Review: Betrayed by Jacqui Rose

 

Title:  Betrayed

Author: Jacqui Rose

Published: HarperCollins UK: Avon March 2014

Status: Read from March 24 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

Betrayed is the fourth standalone novel by Jacqui Rose, who gained noticed as a self published author and then was picked up by Harper Colin’s Avon imprint.

Del Williams owns the streets of Soho, running drugs, prostitutes and protection rackets alongside his legitimate businesses. Rich, powerful and ruthless, few are willing to make an enemy of him but even hard men have their weaknesses. Del’s is his mistress, Bunny Barker, and their precious seven year old daughter, Star and when Del is betrayed by his allies it is they who will pay the price.

I found Betrayed interesting because I haven’t ever read anything quite like it before. It is set within London’s criminal underworld where everyone operates outside the normal rules of society. Betrayed is a gritty novel without the patina of glamour usually ascribed to the gangland lifestyle. Rose portrays a brutal underworld aided by corrupt cops, greedy lawyers, violent intimidation and well greased wheels.

Bunny didn’t quite play the leading role I expected and I thought Del was the stronger and better developed character of the two. There are no real hero’s, nor innocents in this novel. It is a little strange when you realise you are hoping the violent, drug dealing gangster will prevail, but in Betrayed the alternative is unimaginably worse.

The pace of the story is good, as is the writing. It is quite visual in style and could be described as Eastenders meets The Soprano’s. Some readers may struggle with the fairly graphic elements related to the victimisation of children, as well as the coarse language.

The gangland crime fiction sub genre doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me in general but I liked Betrayal well enough. It was a fast read, and the plot and characters kept me interested for the length of the story.

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Review: The Grass Castle by Karen Viggers

Title: The Grass Castle

Author: Karen Viggers

Published: Allen  & Unwin February 2014

Status: Read from January 27 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Grass Castle is a quiet, introspective novel exploring the themes of displacement and belonging, grief and healing.

Abby Hunter is a struggling PhD student who prefers the isolation of her fieldwork in the Brindabella mountain ranges to the bustling activity of the university lab. Wary of relationships since her mothers death, she is content with the company of the Kangaroo’s she is studying, but a chance meeting with elderly matriarch Daphne Norrington, and the gentle persistence of journalist Cameron Barlow, penetrates her reserve and Abby is finally forced to deal with her tragic past.

Unfortunately I found I didn’t particularly connect with Abby, she is too passive and reserved for my tastes, and while I had some sympathy for her difficult past I didn’t really understand the choices she had made since, nor some of her behaviour during the story. I did admire eighty five year old Daphne, who weathered so much tragedy in her life, including the compulsory acquisition of her home by the government, and the deaths of her son and husband. The friendship between the women develops from their connection to the land and their mutual need for both for a confessor of past trauma and support in the present.

The romance between Abby and Cameron is low key, part of Abby’s journey rather than a focal plot point. There are political elements in the novel in regards to the efficacy of kangaroo culling, indigenous land rights and media/political spin. I found them a little intrusive at times, even though I largely agreed with the sentiments.

This is a reflective novel that mediates on the need to accept and learn from the past and though The Grass Castle didn’t fully engage me, I could appreciate the way Viggers evoked the setting, in both the past and the present, and the emotions in her characters.

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Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Title: Someday, Someday, Maybe

Author: Lauren Graham

Published: Penguin AU January 2014

Status: Read from January 24 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Said to be loosely based on Lauren Graham’s {Gilmore Girls, Parenthood} own experiences in pursuit of her acting career, Someday, Someday, Maybe is the story of a struggling young actress trying to get ahead, and keep it together, in New York City.

Franny Banks promised herself that if she hadn’t found success in three years she would give up on the idea of becoming an actress and gracefully accept a settled, ordinary life. With just six months until her self imposed deadline expires, and a holiday sweater ad her only acting credit, her future depends on an upcoming Showcase. When she stumbles in the performance, Franny is ready to concede defeat but two agents express interest, one of them from an elite agency, and suddenly her future seems bright…

Someday, Someday, Maybe is often witty and charming but truthfully it offers little more than light escapist reading.

