Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

 

Title: Snake Island

Author: Ben Hobson

Published: August 5th 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Snake Island by Ben Hobson is powerful tale of patrimony, regret, vengeance, and tragedy.

For two years Vernon Moore, and his wife, have refused to acknowledge their son, Caleb, who is serving time in a nearby minimum security prison, firm in their belief that he should serve his sentence for a vicious domestic assault without clemency. Yet when Vernon learns that his son is being victimised by a local thug, Brendan Cahill, given free rein to regularly bash Caleb by a corrupt prison warden, he realises his error and is determined to put an end to the attacks. Vernon knows that appealing to the local police for help would be futile, the Cahills’s pay Sargeant Sharon Wornkin well to ignore their transgressions, which includes a large scale operation growing and selling marijuana, but he hopes that an appeal to Cahill patriarch Ernie, one father to another, will save his boy. Instead, Moore unwittingly ignites a feud that threatens to destroy them all.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Vernon, Sharon, and the youngest Cahill son, Sidney, I was riveted by this low key, gritty rural thriller as events spiralled out of control.

“A cornered rat used what teeth it had.”

The characters, and their relationships, are realistically crafted with a skilful complexity. Few are likeable, all are deeply flawed, but none (well almost) are entirely irredeemable. I had sympathy for Vernon and Sidney, despite the mistakes they made, but I had very little for Sharon, whose lack of integrity I found difficult to forgive.

“You keep giving up parts of yourself, you end up as far down the track as it’ll take you.”

Hobson explores several themes in Snake Island. I thought one of the most important was the notion of loyalty, to whom it may be owed, and where it’s limit may lie, and each of the characters wrestle with these questions. Another is the legacy of violence, whether from the experience of domestic abuse or war, and how it affects who someone becomes, as a father, as a son, as a wife, as a person. Also thoughtfully examined are themes of family, justice, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

“Vernon looked at his son. Understood deeply now what he had given up. Knew, too, he wasn’t willing to give up anymore.”

A vivid and thought provoking novel, I was gripped by Snake Island from the first line, to the last word.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe

 

 

Title: State of Fear

Author: Tim Ayliffe

Published: August 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

State of Fear is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Tim Ayliffe, his second novel featuring journalist, John Bailey.

Moments after Australian the veteran war correspondent concludes his speech for an audience in London’s Chatham House about his experience at the hands of a Islamic terrorist organisation, Bailey witnesses a radicalised jihadi youth slit the throat of an innocent woman in St James Square. Less than 48 hours later, back home in Sydney, Bailey learns that the spectacle was orchestrated in part for his benefit by Mustafa al-Baghdadi, the leader of ‘Islamic Nation’, and the man responsible for Bailey’s kidnap and torture a decade ago in Fallujah. Mustafa, has an axe to grind with John, and he is promising more bloodshed to come.

Capitalising on the current threat the Islamic radicalisation of youth poses to Western society, State of Fear has a frighteningly credible plot. Determined to make Bailey pay for a perceived betrayal, Mustafa has planned attacks that will not only spread terror among the population, but will also affect John personally. He begins by radicalising the Australian born child of Bailey’s former Iraqi driver/fixer to get his attention, and then has his believers target Bailey, and those closest to him.

Moving between the inner suburbs of Sydney and London, the fast pace ensures that tension and interest remain high as Bailey joins in the search for the martyrs, attempts to stop further attacks, and locate Mustafa.

John Bailey is an engaging hero, though he certainly has his flaws, struggling daily with his sobriety and suffering PTSD from the months he spent at the mercy of ‘Islamic Nation’. I really liked the strength of his friendship with his editor, Gerald Summers, and CIA agent, Ronnie Johnson (though the latter says ‘Bubba’ way too much). His romantic relationship with Sharon Dexter is complicated, not the least by her new job as the head of the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team.

State of Fear also includes some interesting social commentary from Bailey’s perspective about the state of modern journalism, the failure of the government to address the alienation of the Australian Islamic community, and the indiscriminate filming and social media sharing of tragedy.

I really enjoyed State of Fear, and I’d happily recommend it to fans of authors such as Michael Robotham and Greg Barron.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Author: Robert Hillman

Published: July 11th 2019, Faber & Faber

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Faber & Faber/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a literary novel from award winning Australian author, Robert Hillman.

In the Spring of 1968, as Tom Hope toils away on his farm, lonely after his wife has deserted him and taken her son with her, Hannah Babel arrives in rural Victoria intending to open a bookshop, and offer piano and flute lessons.

