters

Author: Kylie Ladd

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2014

Status: Read from September 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

A thought provoking and provocative story, Mothers and Daughters is Kylie Ladd’s fourth novel.

Caro, Fiona and Morag, joined by daughters Janey, Bronte and Macy, are looking forward to a weeks holiday near Broome to catch up with close friend Amira, and her daughter Tess. It should be a week of relaxation and recreation, but as the days pass, tension between mothers and daughters, and between the girls, rises, testing the bonds of family and friendships.

A novel driven by theme and character rather than plot, Kylie Ladd explores the complicated dynamics between mothers and their teenage daughters and the many issues that divide and unite them.

The relationship between Fiona and Bronte is one of the most interesting, I think. Fiona, hyper critical of her daughter, often laments that Bronte is nothing like her but in fact it is the similarities between them that provokes her. Bronte’s meekness reflects the powerlessness Fiona feels in her life and her marriage in particular and she directs her anger and resentment about the situation at her daughter. Despite Fiona’s blunt and often crass demeanor, exacerbated by her fondness for a drink, I developed some sympathy for her, and was happy to see the seeds of change.

Janey is the least likeable of the group, typifying the worst traits of teen ‘mean’ girls- vain, thoughtless, and self involved. Whereas Fiona is hyper critical of Bronte, Janey’s mother, Caro, eventually admits to willfully overlooking her daughters faults.

“I’ve been too soft on her. I’ve always told her how beautiful and clever she is, and now she believes it….I wanted her to be perfect, because it made me look good, so I acted as if she was.”

Ladd also explores the way that we often reflect our own experience of being mothered in our relationships with our daughters. Caro is anxious about being a perfect mother because hers never had the chance, Fiona essentially estranged from her own mother, has no idea how to close the gap between herself and Bronte.

Mothers and Daughters also comments on the way in which modern city/suburban life has encroached on our relationships with our children, underscored by the contrast between the relationship between Amira and Tess and the relationships between the mothers and daughters that remained in Melbourne.

Through the differing perspectives of Ladd’s characters, other issues raised in the novel include friendship, step-parenting, sex, marriage, home, and social issues such as cyber-bullying. Inspired by the setting, Ladd also explores racism and indigenous culture and community.

I glimpse elements of my own relationship with my mother, and my teenage daughter, in this story of these women and girls, and pieces of mothers and daughters I have known in the characters.

Mothers and Daughters is available to purchase from

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Also by Kylie Ladd {click the cover for my review}

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Review: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

 

Title: Golden Boys

Author: Sonya Hartnett

Published: Hamish Hamilton: Penguin Au August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 26 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

When the affluent Jenson family move in to the neighborhood they quickly attract the attention of the local children. Colt and Bastian have a playroom full of toys, a swimming pool and a charismatic father, all of which they seem prepared to share. The Jenson home quickly becomes a haven for twelve year old Freya and the neighborhood boys, Avery, Garrick and brothers Syd and Declan, eager to escape their working class homes marred by violence, poverty and neglect, but before long the boys sense something is not quite right, and the golden aura of the Jensons begins to tarnish.

Golden Boys is set in the early to mid 1970’s, in an outer suburban locale, a landscape familiar to readers who freely roamed their neighborhood during long summer days. It explores the complex dynamics of family, childhood and friendship, and the disquieting undercurrent of violence and abuse seething beneath their ordinary facade.

Freya Kiley, struggling to understand her large family’s dynamic, sees Rex Jenson as a possible saviour, but her brother’s, Declan and Syd, begin to sense Rex is not quite what he seems. Colt is all too aware of his father’s failings but at a loss as to how to admit, or cope with them. Garrick has no such hesitation, the neighborhood bully, he, like most children, is simply certain that someone has to pay for doing wrong by him.

With finely crafted characters and evocative storytelling threaded with subtle tension, Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys is an artful novel.

Golden Boys is available to purchase from

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Review: When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett

 

Title: When The Night Comes

Author: Favel Parrett

Published: Hachette August 2014

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Status: Read from August 25 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Favel Parrett’s debut, Past the Shallows, caught the imagination of the Australian literary community in 2011. When the Night Comes is her highly anticipated second novel, in which Parrett tells the story of Isla and Bo whose lives are briefly entwined during the late 1980’s.

Twelve year old Isla has recently arrived in Hobart with her newly divorced mother and younger brother. A quiet and thoughtful girl she isn’t finding it easy to adjust, feeling dislocated and lonely.
Bo is a Danish galley chef on the ‘Nella Dan’, a supply ship sailing regularly between Tasmania and Antarctica. He loves the rhythm of life at sea, is awed by the majesty of Antarctica, and takes pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Bo and Isla meet when Bo becomes Isla’s mother’s lover over a period of 18 months or so during his periods ashore and When The Night Comes explores their brief connection, in amongst a series of life changing events.

Parrett is skilled at creating vivid scenes for the reader that also reverberate with emotion,

“…when I reach the top the view hits me with full force. the whole of the rich blue bay, still. Perfect. Nella Dan there in her spot, reflecting red off the water. the Sky cloudless. Giant white cliffs running on and on, then out to the horizon, icebergs for as far as you can see. Icebergs lined up for all of time, blue and brilliant white taking up the whole scene. Every blue that there is – that exists. One million shades of blue – and white. The scale of it all measured against me, one man standing here. Just one man, small and breathless.”

