Review: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

Title: The Wives of Los Alamos

Author: TaraShea Nesbit

Published: Bloomsbury ANZ March 2014

Status: Read on March 17, 2014 {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“Some of us thought we saved half a million lives. Some of us thought we, our husbands, were murderers, that we had helped light a fuse that would destroy the world.” p 198

In 1943, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the North American government established a hidden enclave in Los Alamos, New Mexico, drafting the nation’s best scientists, engineers and chemists into service. The men (and a handful of women) were tasked to work on a secret enterprise, requiring them to uproot their wives and children with little notice and move to the South West, forbidden to reveal any information about their new position or location to employers, colleagues, friends, or even family.

While the technicians toiled away in laboratories and offices, their wives and children struggled to adapt to their new environment, making homes in flimsy pre-fab’s without bathtubs or electric stoves, shopping for wilting vegetables and sour milk, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. The wives of Los Alamos created a community with dancing and book clubs and cocktail parties, cared for their children and sent letters home, heavily redacted by the censors. They remained largely ignorant of the work their husband’s were doing until the day the atom bomb was dropped on Japan.

Nesbit reveals the stories of the wives of Los Alamos using the first person plural narrative (we, us). It is an unusual style and did take me a little time to adjust to, but I came to appreciate the way in which it emphasised the unique community and the wives shared experiences, despite their individual differences. The narrative feels authentic and convincing I expect that Nesbit relied on genuine research to ensure the accuracy of the details.

I really enjoyed this unique book. The Wives of Los Alamos is a fascinating novel giving the reader a glimpse into one of the world’s most pivotal events – the development and use of the Atom Bomb, from a perspective rarely considered by history. I’d like to read more about the women’s experiences of Los Alamos.

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Review: Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

 

Title: Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase

Author: Louise Walters

Published: Hachette March 2014

Status: Read from March 09 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy Hachette/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“I find things hidden in books: dried flowers, locks of hair, tickets, labels, receipt, invoices, photographs, postcards, all manner of cards. I find letters, unpublished works by the ordinary, the anguished, the illiterate. Clumsily written or eloquent, they are love letters, everyday letters, secret letters and mundane letters talking about fruit and babies and tennis matches, from people signing themselves as Majorie or Jean….I can’t bring myself to dispose of these snippets and snapshots of lives that once meant (or still do mean) so much.”

Roberta has always been intrigued by the ephemera she discovers trapped between the pages of the books that find their way into the book store where she works so when she discovers a letter in a book once owned by her grandmother, she is thrilled with finding such an unexpected treasure. But the letter, addressed to her grandmother, Dorothea, is puzzling for in it the man Roberta believes was her grandfather, Jan Pietrykowski declares he cannot marry Dorothea a year after she was led to believe he died in combat.

Dual timelines explores Roberta’s present and Dorothea’s hidden past, two stories of love, loss, heartbreak and joy.

I didn’t find Roberta’s story as interesting as her grandmother’s, in part I think because she is so self contained. Roberta is a reserved woman in her thirties who enjoys her position at the Old and New Bookstore but is otherwise lonely and untethered. She struggles to befriend her colleagues and has drifted into an affair with a man she isn’t sure she even likes. The mystery of the letter Roberta discovers in the suitcase given to her by her father gives her something to focus on, but with her beloved father dying and her 109 year old grandmother near insensible in a nursing home, she is not sure where to turn to for answers.

As Dorothea’s past unspools, the secret the letter hints at, kept from her son and granddaughter, is slowly revealed. Dorothea suffered a lonely childhood which she escaped, against her mother’s wishes, by marrying a young farmer, Albert Sinclair, envisioning a happy family with lots of children reared in the wholesome countryside. Sadly their initial happiness waned as it was blighted by repeated miscarriages and a tragic stillbirth until the couple could barely stand to look at each other, overwhelmed by their disappointment. On the eve of World War Two, Albert escaped by enlisting, leaving Dorothea to manage as best she could. To survive she took in laundry, and hosted a pair of ‘land girls’, resigned to a life devoid of love. Then a fighter plane crashes in her back yard bringing Polish Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski to her door, and slowly breathes new life into Dorothea’s barren existence. It takes a little time to warm to Dorothea, who like her granddaughter seems aloof and a little odd, but I found her sympathetic and became intrigued by her story. I would have preferred to spend more time with Dorothea in the past than with Roberta in the present.