The farming community of Hometown seems an unlikely place for a woman like Hannah, a Jew who barely survived the horrors of Auschwitz and it’s aftermath, to settle, and in which to establish a bookshop with a goal to sell twenty five thousand books,in honour of her father, who died in an internment camp.

“She took an oblong of stiff paper, craft paper, the colour of parchment, sat at the counter and wrote a single line of neat Hebrew script with black ink and a steel-nibbed pen….And so Hannah’s first choice of a name for her business remained known only to her: Bookshop of the broken hearted.”

Hannah, and Tom, who responds to Hannah’s request for help hang a sign, become an unlikely couple. Hannah’s effusive persona contrasts with Tom’s taciturn nature, and the age difference (Hannah is more than a decade older) worries some of the townsfolk, especially those who know how much Tom misses his wife’s son, Peter. Tom however finds Hannah beguiling, if a bit mad, and is quietly thrilled that such an interesting woman seems to be so interested in him.

“He felt like a great block of stone talking to her, but she was interested in him, that’s what it felt like. He had never before in his life been made to feel interesting.”

This is much more than a love story though, one of the major themes Hillman explores is that of suffering. Hannah’s suffering during the Holocaust, including the loss of her husband and son; Tom’s suffering after the loss of Peter; and Peter’s suffering at the hands of his mother and the leaders of the ‘Jesus Camp’.

“Tom didn’t think of himself as observant, astute. He didn’t notice things. He more failed to notice. But when he pictured Mrs Babel’s—sorry, Hannah’s—face, as he did now, her eyes, her green eyes, he grasped that she was suffering. That huge smile, all of her teeth on show, one at the side a bit discoloured; but she was suffering. He had suffered. In the same way? He didn’t know.”

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a languid, poignant story about loss, heartbreak, survival, hope and redemption.

++++++

Available from Faber & Faber

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Review and Giveaway: All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

 

 

Title: All That Impossible Space

Author: Anna Morgan Twitter I Instagram I Goodreads

Published: June 25th 2019, Lothian Children’s Books

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Hachette AU

Blurb:

Amelia Westlake meets My Favorite Murder in this debut from a terrific new voice in Australian YA. Combines a realistic story about high school drama and toxic friendship with true crime – the endlessly fascinating Somerton Man or Taman Shud mystery.

15-year-old Lara Laylor feels like supporting character in her own life. She’s Ashley’s best friend, she’s Hannah’s sister-she’s never just Lara.

When new history teacher Mr. Grant gives her an unusual assignment: investigating the mystery of the Somerton Man. Found dead in on an Adelaide beach in 1948, a half-smoked cigarette still in his mouth and the labels cut out of his clothes, the Somerton Man has intrigued people for years. Was he a spy? A criminal? Year 10 has plenty of mysteries of its own: boys, drama queen friends, and enigmatic new students. When they seem just as unsolvable as a 60-year-old cold case, Lara finds herself spending more and more time on the assignment. But Mr Grant himself may be the biggest mystery of all…

Interspersed with fictionalised snapshots of the Somerton Man investigation, ALL THAT IMPOSSIBLE SPACE is a coming of age novel exploring toxic friendships and the balance of power between teacher and student, perfect for fans of Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood.

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My Thoughts:

 

Anna Morgan’s contemporary young adult novel, All That Impossible Space, is an engaging debut exploring the themes of identity, friendship, family, and coming-of-age, framed by the enigmatic mystery of Somerton Man.

I was vaguely aware of the Somerton Man case before reading All That Impossible Space, and it was one of the main reasons that I was persuaded to read the novel. Given the current popularity of true crime, evidenced by podcasts such as My Favorite Murder (which I personally enjoy), and the plethora of documentaries on streaming services such as Netflix, it’s a savvy inclusion from the author. The Somerton Man case cleverly reflects Lara’s search for her own identity, as someone other than Hannah’s sister, and Ashley’s best friend. This in part explains her attachment to Mr Grant, who as a new teacher has no knowledge of Hannah’s accomplishments, and acknowledges Lara as an individual, rather than part of ‘AshleyandLara’.

I appreciated Morgan’s realistic portrayal of her characters. My teenagers are all of a similar age and I feel Lara, Ashley, Kate and Jos demonstrated appropriate attitudes and behaviours for their age group, which isn’t always the case in young adult fiction.

There would be few among us who wouldn’t be familiar with a ‘friend’ like Ashley, and Morgan skilfully portrays the codependent dynamic of their toxic relationship. I really liked that the author showed how difficult it was for Lara to extricate herself from the situation, struggling with her sense of loyalty to Ashley, and not wanting to hurt her feelings. The author underscores how destructive the friendship is by contrasting it with Lara’s interactions with Kate, the new girl, and Jos, the love interest.

