Review: Springtime by Michelle de Kretser

 

Title: Springtime: A Ghost Story

Author: Michelle de Kretser

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Picking up her pace, Frances saw a woman in the leaf-hung depths of the garden. She wore a long pink dress and a wide hat, and her skin was a creamy white. There came upon Frances a sensation that sometimes overtook her when she was looking at a painting: space was foreshortened, time stood still.

When Frances met Charlie at a party in Melbourne he was married with a young son.

Now she and Charlie live in Sydney with her rescue dog Rod and an unshakeable sense that they have tipped the world on its axis. They are still getting their bearings – of each other and of their adopted city. Everything is alien, unfamiliar, exotic: haunting, even.”

Status: Read on October 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I requested this for review because though I own de Kretser’s award winning Questions of Travel I have yet to read it.

Springtime is an introspective little piece – a short story, (presented in hardcover, smaller than a mass paperback with largish type) rather than a novella.

It is a brief portrait of a woman facing the uncertainty and impermanence of change, time and fate. The tone is ethereal, the language graceful but it didn’t really speak to me beyond that.

 

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Review: I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton

 

Title: I’ll Be Watching You

Author: Beverly Barton

Published: Avon UK October 2014

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Status: Read from October 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton is a romantic suspense novel with elements of erotica and mystery. After spending fifteen years in jail for a crime he did not commit, Reed Conway is determined to return to Spring Creek and prove his innocence by outing whoever really slit his step father’s throat. When Ella Porter, the daughter of the man who secured Reed’s conviction, receives a vulgar and threatening anonymous letter the day after Reed is paroled, Reed is an immediate suspect but after Ella confronts him, she As threats against the Porter family escalate Ella, swayed by Reed’s sexy charm, begins to believe in his claim that he is being framed now, as he was fifteen years ago, but can she really trust a man convicted of murder with her life?

Unfortunately I wasn’t terribly impressed with this story. The plot resembles a daytime soap opera arc with the a small cast tangled in an almost incestuous web of abuse, deceit, betrayal, adultery, obsession, and murder. The suspense is okay but the plot shocks are fairly heavily foreshadowed and when the killer’s identity was revealed, I realised I wasn’t surprised in the least.

The narrative is written in the third person using multiple perspectives, including that of the anonymous killer. If I am honest, I didn’t find any of the the characters very convincing as individuals, not helped by their convoluted relationships to one another.
Nearly thirty and a circuit judge, Ella Porter lacked the presence or personality I would expect from such an accomplished, mature woman. She’s a daddy’s girl, believing him to be infallible and completely clueless about the state of her parents marriage. And despite believing that Reed is a killer who plans to harm her, she dissolves anytime Reed looks her way.
Reed is described appealingly “A good six three. Broad shoulders. Biceps bulging…surprisingly tanned…thick tawny hair curled about his neck and ears…A lazy, raw sensuality oozed from his pores.” However the moment he is distracted by Ella he completely forgets about searching for the killer who framed him, despite spending the last 15 years in prison waiting for his opportunity to prove his innocence.
The chemistry between them is a bit contrived (bad boy meets good girl) but the erotic scenes are written well enough, if a little florid. Be aware that Ella and Reed aren’t the only couple to share some steamy moments, and there are several erotic encounters through the book.

There is a distinct southern small town feel to the setting, both through the use of double barreled first names like Jeff Henry and Joe Brierly and the brief descriptions of the town and its social structure. The language is a bit odd though, sometimes feeling very stilted and formal for such a contemporary setting. I think it was an attempt by the author to distinguish between class – but it just came off as weird.

Though I’ll Be Watching You didn’t really work for me, it was a quick and undemanding read. it seems to have an appreciative audience from readers who enjoy the soap opera style melodrama and sexy bits, so if that is you..enjoy!

 

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About: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

 

Title: A Sudden Light

Author: Garth Stein

Published: Simon & Schuster October 2014

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

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Review: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

 

Title: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead

Author: Rebecca James

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Cooper Bartholomew’s broken body is found at the base of a cliff his death is declared a suicide but Libby, Cooper’s girlfriend, refuses to believe him capable of it. Desperate to understand what led him to the edge, Libby retraces Cooper’s last hours, eventually unraveling a tale of betrayal, jealousy, and shocking secrets.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Cooper, Libby, Sebastian and Claire, and shifts between ‘then’, detailing the events that led up to Cooper’s death, and ‘now’, exposing its aftermath.

Though well paced, the novel lacked much of the tension I had been expecting, this is more of a psychological drama than a thriller. I found the plot fairly predictable and while the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, when finally revealed, are emotionally powerful, they didn’t come as a surprise to me. However, I found the narrative very compelling, due in no small part to my investment in the characters.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

An engaging read about friendship, first love, loss and lies, I really enjoyed Cooper Bartholomew is Dead. This is Rebecca James’ third novel following on from Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage.