The story is narrated in the first person, with the occasional inclusion of Franny’s filofax pages, call sheets and messages left on her answering machine. i often thought Franny endearing, but she is also neurotic and pityingly self absorbed which I found a little tiring. It won’t be a surprise that Franny nominally supports herself with a job waitressing, has talent but little confidence in herself and is beautiful but considers herself plain. There is some growth for her character but not in any unexpected way.

The plot is predictable, from Franny’s career trajectory to the romantic triangle with the handsome star and the nerdy roommate. Not a lot actually happens as Franny blunders around in the hopes of being discovered, overlooking the obvious, mired in self doubt and panic. She may finally get the agent, and boy, of her dreams but it all falls apart leaving her floundering which finally galvanises her into action.

Despite the endless cliche’s I must admit Graham can write, her prose is easy, often witty, and it’s easy to visualise the characters and the setting. I’m not at all surprised that the book has already been optioned to develop into a televison series.

I found Someday, Someday, Maybe a light, easy read, fine for mindless consumption, but not in any way memorable. It definitely seems to have struck a chord with fans of the Gilmore Girls series though.

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Review: The Tailor’s Girl by Fiona McIntosh

Title: The Tailor’s Girl

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Penguin October 2013

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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: The Happy Endings Book Club by Jane Tara

 

Title: The Happy Endings Book Club

Author: Jane Tara

Published: Momentum December 2013

Status: Read from December 02 to 03, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

When bookstore owner, Paige, first formed the Happy Endings Book Club she was somewhat apprehensive, but the seven single women, a mix of regular customers and local shopkeepers, bonded quickly. All yearning for their own happy ending, none could have imagined just how different their lives would be a year later.

After a brief introduction to the women of the Happy Ending Book Club in the first chapter, the narrative shifts time and place to follow each member as they confront their obstacles to finding the happiness they yearn for. I expected a touch of magic having read Jane Tara’s Trouble Brewing, so Paige’s startling discovery didn’t surprise me, nor did Eva’s otherworldly encounter. Tilda’s ‘affliction’ was unexpected, though I liked the message about ‘seeing’ yourself. Michi’s story was both funny and sad as she struggled with her parents unusual life style choice. Clementine’s story has a neat, unexpected twist, as does Amanda’s. Sadie’s story is perhaps the most traditional as she discovers beauty is more than skin deep.

While each story clearly reinforces the main theme of the book, best summed up by a single line in the last pages of the novel: “Happy endings come not through events but through a shift in perception”, this book seems more a collection of interlinked short stories that Tara has attempted to conform into a novel structure, but the format doesn’t quite work given the book’s brevity (less than 200 pages) and the large cast of characters. As such it feels disjointed and forced at times, emphasised I think, by the contrast between the fantastical and mundane elements, which I didn’t feel really worked with one another.

I know that this book has special meaning for the author from reading her blog, earlier this year Jane Tara was told she was at risk of losing her sight and, as she waited for further results, many of the issues her characters face in The Happy Endings Book Club, are ones she grappled with. At the end of her post about her real life experience Jane writes, “I hope my new novel The Happy Endings Book Club entertains you. But more than that … I hope you come away from it asking yourself, how do I see myself? How do I see the world? How do I see?” and despite my opinions about the flaws in the execution of this novel, I do think  The Happy Endings Book Club was an enjoyable and thought provoking read.

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Review: The Recipe Box by Sandra lee

 

Title: The Recipe Box

Author: Sandra Lee

Publisher: Allen and Unwin Dec 2013

Status: Read from December 01 to 02, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Sandra Lee is an American chef, the host of several television shows, and the author of over two dozen bestselling cookbooks. The Recipe Box is her debut fiction novel celebrating mothers, daughters, and friendship, featuring several of Sandra Lee’s recipes.

Grace D’Angelo is trying to create a new life for her self and her daughter in L.A. after her divorce, but between fourteen year old Emma’s rebellious behaviour, long working days and regular trips back to her hometown to support her best friend, Leeza, who is battling breast cancer, she is struggling to keep it together. When Leeza unexpectedly succumbs to her illness, Grace reconsiders her priorities and decides to spend the summer in New London where she is forced to confront her past and rethink her future.