The plot encompasses mystery, romance and tragedy in both the contemporary and historical settings but it is driven by character rather than action. The pace is measured, though the alternate chapters help to provide momentum. I thought the writing lovely, evocative and expressive without being overdone.

An impressive debut, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is a poignant novel about secrets, love, sacrifice and happiness.

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Review: The Heart Radical by Boyd Anderson

Title: The Heart Radical

Author: Boyd Anderson

Published: Random House AU February 2014

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Status: Read from February 01 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy The Reading Room/publisher}

My Thoughts:

In the late 1940′s, having successfully resisted Japanese occupation during WW2 with Britain’s clandestine assistance, groups of Malayan nationalists began to object to Britain’s administration of the country’s assets. In the eyes of the MNLA (Malayan National Liberation Army) and associated organisations, the country had simply exchanged one oppressor for another. With Malaysia’s industries essential for the repair of post war Britain, any rebellion was quickly quashed by the administrators but in 1948, sparked by the execution style murder of three European plantation owners, an ‘Emergency’ was declared outlawing any rebellion. Determined to fight for Malayan independence, the MNLA retreated into the jungle from which they planned and launched guerrilla attacks aimed to destabilise the government.

Knowledge about the The Malayan Emergency is not widely held in the present day but Boyd Anderson recreates the tumultuous period of history, blending fact with fiction, to create an interesting and poignant tale of love, conflict, culture and faith in The Heart Radical.

The three part structure unfolds mainly through the reminisces of Su-Lin Tan, and her reading of Dr Anna Thumboo’s journal.
Su-Lin was a child at the time of The Emergency, her father a well respected barrister who would eventually defended a leader of the MNLA, Toh Kei, against murder charges. Su-Lin recalls herself as a bright and curious eight year old trying to make sense of Malaysia’s upheaval.
Dr Anna Thumboo was a young woman, a widow and mother, who provided medical aid to the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) later known as the MNLA firstly during the ‘Japanese Time’ and then The Emergency. Battling recurrent illness Toh Kei spent several periods under the care of Anna and the two fell in love. Her journal is essentially a letter to her son, Paris, written shortly before her death, sharing her experience of the times and an explanation of sorts for the choices she made.

I found I was sometimes unsure about the timeline, which is complicated by memories within memories, but the perspectives of Su-Lin and Anna were compelling enough to dismiss any brief periods of disorientation. In contrast, I found the scenes in the present day intrusive, Paris Thumboo’s character seemed irrelevant and I think a direct link between Su-Lin and the manuscript could have easily been established without him. Similarly the contemporary love story that develops between the two characters is a distraction that I wasn’t interested in.

Though I rarely comment on a book’s title I have to mention how apt I found this one. Within the novel’s context it has dual meanings, as both a root character of the Chinese written language and as an explanation of the radical actions of Dr Anna Thumboo and Toh Kei.

Though some elements didn’t quite work for me, overall I found The Heart Radical to be an engaging read. Anderson’s well researched historical detail is interesting and the voices of Su-Lin and Anna are compelling.

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Review: The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

Title: The Secret of Magic

Author: Deborah Johnson

Published: FigTree: Penguin UK January 2014

Status: Read from January 20 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In the Secret of Magic, the authenticity of historical fact blends seamlessly with fiction to explore the tragic murder of a young man and a woman’s determination to bring those responsible to justice.