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Review: Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Carroll

 

Title: Love Me or Leave Me

Author: Claudia Carroll

Published: Avon: Harper Collins UK October 2014

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Status: Read from October 09 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the The Light Brigade/publisher}

My Thoughts:

“A divorce hotel. Where you check in married and check out single….This would be a place where two unhappy souls could quickly tie up loose ends and where something that had long been a source of acute pain to both, could gently be eased out if its misery. At least that was the general idea.”

Claudia Carroll’s 11th book, Love Me or Leave Me, is a lively romantic comedy about love, betrayal, divorce and new beginnings. Chloe Townsend is certain she has the professional experience, and personal empathy as a jilted bride, to make Dublin’s newest luxury niche hotel catering to amicably divorcing couples a success and she is determined to ensure its opening weekend will prove it. But true love, and its dissolution, never runs smooth, and with her boss hovering over her shoulder, and her ex-fiance making an appearance, the honeymoon period might be over before its even begun.

The narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Chloe, and three of the guests, Dawn, Jo and Lucy, who slowly reveal why they believe their short marriages have reached crisis point. Dawn, young and heartbroken, can’t forgive her husband, Kirk, who is embroiled in an affair; Jo, a control freak struggling with infertility, regards Dave, an often out of work actor, as irresponsible; and supermodel Lucy believes her marriage to Andrew has disintegrated due to his grown children’s sabotage. Of course none of the women are entirely blameless, and almost uniformly the men are reluctant partners in the divorce.

“There is his story, her story and then somewhere in the middle lies the truth.”

As the weekend develops, the couples are forced to confront each other and deal with their mistakes and misunderstandings. Carroll presents their issues sensitively but also with plenty of humour. There is a frisson of suspense built up as reconciliation seems possible for some of the couples, and plenty of drama, from screaming arguments to medical emergencies.

With well drawn characters, and plenty of humour and heart, Love Me or Leave Me is an engaging and entertaining novel where everyone gets their happy ever after.

 

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Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

 

Title: Dear Committee Members

Author: Julie Schumacher

Published: The Friday Project: Harper Collins UK October 2014

Status: Read from October 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Presented wholly in epistolary form, Dear Committee Members is a short, witty novel exposing the weary cynicism of an aging college English and Creative Writing professor under siege from budget cuts, rampant bureaucracy, renovations, online forms and desperate students.

Over a year Professor Jason Fitger writes many letters, spurning the modern day convenience of email where possible, to complain about the lavish renovations occurring on the floor above him in the Economics department while the Humanties department slowly suffocates among the dust, to lobby whomever he can think of, enemy or no, to grant his favoured writing student a fiduciary break, and to recommend both past and present graduates, some of whom he has never met, for jobs they are wildly over qualified for.

Into each missive creeps increasingly brutally honest snippets of Jay’s frustrations with his stalled writing career and his disastrous love life, his contempt for university politics, and his dismay at the dwindling esteem for language and literature. Though painted as an opinionated, surly curmudgeon, it becomes obvious that Fitger is also a passionate and dedicated teacher whom wants the respect he feels his department and its denizens deserve.

Bitterly funny and surprisingly poignant, Dear Committee Members is a scathing commentary on the foibles of academic administration, and an eloquent argument for the rescue of Humanties studies.

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Review: The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

 

Title: The Night Garden

Author: Lisa Van Allen

Published: Ballantine: Random House October 2014

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Status: Read from October 06 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

“To visit the Pennywort farm was to be reminded of everything in the world that was beautiful and bountiful…luxurious and endlessly good.”

In upstate New York, Olivia Pennywort tends the family farm and the remarkable garden maze that she has created as a haven at its heart. It is said that the maze offers its visitors the answers to their most difficult questions, but it affords no such benefit to its caretaker who harbours a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. Over the years, Olivia has schooled herself to accept that there is no solution to her problem, but when Olivia’s childhood best friend and sweetheart, Sam Van Winkle, returns to town, her fiercest desires are rekindled and she is compelled to ask herself if the garden she has created is her protector, or her prison.

Van Allen’s prose is often lyrical, with vivid imagery of the garden and its surrounds. I could easily visualise the bordered up house, the stone walled garden of poisonous plants and the ramshackle cottage where Olivia’s father made his home, though I wish I had a better knowledge of horticulture to fully appreciate the individual design of the maze.

