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

Harlequin Au Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Also by Cathryn Hein reviewed at Book’d Out

awwbadge_2014

Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

 

Title: Apple and Rain

Author: Sarah Crossan

Published: Bloomsbury September 2014

Read an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

A poignant and touching story, Apple and Rain is a story about family, poetry, wishes and growing up.

Apple is thirteen and has lived with her grandmother since her mother left one Christmas Eve when she was two. Her Nan is loving but strict and Apple can’t help but imagine that her mother will one day return and that her life with her will be all she has ever wished for. When Annie does suddenly reappear on a grey afternoon, she offers Apple her hearts desire, a home of their own, and with barely a backward glance Apple packs her bags, excited that her imagined perfect life is about to begin. Apple finally has the mother she loves, and the freedom she craves, but neither are quite what she imagined, and then there is Rain.

Apple(her full name is Apollinia Apostolopoulou – named for her Greek father) is a sincere character with believable thoughts, motivations and actions appropriate for her age. I found her to be very sympathetic as she struggled to cope with a teens familiar disappointments – being excluded by a best friend, targeted by a mean girl and having an unrequited crush, as well as dealing with her mother’s homecoming, and the surprise of a little sister. As her new life begins to unravel, Apple takes comfort in poetry, inspired by a substitute teacher, and a new neighbour, Del, but must also confront some uncomfortable truths about her mother, her sister’s obsession and her own needs.

Apple’s first person narrative is genuine and appealing. Crossan’s plain writing style and natural dialogue is appropriate for her audience. The pacing of the novel is good and the story is well structured.

Apple and Rain is a bittersweet tale, exploring contemporary themes in a realistic and thoughtful manner. I’d recommend it for readers aged 12 and up.

Apple and Rain is available to purchase from

Bloomsbury Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US I Book Depository

and all good bookstores.

Apple and Rain arrived wrapped in brown paper with a warning label and a packet of tissues!

bloomsbury-sppleandrain

Review: The Catch by Taylor Stevens

 

Title: The Catch { Vanessa Michael Munroe #4}

Author: Taylor Stevens

Published: Crown Publishing: Random House July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Catch by Taylor Stevens is the fourth book to feature the unusual character of Vanessa Michael Munroe.

Regrouping after the events of The Doll, Munroe has been biding her time in Djibouti, Africa, working as an interpreter for a small private security company as ‘Michael’. When Munroe’s boss accepts a job on a freighter bound for Kenya, Leo, jealous of Michael’s closeness with his wife Amber and oblivious to Michael’s real gender and talents, insists she accompanies the team. Part way through the voyage, the ship is attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia but Munroe escapes with the injured freighter captain in tow. It quickly becomes obvious that the pirate’s target was not the cargo, which included a secret cache of weapons, but the captain, and to save the crew Munroe must negotiate the shadowy world of piracy, Hawala and corruption.

Munroe is such an intriguing character, a borderline sociopath capable of lethal violence with finely honed instincts, she is also highly intelligent, resourceful and has a prodigious talent for languages, skills which she makes good use of in The Catch.

The story of The Catch is perhaps more cerebral than in previous installments. Gathering information and planning strategy is more important than Munroe’s physical prowess as she scrambles to understand the motives of the pirates while nursing debilitating injuries inflicted by a vicious group of hired thugs.

The weakness for me in this story is in the motive Taylor ascribes to Munroe for saving the ship and its crew. I just wasn’t convinced Munroe’s attachment to Amber was strong enough to risk so much for her, even given Munroe’s unique sense of justice and loyalty.

Though The Catch could be read as a standalone, familiarity with the unique character of Munroe lends a richness that enhances the story. As someone familiar with the series I was satisfied with this installment and I am eager to discover what Munroe’s next move will be.

The Catch  is available to purchase from

Random House US I AmazonUS I BookDepository I Indiebound

via Booko

Also reviewed on Book’d Out


around-the-world-2014

Review: The Broken Places by Ace Atkins

 

Title: The Broken Places { Quinn Colson #3}

Author: Ace Atkins

Published: C&R: Allen & Unwin August 2014

Status: Read from August 11 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Broken Places is the third gripping book by Ace Atkins to feature former Army Ranger Quinn Colson, now Sheriff of Tebbehah County in rural northeast Mississippi.

“I say it’s hell being Sheriff in the same town as your family”

Colson has to admit his younger sister, Caddy, is looking healthier and happier than she has in years, but he can’t bring himself to trust it will last, especially since she has hooked up with pardoned ex-con turned preacher, Jamey Dixon. Convicted of murdering his girlfriend in a drug fueled rage, Dixon seems determined to prove he is a changed man, preaching forgiveness and redemption, but a trio of dangerous escaped criminals are headed Dixon’s way, and they intend to retrieve what they believe to be theirs, come hell or high water.