In 1946 a young African American serviceman, Joe Howard Wilson, recently returned from the fighting in Italy, is beaten to death on his way home to Revere, Mississippi. A year later, his death having been ruled an accident, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York receives a letter asking them to investigate and lawyer Regina Mary Robichard travels to Revere to assess the case. What she discovers is a small town steeped in secrets, corruption and racism, and finding justice for Joe Howard may be asking the impossible.

As Johnson notes in the afterword, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was founded by Thurgood Marshall and was America’s first civil and human rights law firm. The plot is in part based on the cases the Fund investigated, particularly the case of Issac Woodward, a returned African American serviceman who was on his way home to see his mother after his honourable discharge when he was dragged off an interstate bus by white police officers and beaten, blinded and jailed.

Johnsons character, Joe Howard, is beaten to death, and his murder is met with little more than a token investigation. Regina quickly discovers that every one in Revere knows who is responsible, but the few willing to speak up were ignored. As she gathers evidence, hampered by disinterest and intimidation, she uncovers more than just the secret of Joe’s murder.

The character of Regina Mary Robichard was inspired by Constance Baker Montley, the first woman lawyer hired by Thurgood at the legal Defense Fund. Johnsons’ Regina is a young African American lawyer, the daughter of a man lynched before her birth and a woman who subsequently became a rights activist. She can’t help but connect personally to Joe Howard Wilson’s case, and puts herself at risk in her quest for justice. I liked Regina a lot, admiring her courage and her sense of justice, though there were moments where the author couldn’t let Regina put certain things together for the purpose of the plot, which meant her skills were sometimes questionable.

I actually found the threads involving M.P.Calhoun’s novel ‘The Secret of Magic’ largely distracting though it is included in a way that makes it necessary to the plot. I did however appreciate Johnson’s complex characterisation of Mary Pickett, a white woman who is torn between doing the expected thing, doing the right thing and doing nothing.

Bigotry is the core theme of this novel, exposing the reprehensible attitudes of the times, that unfortunately still linger more than half a century later. And though the bittersweet ending edges closer to vengeance, rather than justice, it is also a story that demonstrates the possibility of change.

Thoughtful and moving, The Secret of Magic is a reminder of both how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

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Review: The Greatest Lover Ever by Christina Brooke

Title: The Greatest Lover Ever

Author: Christina Brooke

Published: Penguin Australia January 2014

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Status: Read from January 12 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A charming regency romance, The Greatest Lover Ever is the second book in Christina Brooke’s ‘The Westruther’s’ series, a spin off from her Ministry of Marriage trilogy.

Six years after his broken engagement, the Earl of Beckenham determines it is time to take a wife, he knows exactly what he is looking for, “a countess who would do her duty without fuss, who was prepared to lead her own life…A wife who would create no dramas…A wife who would leave him in peace.” In short, a woman nothing like his former betrothed, Georgiana Black. But when he encounters Georgie in a compromising circumstance at a scandalous house party thrown by his cousin, his honour demands he ask for her hand and suddenly he can think of taking no one other as his bride…

I really enjoyed this romantic story of a couple with a second chance at love.  Brooke skillfully portrays the attraction between Marcus and Georgie, even as they both continue to try and deny it and the pair generate plenty of passion and emotion when they are together.

Georgie is wilful, fiery and impetuous but I found her a likeable heroine, even more so as she recognises some hard truths about her own behaviour. Marcus is prideful, stubborn and stern, but I liked that he doesn’t want to to tame Georgie. As to whether he deserves the title of ‘The Greatest Lover Ever’, his seduction of Georgie certainly suggests he is worthy.

Though this is a genre I rarely read I was impressed by Christina Brooke’s storytelling and writing style. The Greatest Lover Ever is an engaging historical romance full of wit, passion and love.

Read Christina’s guest post about passion from earlier today

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AWW Feature: Christina Brooke on Passion

I’m pleased to host Australian historical romance author Christina Brooke at Book’d Out today introducing her newest release, The Greatest Lover Ever.