The plot unfolds in a rather predictable manner as Grace works on rebuilding her relationship with her daughter and her mother, from whom she has been estranged for a number of years. Grace’s main obstacle to happiness involves her discovery of a family secret as a teenager, and her inability to move beyond it. Her return to New London challenges her long held grudge against her mother, and forces her to consider the secret she is keeping from her own daughter.

Of course there is romance for Grace too, with hunky firefighter/handyman/teacher, Mike, though the spectre of an old flame, Von and her ex husband muddy the waters. Grace is wary of beginning a new relationship and of letting down her guard but Mike is a good guy, and persistent, so you can expect a happy ending.

I enjoyed the less traditional romance between Ken and bookstore owner, Tim. In several ways Ken’s journey mirrors Grace’s as he is also estranged from his family and fled New London as soon as he was able. Going back for Leeza’s funeral, and meeting Tim, prompts him to rethink his priorities and his decision makes it easier for Grace to concur.

The Recipe Box is a pleasant read for a lazy afternoon, a story about forgiveness, making amends and moving on. The recipes are a nice touch, there are none that are particularly original, but the Swedish Cinnamon Buns look delicious.

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Review: The First Week by Margaret Merrilees

Title: The First Week

Author: Margaret Merrilees

Published: Wakefield Press September 2013

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Status: Read from October 27 to 29, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Margaret Merrilees explores the themes of blame, guilt and responsibility in her literary debut novel, The First Week.

Marian is stunned when her youngest son, Charlie, inexplicably shoots two strangers. She travels from the family farm in Western Australia’s wheatbelt to the city, desperate to understand what has happened, struggling with grief, confusion and shock.

While I could understand Marion’s bewilderment I found I was often intensely irritated by her passivity. As a woman who had coped with the early death of her husband and kept the family farm afloat as a single mother of two, I was surprised at how uninformed, and how unformed, she seemed to be. I often wanted to shake her, especially during her vague interactions with the police, lawyer, psychologist and even her son. It was a relief when she finally expressed some strong emotion – anger, sadness and ultimately some strength.

I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile Charlie’s situation with the social issues Merrilees explores in The First Week. Though they share a common theme, I felt Merrilees lectures on environmental responsibility and racism overwhelmed Marian’s intimate struggle and rendered Charlie almost irrelevant. That we never learn why Charlie did what he did was also a source of some disappointment for me.

I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed The First Week though I found the premise thought provoking, and I admired Merrilees writing which is articulate and evocative. I was just too frustrated by the questions left unanswered.

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Review: Please Don’t Take My Baby by Cathy Glass

Title: Please Don’t Talk My Baby

Author: Cathy Glass

Published: Harper Element August 2013

Status: Read on August 29, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Harper/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

It was only after I requested this title that I learned Cathy Glass is the author of a dozen or more similar ‘true life stories’ all inspired by her experiences as a foster mother.

Please Don’t Take My Baby is the story of seventeen year old Jade. Pregnant and homeless after one too many arguments with her mother, she enters Cathy’s care on a short time placement. Though an experienced foster carer, Cathy is out of her depth dealing with a rebellious teenager and when Jade’s daughter is born the situation becomes even more complicated.

While not entirely emotionless, I felt Please Don’t Take My Baby read like an extended set of case notes. The tone is largely wooden and bland, written with distinct middle-class British reserve. While I appreciated the lack of sensationalism, Glass is perhaps too careful to paint everyone concerned in the story in the best possible light. As a result I felt that Glass offered little in the way of insight into either the individuals or the issues on a larger scale.

Though Glass appears warm, caring and sincere there is a naivety in her portrait that seems disingenuous. Glass pleads a lack of experience with teens but I was surprised at how easily Jade was able to manipulate Cathy. Jade’s attitude and behaviour, while perhaps not entirely typical, is hardly shocking and even quite tame compared to most of the mothers featured on America’s ‘Teen Mom’.

Unless you lead a particularly sheltered life there is nothing extraordinary about Jade’s story as a pregnant teen, though it is ultimately an uplifting one. Despite the early difficulties, the epilogue and the subsequent update about the family provided on Cathy Glass’s website reveals the best of endings for all concerned.