In a small town like Jericho, Colson’s personal and professional lives inevitably tangle and in The Broken Places this conflict is at the heart of the story. Caddy, having recently turned her own life around, is convinced Dixon deserves a second chance. Quinn doesn’t believe Dixon is a reformed man but is at a loss as to how to convince his sister she is making a mistake. As Colson stews about his sister’s love life, the town gossips about his regular meetings with county undertaker/coroner, Ophelia, unaware Anna-Lee, Quinn’s childhood sweetheart now married to someone else, makes regular visits to his bed.

Few of the characters in The Broken Places are either entirely good or bad, Colson included, and it is this ambiguity that makes them so interesting. The veracity of Dixon’s reform shifts as the story unfolds, and with the line between the truth and deception, lawfulness and justice often blurred, the reader is asked to make their own judgement about his, and others, behaviour.

Click for my review

There is plenty of fast paced action in this installment with the murderous escapees making their way to Jericho. The violence in the story is amplified by the storm bearing down on the town. When a violent tornado touches down, ripping through the county, the aftermath leaves some broken, and others free to start again.

Though Broken Places could conceivably be read as a stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend it as familiarity with the primary characters adds depth to the story. I have grown quite fond of the series and am looking forward to the next installment. There is a frustrating years delay between each installments publication in the US and the Commonwealth, so while the fourth book, The Forsaken, is already available in some markets, it will be May 2015 until I will be able to get my hands on it.

The Broken Places is available to purchase from

Allen and Unwin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I Amazon AU  I  via Booko

Book Depository I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Review: Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

9781402281839

 

Title: Sweetshop of Dreams

Author: Jenny Colgan

Published: Sourcebooks Casablanca August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 08 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

From Jenny Colgan comes another delicious tale of family, love and romance in her newest release, Sweetshop of Dreams.

If pressed, Rosie Hopkins will admit that she is in a bit of a rut, her career has stalled, and so it seems, has her relationship of seven years, but she can’t imagine how spending six weeks in rural Derbyshire will help matters any. However her elderly Great Aunt Lilian needs help and Rosie, an auxiliary nurse, is best placed to do so. Reluctantly Rosie travels to the small village of Lipton, determined to sort out her aunts affairs and return to London, and Gerard, as quickly as possible, but as she experiences the charms of country life, changeable weather and grumpy dentists notwithstanding, Rosie slowly discovers just how sweet life could be.

On her first day in Lipton, Rosie gets lost in the country side during a rainstorm, on her second she discovers her aunts sweetshop, which needs to be sold as a going concern to fund Lilian’s move into a nursing home, has been abandoned, and on her third she careens out of control on Lilian’s old bicycle, destroying a farmer’s vegetable patch and humiliating herself in front of a hunky farmhand and the handsome local doctor. Country life, Rosie is convinced, is not for her but as she begins to restore the sweetshop to its former glory and make friends with the locals, she begins to consider the choices she has made and reevaluate what would make her happy.

Entwined with Rosie’s adventures in Lipton are glimpses into Lillian’s past as a young woman and the regrets, disappointments and tragedies that shaped her life. This goes a long way to explaining Lilian’s sharp tongue, and gives the story a little more depth, emphasising the novel’s major theme of regret over the risks not taken.

Most readers of a certain age will fondly remember the sweets of their youth, my preference was for cobbers (caramel squares covered in milk chocolate) and lurid pink musk sticks, so Rosie’s refurbishment of Lilian’s sweetshop holds a great deal of nostalgic appeal. Colgan’s recipe additions for treats such as Coconut Ice, Peanut Brittle and Tablet (aka Scottish Fudge- which Jenny Colgan kindly shared with Book’d Out readers) are a welcome inclusion, and perfect to enjoy along with the book.

An engaging and charming story with few sour notes, Sweetshop of Dreams is an enjoyable novel and a sweet treat to savour.

Sweetshop of Dreams is available to purchase from

Sourcebooks I Amazon I BAM I B&N I Indiebound I Indigo I Kobo

Click on the image for Jenny Colgan’s recipe for Tablet (aka Scottish Fudge)

Tablet The Fudge House

Review: The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler

 

Title: The Aitch Factor

Author: Susan Butler

Published: Pan Macmillan August 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read on August 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler, a long-time editor of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, contains a series of short essays about language, its history, development and idiosyncrasies.

Butler begins with the Haitch vs Aitch debate (my maternal grandmother in particular would have been horrified had I ever pronounced the letter H as ‘Haitch’) and goes on to explore other topics like Capitalisation, Internet gibberish, The attraction of slang and How do words get into the dictionary?

Butler is not without a sense of humour which these essays also reflect with subjects that include, Should man boobs be in the dictionary?, The mystery of the bogan, and her recommendation that we adopt Canadian spelling as an international standard over British or American English.