THE SWEETEST SCANDAL
Beautiful, exuberant, and stubborn Georgiana Black has more spirit than sense – which she learns when an ultimatum to the Earl of Beckenham ends their engagement. Six years later, Georgie is less concerned with impending spinsterhood than with making sure her young sister doesn’t make the same mistakes she did. But soon Georgie stumbles into a scandalous encounter with none other than her former fiance. Beckenham is still breathtakingly desirable – and as iron-willed as ever…
THE TRUEST TEMPTATION
Beckenham’s brief engagement to Georgie taught him one thing – when it comes to a wife, he wants a woman who will do her duty and cause no trouble. When the fiery Georgie falls unexpectedly into his arms, Beckenham remembers just how lushly delectable she is. Suddenly, the idea of actually marrying Georgie is irresistible. Convincing her will take more than a simple proposal, however. In a battle of wills, can passion conquer pride?

You can read my review of this passionate historical romance HERE , but first let me introduce you to Christina Brooke..

**********

Hi Shelleyrae! Thank you for having me on your blog today.

The late, great Luciano Pavarotti was not only a sublime tenor, he was a font of lovely wisdom that often centered around pleasures of a sensual variety. He said something profound about his art that has stayed with me:

“People think I’m disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference.”

I try to keep that in mind when I write, because while many writers can tell you their daily page count or the number of words they aim to write in a day, I have never been able to work that way. I wish I could! It is the most practical and businesslike way to write, after all.

For me, writing fiction is a passion and a compulsion. If I’m feeling unaccountably grouchy, I suddenly realize it’s because I haven’t written that day. Those around me can tell when the words are flowing because I bounce around the house, shedding sweetness and light like a happy little sunbeam.

Those times are not nearly as frequent as I’d like!

I was a lawyer working ridiculous hours when I started my first novel. By day, I wrote prospectuses, met with financiers and accountants and company directors looking to raise capital for their companies. I advised on contracts, traveled interstate to perform due diligence, verified the myriad details that make up offer documentation.

By night, the world of my imagination opened up and swallowed me whole. I forgot financial projections and contract negotiations and office politics and reveled in the strange exhilaration of putting words on the page.

For five years, I learned everything I could about the craft of writing, about the business, about the market. By the time I sold my first book, I’d resigned from my job and was pregnant with my second child. You should have seen the strange, elephantine dance I did around my living room at four in the morning when the offer came through from New York!

Writing can be hard but it’s never seemed like a job when the words are flowing. When I’m writing well, it feels like I’m tapping into a story that’s already there, complete and perfect, waiting for me. My mission is to get the story down as faithfully and richly described as I can.

The book never quite matches that perfect vision, but when it is put into a reader’s hands, it’s time for her imagination to take over.

It’s a particular joy to write a romance novel where the characters just click the way Georgie Black and Marcus, Earl of Beckenham did in my novel THE GREATEST LOVER EVER was a joy to write. Their banter is witty, their passion fiery, and their love is deep and enduring. I hope readers enjoy their journey as much as I enjoyed writing it!

What is your passion? What books do you love to get lost in? Any recommendations?

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Review: The Tailor’s Girl by Fiona McIntosh

Title: The Tailor’s Girl

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Penguin October 2013

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from November 29 to 30, 2013 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

I’ve been eager to read The Tailor’s Girl, having liked everything I have read by Fiona McIntosh, in fact a glowing quote from my review of her last novel, The French Promise appears on the book jacket of this novel. Yet I have to confess that I was disappointed by this story that is essentially a historical romance, which is not my favourite genre.

The characters are appealing, ‘Tom’ is a charming wounded war hero who inspires sympathy as he struggles with amnesia after fighting on the front. Eden is a sweetheart with an innate core of strength who wants more than to be just a wife and mother, with dreams of being a successful designer and seamstress. I desperately wanted them both to find happiness and I was invested in their relationship, which is wildly romantic.

The setting and period are vividly drawn from the English countryside, to the streets of Paris, and the grandeur of London’s Savile Row. McIntosh touches on the post Great War challenges faced not only by the returning soldiers but also the women whose new found freedoms were curtailed upon their return.