” As she approached the garden maze, she saw that it too had gone wild with the joy of the rains. The smell of flowers was so thick it crossed the line from pleasant into nearly repulsive. Inside, Olivia wound through the twists and turns, admiring how rambunctious and joyful her maze seemed, as if it were spring instead of late summer. Morning glories the size of dinner plates stayed open all day long, and thickened beds of coreopsis gave off a mustardly glow. There was a slight breeze that carried the faintest scent of autumn, and far beneath the sweetness, the mineral scent of winter.”

Though billed as magical realism, the magic wasn’t grounded in the way I would expect from the genre, and instead I feel the story had more in common with a modern reinterpretation of a fairytale like Sleeping Beauty. Olivia, beautiful and beloved by all, lives alone at a top of a tower, is essentially trapped in stasis, and is eventually rescued by her Prince Charming, who has to hack through wild overgrowth to save her.

The romance between Olivia and Sam, which began when they were childhood sweethearts, and is reignited on his return, is touching and soulful. I sympathised with their hopes and fears for their relationship, I believed in their yearning to be together and I could feel their frustration at not being able to have skin contact.

” And then he was threading his fingers into the mass, twisting and untwisting it in his hands. She didn’t even try to make conversation while he touched her; the sensation was too exquisite, too painful and pleasurable at the same time. He combed his fingers through her hair from top to bottom, and each time he caught a tangle it was like a little bite, a small and precise blast of desire like the spark from flint and steel.”

In terms of plot, however, the neighborly conflict seems forced and fizzles out, and though we are told the garden can offer help to those seeking answers, Van Allen never really shows this. The overall conclusion too is unrealized, almost as if Van Allen couldn’t figure out how to solve the conundrum herself, and so just hoped the reader would would accept vague assurances of ‘love conquers all’.

A tale of loss, grief, desire, love and hope, I enjoyed the story of The Night Garden.

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Review: Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan

 

Title: Killing Adonis

Author: J.M. Donellan

Published: Pantera Press October 2014

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Status: Read from October 04 to 06, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

‘WANTED: NURSE (a proper one, not a silly male one) PRETTY (but not too pretty CLEVER (but not too clever) APPLICANTS WITH AN EXCESSIVELY CURIOUS AND INQUISITIVE NATURE ARE DISTINCTLY NOT WELCOME. LIGHT DUTIES. LARGE PAY. (ALL CASH. NO QUESTIONS ASKED OR ANSWERED)’

After several hours of swilling booze with best friend Callum, Freya Miller drunkenly emails her CV in response to an unusual ad passed on to her by her friend, Jane. Just hours later she is summoned to the home of the powerful, wealthy and eccentric Vincetti family and promptly hired to care for their revered comatose son, Elijah. Though forcefully warned that curiosity about her employers, their business, or her patient, will not be tolerated, Freya can’t resist unearthing their secrets, but is wholly unprepared for what she finds.

Killing Adonis is Brisbane writer J.M. Donellan’s debut adult fiction novel. With larger than life characters (including a cameo from Marilyn Munroe), a strange mystery and a surreal plot that teeters between farce and satire, it is a quirky and darkly comic story about corporate greed, obscene privilege, and murder.

Freya is an entertaining character, quick witted and bold, with a prodigious capacity for booze, an irrational fear of pineapple cutters and the ability to see music as colours (a synesthete). She blithely ignores her employers warnings as she begins to poke around the mansion uncovering, amongst other things, two identical baby’s rooms, one entirely pink, and one entirely blue, a room filled with boxes of tiny woollen jumpers (which she later learns are for the penguin victims of an oil spill), three billiard rooms, and Jack.
Jack, Elijah’s older brother, suffers from mild Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Disease), agoraphobia and writer’s block. He becomes Freya’s unlikely, and sometimes unwilling, ally in the hunt for the truth about his brother’s coma and his parent’s machinations.
As Elijah lies silently, a sculptured Adonis surrounded by ‘beepers’, Freya and Jack begin to investigate the enigma of Elijah’s coma, the mystery of the ‘Danger Room’, the death of a beloved maid and a string of corporate rivals, all to expose Evelyn and Harland Vincetti’s diabolical secrets.

For me, Killing Adonis was a surprising page turner. I was thoroughly entertained by the snappy writing, audacious characters, and gaudy plot. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend readers comfortable with something a little less mainstream give it a chance – no question.

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Review: Outback Ghost by Rachael Johns

 

Title: Outback Ghost {Bunyip Bay #3}

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: Harlequin Au October 2014

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Status: Read from October 03 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Outback Ghost is the third book in Rachael Johns’ loosely linked Bunyip Bay series, following on from Outback Dreams and Outback Blaze.