I was most impressed, and feel somewhat vindicated, to learn that Butler considers (and history proves) the apostrophe to be ‘an artifice of writing, a grammarian’s flourish’ and actually advocates that we forgo it entirely given it is possible to do so without any effect on our comprehension of written language. Ive often thought its true, and shes right, isnt she?

An ideal gift for language lovers, or pedantics, grammar Nazi’s or wordsmiths, The Aitch Factor is an entertaining and illuminating treatise on the ever evolving landscape of language.

 

The Aitch Factor is available to purchase from

Pan Macmillan Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

awwbadge_2014

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

Review: Chasing the Ace by Nicholas J. Johnson

Title: Chasing the Ace

Author: Nicholas J. Johnson

Published: Simon and Schuster Au

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 16 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Nicholas J. Johnson, who works as a performer, writer and consultant, exposing the world of con artists to the public to better protect themselves, has drawn on his knowledge and experience to author Chasing the Ace, his entertaining debut novel.

Told from dual first person narratives, Chasing The Ace introduces Richard, an ageing, world-weary con ‘artiste’ and Joel, a young, wannabe grifter who meet on the streets of Melbourne. Richard, contemplating retirement, decides to take Joel under his wing and the pair form a profitable alliance. Joel is eager to learn all he can, and is thrilled when the money starts rolling in, but when they accidentally scam an off duty cop, neither man is sure if they will be able to con their way out of trouble.

The novel is fast paced, with enough excitement and a few surprising turns to maintain suspense. I have to admit I didn’t predict the final twist, but found it a satisfying ending to the story, which also provides potential for a sequel.

I thought the main protagonists were well developed, with interesting backgrounds and distinct voices. Richard is jaded and cynical, Joel is initially enthusiastic and idealistic though slowly becomes increasingly disillusioned by the realities of the lifestyle, having fed his expectations with a diet of classic con movies like ‘The Sting’ and ‘Rounders’.

I might have been more impressed overall had I not just finished binge watching the entire series of Leverage, an American TV program about a crew who pull off sophisticated and complex cons in each episode. By contrast, the cons run in Chasing the Ace seem inelegant and somewhat distasteful, even if far more realistic.

A quick and entertaining read, I enjoyed Chasing the Ace…honestly.

Chasing the Ace is available to purchase from

Simon & Schuster Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

Review: Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

 

 

Title: Expecting

Author: Ann Lewis Hamilton

Published: Sourcebooks July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 02 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

After two early term miscarriages, happily married couple Laurie and Alan seek fertility advice and agree to try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). They are delighted, if somewhat wary, when they discover Laurie is expecting but as the pregnancy progresses past the point of their earlier losses, they allow themselves to dream of their future as a family. Until a phone call from the fertility clinic changes everything.

Told from the third person perspectives of Laurie, the expectant mother, Alan, her husband, and college student Jack, also known as Donor #296, Expecting, by Ann Hamilton, explores an unique situation where Laurie learns that the father of her baby is not her husband but instead Donor #296, thanks to the actions of a disgruntled clinic employee.

I felt for each of the protagonists in this story. As Alan struggles to accept the shocking news, Laurie has already formed a connection with the child growing within her, and feels compelled to find out more about Donor #296, leading her to contact Jack, whom she discovers is a college student of Asian Indian heritage.

For the most part I believed in the motivations and thoughts of the characters caught in such a complicated situation and I liked the way in which the author considered the issues from multiple perspectives.

I understood Laurie’s refusal to consider a termination and her curiosity about the donor. I too would want to meet him, though I would probably be far more reluctant to embrace him in the way Laurie does. In several ways I think it is admirable, especially as it means ‘Buddy’ will be able to have a relationship with his/her biological parent and family, but Laurie doesn’t really consider the impact on her husband, even though she professes too.

I was surprised at how much I sympathised with Alan’s feelings of jealousy, anxiety and anger and his concerns about his ability to love a child, especially one that won’t look like him, that is not his. His reaction, to distract himself with the fantasy of a relationship with his ex girlfriend, may have been inappropriate, but is somewhat understandable.

Jack is a fairly typical college student confronted by a decidedly atypical situation. Laid back and easy going he is just as indecisive about deciding what role he will play in the baby’s life as he is in choosing a major, or a girlfriend.

Hamilton’s tone is deceptively lighthearted, finding humour amongst the angst of the situation. The story is well paced with the shifts between perspectives, and short chapters, making it a quick and easy read.

I enjoyed Expecting, I found it to be both an entertaining and surprisingly thought provoking novel with an interesting perspective on an unusual issue. Ann Lewis Hamilton is a debut author with promise.