But I was dissatisfied with the story of the The Tailor’s Girl. I found the plot to be entirely predictable, and its major turning points were horribly cliche, though I can’t reveal them without risking spoilers. The entire story also felt oddly familiar but it wasn’t until another reviewer pointed out the strong similarities of this story to an old movie, ‘Bitter Harvest’ (based on a novel) released in 1942 (starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson)that I realised why. To be fair though the details are McIntosh’s own, different from the film’s, and the amnesia trope is common in both film and fiction.

I want to be clear that my disappointment with the novel is purely a matter of genre preference, the writing is of McIntosh’s usual high standard and I found the characters and setting appealing. As such, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Tailor’s Girl to any reader who enjoys historical romance, but I have to admit this isn’t a favourite of mine.

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Review: Poppy’s Dilemma by Karly Lane

Title: Poppy’s Dilemma

Author: Karly Lane

Published: Arena: Allen & Unwin November 2013

Status: Read from November 19 to 20, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In a slight departure from her usual offering of rural romance, Karly Lane blends a contemporary and historical narrative in her fourth novel, Poppy’s Dilemma.

Poppy Abbot is sorting through her late grandmother’s belongings after a difficult day at work when she discovers a diary penned by a young woman whom she assumes to be a relative, Maggie Abbot. At first glance the journal seems to be the idle ramblings of a young girl desperate to avoid the chore of milking the cows, with a crush on her brother’s best friend, then Poppy discovers a love letter addressed to Maggie wedged between the pages written during the First World War. Intrigued, Poppy finds herself captivated by Maggie’s story but frustrated when she discovers a handful of pages missing. In the hopes of finding out what happened to Maggie and her lover, Alex, Poppy decides to finally deal with her grandmother’s estate, traveling to the tiny country town of Warrial. It is there where Poppy finds the answers she was seeking to the mystery of Maggie’s fate and to the questions she never thought to ask.

Merging historical fact with her vivid imagination, the wartime narrative involving Maggie and Alex was inspired by a news article Lane discovered about a crime that took place in her home town in 1920. Intrigued by the case, Lane’s research led her to a cache of letters written by the perpetrator, further piquing her interest. With the motive for the crime obscured, in Poppy’s Dilemma, Lane has created a credible story and characters to explain the tragedy.

The historical narrative is a poignant reminder of war and the tragedy of those that returned mentally and physically damaged, or did not return at all. Lane also explores the sentiments of the time and the social and economic effect on the country, especially in regional areas like Warrial. Maggie and Alex’s story is a stirring bittersweet love story, all the more so for the truth behind the imagination.

The contemporary storyline follows Poppy’s evaluation of the choices she has made in her life, particularly in regards to her focus on her career at the expense of friendships and romantic relationships. It is Maggie’s story, and her grandmother’s neighbour, a single father and stock agent, that penetrates the emotional guards she has so carefully constructed which has Poppy reconsidering her priorities.

While I thought the writing was a little uneven in places, in part I think because the historical thread is related both in epistolary format and a third person present tense, the flow and pace of the story is well considered.

Poppy’s Dilemma is a wonderfully engaging novel and I enjoyed both threads of the story, with the knowledge that Maggie’s story is based partly on fact provides an extra element of frisson. This is another must read tale from Karly Lane who writes from the heart.

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Review: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

 

Title: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Author: Fannie Flagg

Published: Chatto and Windus: Random House AU November 2013

Status: Read from November 15 to 17, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Anna at the ReadingRoom and Random House}

My Thoughts:

I adore Fannie Flagg’s southern fiction, and was thrilled to learn of a new release. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is a heartwarming tale of family, idenity and flying.

Sookie (Sarah Jane) Poole is a timid fifty nine year old wife and mother in Pt Clear, Alabama. She has never doubted who she is, despite being a continual disappointment to her mother, the imperious Southern matriarch Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, until she accidentally learns her mothers darkest secret.