Readers familiar with the previous books will recall being introduced to Adam Burton, a former underwear model and third generation farmer, and the whispers about the unresolved disappearance of his seven year old sister when Adam was ten years old. Twenty years later, Adam’s mother is still mired in her grief, and his father suddenly announces he has had enough, leaving Adam to take care of their sheep and wheat property, and to welcome their new farm-stay guests.
Stella Reynolds, a waitress, author and single mother is looking forward to spending two months on the Burton farm with her seven year old daughter, eager for Heidi to experience the joys of country living that characterised her own idyllic childhood, before the estrangement with her parents caused by her teenage pregnancy. Within hours of their arrival, Heidi has charmed their landlords, the gorgeous Adam, and his wan mother, adopted a pregnant cat, and even made a new imaginary friend, whom she calls Lily-Blue. Stella should be delighted that her daughter has settled in so well but instead she feels slightly apprehensive about the weeks ahead. At first she attributes her anxiety to her undeniable attraction to Adam, Stella hasn’t had so much as a date since Heidi was born, but she is also spooked by the unexplained noises she sometimes hears in the cottage and her discovery that her daughter’s imaginary friend shares the same name as Adam’s missing sister.

While at its core Outback ghost is a contemporary rural romance featuring the development of the relationship between Adam and Stella, the plot includes an interesting element of mystery and a hint of the supernatural. It is a heartwarming story about love, family and belonging but with a bittersweet twist when it reveals the fate of Lily-Blue.

It’s a delight to revisit the community of Bunyip Bay, and glimpse familiar characters from previous stories. Johns protagonists are always well developed and I enjoyed getting to know Adam and Stella. Adam doesn’t flinch from the responsibility of the farm, and caring for his mother. He carries around a fair bit of guilt over his sister’s disappearance, and for the aftermath, yet he hasn’t let it consume him entirely. Stella is a likeable, capable and admirable heroine who deals with challenging circumstances with determination and grace. She is a little guarded, understandably so, so I really liked watching her open up to Adam and form tentative friendships with Frankie and Ruby. Heidi is a definite scene stealer, affectionate, sweet natured and lively, she is an adorable character. Few authors manage to portray child characters realistically but I think Johns does so perfectly here.

Outback Ghost is my favourite novel of the Bunyip Bay series, and was supposed to be last, however I believe Johns has decided to revisit the town eventually and give Frankie an opportunity to find love… I can’t wait.

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Review: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O’Neill

reluctantlycharmed

 

Title: Reluctantly Charmed

Author: Ellie O’Neill

Published: Simon and Schuster October 2014

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

My Thoughts:

Reluctantly Charmed is a bewitching novel from debut author Ellie O’Neill.

Kate McDaid is curious when she is summoned on her 26th birthday to a lawyer’s office to hear the reading of a will written 130 years ago. The will, penned by Kate’s great-great-great-great aunt, requires her to agree to publish a series of letters over seven weeks in exchange for her inheritance. Kate, a modern Dubliner and junior copywriter, is bemused to discover the letters contain Seven Steps that her aunt, a self proclaimed witch, claims will reunite humanity with the near forgotten world of fairy. Not seeing the harm in fulfilling the eccentric request, Kate publishes the first letter online but within days her life is turned completely upside down.

Entertaining and light, Reluctantly Charmed is a fanciful story about self discovery, modern day malaise, and magic, with appealing touches of humour, intrigue and romance.

An ordinary young woman, with a 9-5 job in advertising to which she rides her bike everyday, a crush on a gorgeous pub singer, and a tiny flat in Dublin, Kate is a likeable character who is easy to relate to. She is naturally skeptical of her aunt’s claim that she was a witch who communed with the fairies, and that Kate too has powers. Even as Kate instinctively offers ‘spells’ to her girlfriends to improve their love life or help their children sleep or chats with the flowers on her desk, she remains doubtful of the existence of magic, more concerned with attracting the attention of ‘rock god’ Jim, lining up ‘The Hoff’ to star in a client’s campaign and getting to the corner store without being accosted by the Anorak gang. Kate is astonished by the snowballing interest in the ‘Steps’, fueled by social media, which bestows on her an unwelcome celebrity status.

Ireland is an ideal setting for the novel, given the country’s traditional association with the ‘wee folk’. Despite the modern pace of Irish life, belief in fairy folklore still lingers and O’Neill’s story invites the reader to imagine the possibilities. The ‘Seven Steps’, which urges people to reconnect with nature and promise a revelatory reward, is an irresistible lure for those, from the earnest Simon the Anorak to the sinister journalist, Maura Ni Ghaora, looking for the potential of magic.

With well drawn, engaging characters, a delightful premise and effortless style, fans of magical realism are sure to be enchanted by the whimsy of Reluctantly Charmed.

Learn more about Ellie O’Neill and Reluctantly Charmed in her guest post for Book’d Out

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