Expecting is available to purchase from

Sourcebooks I AmazonUS I BookDepository I Indiebound

Review: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Title: All Fall Down

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Published: Simon and Schuster AU July 2014/ Atria Books US June 2014

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publishers}

My Thoughts:

“The day had stretched endlessly before me – weepy daughter, angry husband, piles of laundry, messy bedroom, a blog post to write, and probably dozens of angry commenters lined up to tell me I was a no-talent hack and a fat, stupid whore. I need this, I thought, letting the bitterness dissolve on my tongue.”

Allison Weiss is a busy working wife and mother who finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for an injury helps relieve some of the stress that threatens to overwhelm her daily. With a pill, she worries less about the financial burden of the mortgage, has more patience with her beautiful but sensitive daughter’s tantrums, is less distressed by her father’s cognitive decline, and has the energy she needs to meet her work deadlines. But soon one pill a day isn’t enough to take the edge off, nor is three, nor five, nor ten or even twenty…

In All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner confronts the stereotype of an addict. Allison is reasonably representative of the modern, suburban, middle class woman juggling not only marriage, motherhood and career but also a myriad of other demands, such as the care of aging parents and financial concerns. Despite her increasing reliance on pills (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin) sourced both from legitimate prescriptions, and later supplemented by purchases from clandestine internet based businesses, Allison dismisses the notion of herself as an addict, even as her life begins to fall down around her.

With realism, compassion and a touch of humour, Weiner charts how easily Allison slides into addiction – her retreat into denial, her growing desperation for her next pill and the damage her it begins to inflict on her family and her career. It all seems frighteningly possible, though opiates have never done much for me (I was once prescribed Oxycontin for an injury and they made me so violently ill I strained my vocal cords and damaged my inner ear, leaving me with laryngitis and vertigo for a week), I found I could relate to her desire to soothe the pressure, and the relief the pills must have offered.

While the first half of the book focuses on Allison’s downward spiral the second focuses on her struggle to recovery. Eventually forced into rehab, Allison still refuses to accept her status as an addict, she doesn’t relate to the women with whom she shares a room or group therapy and so continues to take refuge in denial, until she is finally confronted with the truth and begins to rebuild her life, day by day.

All Fall Down is a well written and thought provoking novel, gently confronting the issue of prescription addiction in an accessible manner sure to resonate with her audience.

All Fall Down is Available to Purchase

in the US

Simon & Schuster US I Amazon US I BookDepository I via Indiebound

in Australia

Simon & Schuster Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko I Amazon AU

and all good bookstores.

 

Review: Marble Bar by Robert Schofield

 

 

Title: Marble Bar

Author: Robert Schofield

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2014

Status: Read from June 17 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy (courtesy the publisher)

My Thoughts:

Marble Bar is the sequel to Robert Schofield’s debut novel, Heist, featuring mining engineer, Gareth Ford.

It has been a year since Ford was framed for the multi million dollar robbery of the Gwardar Gold Mine and narrowly escaped the murderous attentions of the real thieves, corrupt Gold Squad officers, vicious bikies and his ex-wife, Dianne. Now working at an iron ore mine in Newman while caring for his six year old daughter, Ford assumes the worst is behind them until he realises he is being tailed by two dangerous looking men, his lodger is murdered and he receives a desperate call from his ex-wife begging him to meet her. Gareth needs to get out of town, his daughter wants to see her mum and Kavanaugh wants to find the gold so they head to Marble Bar …… and straight into trouble.

There are glimpses of the sharp humour, and exaggerated action I enjoyed in Heist, but Marble Bar has a more serious tone and less energy than its predecessor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not quite what I was expecting. Marble Bar is closer to a traditional crime/action novel with a more realistic storyline and less flamboyant characterisation.

Ford seems subdued during much of this instalment. I think that this is mainly attributable to his emotional turmoil with regard to his ex wife, and while I did admire Ford’s determination to preserve the relationship between Dianne and their daughter, I thought his angst got in the way of the story somewhat.

With Ford unsure of his feelings, and worried about Dianne’s safety, Kavanaugh is forced to take the lead in most situations the pair face in Marble Bar. Kavanaugh is willing to humour Dianne for the chance to recover the gold, but she is utterly unimpressed with Ford’s angst regarding his wife’s behaviour, and convinced Dianne’s plea for help is just another con. This causes considerable tension between Ford and Kavanaugh, complicated by their mutual attraction and the twists of the plot.

I especially liked setting of this story. Marble Bar is a tiny West Australian Pilbara town with a population of about 200 people which regularly experiences some of the highest temperatures in the country. It seems an unlikely setting for a crime novel, but Schofield makes it work.

Marble Bar is well paced with a solidly developed storyline and I enjoyed reconnecting with familiar characters. I enjoyed Marble Bar, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected based on reading Heist, and I am looking forward to the third title to tie up some of the remaining loose ends.

 Learn more about Marble Bar and Robert Schofield in the Q&A posted earlier here at Book’d Out.

 

Marble Bar is available to purchase from June 25th

Allen & Unwin I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,677 other followers