The dual narrative alternates between the fallout of Sookie’s discovery as she struggles to reconcile what she has always believed to be true with what her mothers secret reveals, and the fascinating story of the Jurdabralinski sisters of Wisconsin, to whom Sookie learns she is connected.

Sookie’s identity crisis has her questioning the issue of nature versus nurture, wondering what might have been, had things been different. Though I thought perhaps her angst dragged on a bit too long, there is also a lot of humour and warmth in Sookie’s journey, and of course in the sharing of the eccentricities of her Southern Belle mother and the benefits and pitfalls of small town living.

I was, however, always most eager to get back to the story of the Jurdabralinski’s, a hardworking, Polish immigrant family of four daughters and one son. Fritzi, the most adventurous and unconventional of the girls, forges an extraordinary career as an aerial wing walker after being swept off her feet by a handsome but roguish stunt flyer. Unfortunately the war interrupts her career and she returns home where she is faced with the challenge of rescuing her family’s gas station business while their father is recovering from TB and her brother in serving in the military. At Fritzi’s suggestion, the four daughters of the family take over and manage to keep it profitable by exploiting the novelty of the girls being in charge…hence the title of the novel.
As the war drags on, Fritzi is finally given the chance to fly again when, due to the lack of manpower available, women were reluctantly recruited by the military to assist in the war effort, transporting goods, including the planes themselves around the country. Eventually three of the Jurdabralinski sisters become fly girls,
I was fascinated by this element of the novel, the WASP’s, despite skepticism, and sometimes outright opposition, proved they were more than capable of providing crucial assistance to their country, but were never given official recognition by the powers that be and were summarily dismissed when the war finally ended. I love that Flagg has given recognition to this group of unsung heroines.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is a charming story combining southern humour and eccentricity with a fascinating tale of adventure and heroism. Flagg is a wonderful storyteller and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this delightful novel.

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Review & Giveaway: Driftwood by Mandy Magro

Title: Driftwood

Author: Mandy Magro

Published: Harlequin MIRA November 2013

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on November 06, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Dual narratives unfold in Driftwood, Mandy Magro’s engaging fourth Australian rural fiction novel.

In 1861, wanted bushranger William Campbell and his beloved, Anne Margaret Willow, are forced to flee the Goldbury Township of New South Wales, changing their names to evade the law.  They settle in Northern Queensland, purchasing Waratah Station and work hard to leave their past behind them, building a future for their family.
In the present day, Taylor Whitworth has fled the city, and the expectations of her family, to pursue her dream of country living, when she stumbles into the tiny Northern Queensland town of Driftwood. Taylor immediately feels at home and within days has gained an apartment, a job in the local pub and an invitation by the handsome Jay Donnellson, to join the next muster on Waratah Station as a jillaroo.

Though I thought there were a few minor issues with the writing, the dialogue was sometimes stilted and the pacing a little uneven, I enjoyed the stories presented in both timelines of Driftwood.

The historical period involves a tale of bushranging, corruption, murder and a beautiful love story touched by both tragedy and joy. The present day timeline focuses on the budding romance between Taylor and Jay but is also deepened by the mystery of Taylor’s father, a man she believes is dead, and enlivened by a cyclone that threatens to destroy everything. Fate eventually reveals the tie between the two timelines, and Taylor’s affinity for Driftwood.

Music is an important part of this novel, Taylor is a talented songstress and Australian country and western singer Adam Brand has an extended cameo in Driftwood. Though I am not much of a country music fan I thought he was a sweetheart after watching his participation in Dancing With the Stars and I really enjoyed his role in the novel. In the video clip below, Adam Brand sings one of the songs mentioned in Driftwood.

A quick read, Driftwood is an engaging story of love and drama with appealing characters and an interesting plot to satisfy fans of both contemporary and historical romance.

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GIVEAWAY

Thanks to Morey Media

I have

1 print edition of Driftwood to giveaway

**Open to  Australian Residents only**

Leave a comment sharing your favourite country and western song or singer and then

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