I have to admit at about a quarter of the way through the novel I actually wondered if I could finish the book, finding the often disjointed prose and repetitive phrasing irritating. However by the half way mark I’d finally settled into the dreamlike rhythm of the narrative and gained as appreciation for its unique tempo. I eliminated all distractions (i.e. sent the kids to bed) and began again, reading it straight through this time absorbed by the bitter chill, the moving water and the growing light.

When the Night Comes is a quietly powerful novel that demands all of the reader’s attention, and rewards those that give it willingly.

When the Night Comes is available to purchase from

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Review: Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Moonlight Plains

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

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Status: Read from August 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Continuing her loosely linked series featuring the Fairburn family, Barbara Hannay presents Moonlight Plains, an engaging romance which blends a contemporary and historical narrative.

In 1942, as the Japanese threaten the coast of North Queensland, nineteen year old Kitty Martin is sent to Moonlight Plains, the home of her widowed great uncle, far west of Townsville. Kitty, frustrated to be thwarted in her desire to assist in the war effort, is only in residence for a few weeks when two US airmen, blown off course, are forced to ditch their planes at the isolated property, and she finds herself facing tragedy… and heartbreak.
Nearly seventy years later, Kitty is glad her grandson is restoring the faded grandeur of the homestead at Moonlight Plains and quietly pleased that her young friend Sally Piper, a journalist, has taken an interest both in the project, and Luke Fairburn. Kitty only hopes that with the restoration of the past, she can keep hidden her own long held secret that could ruin everything.

Kitty’s wartime narrative reveals a bittersweet love story, of risks taken and hearts broken. Kitty’s 70 year old secret is easily guessed but I really liked her storyline which is sweet and poignant and I felt for Kitty confronted with a difficult choice in a difficult time.

The development of Sally and Luke’s contemporary relationship follows a familiar path, their physical attraction eventually leads to deeper feelings though neither are willing to admit it. I could understand Sally’s hesitance, though I thought the specific reason for her feelings of guilt was an odd aside.

I didn’t think Luke’s reaction to his grandmother’s secret was entirely in keeping with his character. A moment of pique I could understand but his hurt feelings, even in light of his relationship with Sally, seemed excessive. Laura’s reaction to the cache of secret letters written by her father to Kitty was more believable given she lacked the context of the relationship and was still grieving both her father’s passing and bitter over her recent marital breakdown.

I often forget that WW2 was also fought on our shores (I’ve complained before about the failure of the Australian curriculum to focus on the conflicts that occurred on our own soil when I was at school) and so I appreciated the brief glimpse from Hannay of its effects on Townsville and its residents. I also found it easy to visualise the restored grandeur of the old Queenslander at Moonlight Plains, nestled within its bush setting.

A winsome novel, Moonlight Plains seamlessly weaves together a lovely story of love lost and gained. This is another delightful rural romance from Barbara Hannay, following on from Zoe’s Muster and Home Before Sundown.

Moonlight Plains is available to purchase from

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Click on the covers to read my reviews of


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Review & Giveaway: Quick by Steve Worland

 

Title: Quick

Author: Steve Worland

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Steve Worland’s newest novel, Quick, is a fast paced, octane fueled thrill ride set in the exciting world of international motor sport.

After a spectacular career ending crash, former V8 Supercar driver Billy Hotchkiss joined the police force hoping for opportunities to sate his craving for the adrenalin rush racing once gave him and when he stumbles across a diamond heist in action, he doesn’t hesitate to jump into the fray. Billy’s heroics captures the attention of Interpol who think he is the ideal candidate to track down the diamond thieves, convinced the Melbourne heist is connected to a series of diamond thefts by a crew associated with the Formula 1 World Championship. Billy, along with his reluctant partner, Claude, is sent in undercover, joining the ‘Iron Rhino’ racing team, and they begin closing in on the criminals, only to uncover an explosive secret. Suddenly, Billy and Claude find themselves racing along the streets of Monte Carlo to save thousands of spectators before everything crashes and burns.

Though I am not generally a fan of motor sport, I was caught up in the fast paced excitement from the opening pages of Quick. From Billy’s spectacular crash on Mount Panorama to his surfing an armoured truck being dragged down Melbourne’s busy streets and later sliding down the roof of the Mall of Emirates while being chased by a Uzi wielding diamond thief, the action is non stop both on and off the track. There are explosions, gunfights, car chases and car races, plus a black panther and a damsel in distress.

Worland’s fearless hero, Billy, is a likeable protagonist, forthright with a dry Aussie sense of humour. He misses the adrenaline rush of racing and, having survived a near fatal accident, isn’t afraid to take risks as he tries to stop ‘The Three Champions’ in their tracks. Billy is teamed with veteran Interpol agent Claude, a dour Frenchman who is initially unhappy with the assignment and his reckless new partner, but eventually see’s things Billy’s way.

I compared Worland’s Velocity to Con Air and Combustion to Die Hard 4, Quick could perhaps be described as a cross between The Fast and the Furious and Speed Racer, but there really isn’t anything quite like this on the big screen and there probably should be.

Quick is the perfect Father’s Day gift for race fans or anyone who appreciates a rip-roaring and racy adventure thriller. Take Quick for a spin, and enjoy!

 

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Also by Steve Worland

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