Lara’s issues with her family are relatively benign for the genre, but I liked that Morgan showed that family problems don’t have to be dramatic (eg abuse, drugs, neglect etc) to have an effect on a teen’s sense of self. Lara’s parents are loving but have in a way lost sight of her, focused on her sister’s drama, even in Hannah’s absence. It’s clear Lara misses her sister, who is travelling on a gap year, but is also hurt by Hannah’s lack of communication.

I enjoyed All That Impossible Space, particularly the thoughtful examination of teen friendships and the intriguing study of Somerton Man (be prepared to fall down that rabbithole when you are done reading).

“Tamám Shud”

++++++

Available from Hachette in Paperback and Ebook

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko , or internationally from Book Depository

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GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of Hachette Austalia , I have

1 print edition of

All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

to giveaway to one lucky Australian resident.

Please leave a comment on this post and then

Closed

Congratulations Claire Louisa 

*PLEASE NOTE: Only Australian residents are eligible to enter*

Entries close July 5th, 2019

The giveaway will be random drawing on July 6th, 2019 and the winner will be notified by email within 48 hours

Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson

 

Title: Boxed

Author: Robert Anderson

Published: May 7th 2019, Scribe Publications

Status: Read June 2019

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My Thoughts:

“I check the name and address: Dave Martin, Five Trees. It is mine. It has been sent to me. This makes no sense.”

Dave Martin is baffled when he finds a box, addressed to him, stuffed with hundred dollar bills by his farm’s mailbox. Even more so when first, nearby property owners Elaine Slade, an attractive widow, and then “self-serving, hard as nails” Ben Ruder drop by, looking for a misdelivered parcel they claim is theirs. Turning the box over would be the right thing to do, but In the wake of a soul crushing tragedy, and a lot of booze, Dave isn’t thinking clearly. The mystery deepens as more boxes with odd contents arrive, yet even as Elaine is assaulted, his own home is ransacked by thugs, and the police start asking questions, and Dave finds himself well out of his depth, he is determined to find answers.

“All my life I have been anchored here. I have known where I fitted. Wherever I went, people who didn’t know me could always place me: because of where I lived, because I was someone’s son, grandson, friend, then husband, and then father. Now it is all gone, and I am untethered, unplaceable. If I met myself in the supermarket, I wouldn’t know who I was. I never imagined I could be so totally isolated. The farm is the only thing that defines me.”

In Dave, Anderson has skilfully crafted an unlikely hero. A farmer in rural Australia, who is weighed down by grief after experiencing a series of personal losses, Dave feels hopeless, seeking nightly oblivion in a bottle, neglecting the farm, and rebuffing the efforts of friends who reach out with offers of support. The mystery of the box full of cash pierces his shroud of self-pity, and, with nothing much to lose, Dave welcomes the subsequent drama, despite the dangers.

“I had been lying to myself about taking the box back to the mailbox. I want to see this to the end. I want to solve the mystery. I want the money — all of it.”

Boxed unfolds at a measured pace, driven by Dave’s artless, if well-intentioned, efforts. Elaine is evasive, Ben is vaguely menacing, stalking the mailman proves unhelpful, and the thug’s taking regular potshots at him aren’t interested in talking. As Dave tries to determine who is the rightful owner of the boxes he has hidden in his laundry, the situations in which he finds himself escalate into an almost farcical escapade. The plot is well constructed with red herrings, surprise twists and a dramatic climax.

“If I knew then … maybe none of this would have happened. When those boxes… arrived, I would have taken them straight to the police. There’d be no story to tell. No one would have been shot at, threatened, bashed, knocked out, or hurt…”

An engaging character driven mystery, with a sardonic wit that enlivens the plot, and a compelling sense of place, and community, I really enjoyed Boxed. I hope to read more by Robert Anderson soon.

++++++

Available from Scribe Publications

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga by Todd Alexander

 

Title: Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga

Author: Todd Alexander

Published: February 23rd 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read May 2019, won via BetterReading.com.au

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My Thoughts:

I was delighted to win a signed copy of Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga to gift to my mother for Mother’s Day thanks to BetterReading.com.au. However I couldn’t pass it on without reading it first.

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga is the story of Todd Alexander’s mid life tree change with his partner, Jeff, abandoning inner city living and highly paid careers, for a hundred acre farm in the Hunter Valley, to grow grapes, olives, and run a five star B&B.

Todd has dreams of channeling his inner Maggie Beer…cooking delicious meals from their own produce, sipping their own labeled wine, enjoying the spectacular views over their property, with Jeff by his side. After all, Todd is wont to say, how hard can it be?