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Review: Mad About You by Sinéad Moriarty

 

Title: Mad About You

Author: Sinéad Moriarty

Published: Penguin  July 2013

Read Chapter One

Status: Read from July 31 to August 01, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Penguin Ireland/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In Sinéad Moriarty’s ninth novel, Mad About You, she revisits Emma Hamilton and her family. First introduced in The Baby Trail, we followed Emma and her husband James in their quest to become parents in A Perfect Match and then From Here to Maternity. In their ten year marriage, Emma and James have weathered the heart break of infertility, the joy of new parenthood and the stress of unemployment but when the family is forced to move from Ireland to London cracks begin to form. James is working all the time and Emma is lonely, despite finding a job with her sister, so when James begins to receive racy texts, and Emma threatening messages, Emma grows increasingly suspicious of her husband and their marriage begins to buckle under the strain.

The tension in the novel isn’t sustained by identifying the stalker but by the question of if the marriage can survive the suspicion and mistrust that eats away at Emma. Who is responsible for the texts, notes and packages is glaringly obvious from the moment the perpetrator is introduced into the storyline. I found that disappointing to be honest since it renders the plot entirely predictable even if it makes sense that she is the one person Emma would overlook.

I liked Emma more in the previous novels than in Mad About You. Here she tends to be a little self righteous, especially when she lectures Lacey and Babs about their choices, and later becomes rather shrill and hysterical in response to the stalker’s harassment. I understand her distress but Emma seems determined to believe the worst of James.

The novel also addresses the challenges of motherhood, especially in regards to juggling the needs and demands of children with individual desires and career ambition. The marriage of Emma’s best friend Lacey to Donal is disintegrating under Lacey’s indifference to motherhood and the satisfaction she gains from her demanding job. Babs, Emma’s sister, ends a pregnancy that could derail her career. Emma is slightly horrified by her neighbour’s choice to never use babysitters, something that Emma has no qualms about whether it is to provide care for her children while she is at work, give her time alone with James or just a few hours to herself.

I did enjoy Mad About You, it was a pleasant day’s distraction and an easy read though ultimately offered nothing particularly memorable.

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Review: Dancing With the Devil by Keri Arthur

 

 

Title: Dancing With the Devil {Nikki and Michael #1}

Author: Keri Arthur

Published: Dell July 2013

Read a Sample

Status: Read on July 02, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/NetGalley}

My Thoughts:

Keri Arthur’s Nikki and Michael four book series was first published about a decade ago and is being re released by Dell this year (2013) at the rate of one book every three months. As I am a fan of the author’s more recent work, particularly her Riley Jensen series, I was eager to sample her first effort.

Dancing With the Devil introduces psychically gifted private investigator Nikki James and 300 year old vampire Michael Kelly. Strangers to each other, they become entangled on a case involving a rebellious, runaway teenager and an evil entity with the power to infiltrate minds and raise the dead.

As Nikki persists in chasing Monica, she makes herself vulnerable to Jasper who uses her as a pawn in the centuries old vendetta between Michael and the murderous vampire. There is plenty of action with both psychic and physical battles of wills taking place, zombies roaming the town at the direction of their master and a ravenous newborn vampire feasting on whomever crosses her path.
Jasper is evil incarnate – he preys on vulnerable young women and craves power. As the daughter of a wealthy business man, Monica is a prize he can’t resist as she offers him access to money His ability to manipulate perception and crazed blood lust makes him a worthy foe for Nikki and Michael.

Nikki is feisty and determined but loaded with misplaced guilt and almost stubborn to a fault. I was interested in her abilities which seem to include psychometry as well as some talent for telekinesis and telepathy and I look forward to learning more about them.
Michael was, as I expected, a broody, tortured vampire who agonises over his nature and doesn’t believe he deserves happiness.

The romance between Nikki and Michael is complicated by their pasts, both have trust issues and therefore there is a lot of push and pull as they fight their desire for one another. The ‘love me, love me not’ trope is not my favourite but the psychic tie created between the couple does give it a slightly different twist.

At the time of initial publication I imagine Dancing With The Devil pushed the boundary between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as with the story to be continued, there is no happy ever after. I did enjoy this introduction to the series but I wasn’t really excited by it. Hopefully it will hook me as I continue with it.

Available to Purchase from

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