It’s certainly not any where near as easy as Todd hopes. What do two gay city boys know about slashing acres of grass, empty water tanks, broken irrigation systems, eggbound chickens, and desuckering 12,000 grapevines? Not a lot as it turns out, but they are willing to learn, and determined to succeed.

There are failures and successes, mistakes and lucky breaks, all of which Todd shares with honesty and humour. I don’t envy them the years of renovation and building (though the results are stunning), or the back breaking work required to both maintain and grow a farm. But I enjoyed his anecdotes about both the joys and challenges of farm life, and particularly the affectionate descriptions of the couples beloved pets, like the titular Helga the pig.

Todd also shares information of a more personal nature, touching on his relationship with his children who are regular visitors to the farm, and I was moved by his support of his mother as she battled bowel cancer. He also discusses how his experiences as a farmer have resulted in him becoming vegan, and provides a dozen or so of his favourite recipes.

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga is an entertaining and charming memoir, and might just inspire your own dreams for a new life, or at least for a nice glass of Semillon.

++++++

Available to purchase from Simon & Schuster

Or to purchase via Booko

 

Linking to #NonFictionFriday @ DoingDeweyDecimal

Review: Hush Hush {Harriet Blue #4} by Candice Fox and James Patterson

 

Title: Hush Hush {Harriet Blue #4}

Author: Candice Fox and James Patterson

Published: May 7th 2019, Century

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Penguin

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My Thoughts:

The release of Hush Hush gave me the perfect excuse to get acquainted with Detective Harriet Blue. I raced through Never Never, Fifty Fifty and Liar Liar over a day or two and was all caught up. This is a series which requires you to read the books in order.

Hush Hush picks up a few weeks after the events of Liar Liar. Making good on his promise, Deputy Police Commissioner Joe Woods has had Harriet charged with a litany of crimes, including the murder of serial killer Regan Banks. Denied bail and imprisoned, Harriet is targeted daily by inmates and guards alike, only the prison doctor shows her any kindness.

When Woods demands a private interview, Harry is braced for more threats and violence, but instead the Deputy Commissioner offers Harriet a deal. He will have Harriet released, and the charges against her dropped, if she can find his missing daughter and granddaughter, alive.

Harriet’s first instinct is to refuse, she has no desire to do Woods any favours, but when the prison doctor is stabbed to death shortly after their conversation, Harry agrees, determined to not only find Tonya Woods, and two year old Rebel, but also whomever is responsible for the murder of Doctor Goldman.

Reunited with Chief ‘Pops’ Morris, who is on leave after his heart attack, Detective ‘Tox’ Barnes and Detective Edward ‘Whitt’ Whittaker, both of whom are on suspension for their role in the takedown of Banks, Harry and her fellow outsiders begin to chase down leads.

As with the previous instalments of this series the pace is breakneck, perhaps more so here with two quite different cases under investigation. The team must divide to conquer, and short chapters follow their activities as they variously confront uncooperative suspects, hired thugs, angry bikies and hostile ex colleagues. Both cases require hard work, and with limited legal resources available, the team, particularly Tox, have to get quite creative. Honestly, Hush Hush, as with Never Never, Fifty Fifty and Liar Liar, requires some suspension of belief, but you’ll enjoy the experience more if you don’t overthink things.

Fox’s influence on the creation of Harriet Blue is obvious, the character shares many traits with Eden, the main character of the author’s Archer and Bennett series. Harriet though is impulsive and reckless, emotion often overriding rational thought. To be fair, Harry has been under enormous stress for the last few months, she’s been targeted by two different serial killers, lost her brother, been shot, been declared a rogue officer, and unjustly imprisoned. In Hush Hush, unless she can find Tonya and Rebel she will spend at least a decade in prison, if she can survive that long, yet she also insists on hunting for the Doctors killer, even though her priority should be appeasing Woods.

Despite the frantic pace of Hush Hush there are some unexpected developments for Tox. His past transgressions, hinted at in previous instalments, are finally revealed as he forms a relationship with a doctor who treated him for the injuries he sustained in Fifty Fifty. Whitt, still fighting to remain sober, also has an admission to make, and is unsure about how it will be received.

Hush Hush feels like it could be the end of the Harriet Blue series, though there is potential for it to continue, and I hope it will. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the characters, and I find the plots entertaining.

Regardless, it seems the partnership between James Patterson and Candice Fox is far from over with an excerpt for a new stand alone book, named The Inn, by the duo at the end of the book.

Read an Excerpt

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Purchase from Penguin AU or your preferred retailer via Booko

The Harriet Blue Series

Review: Sixty Summers by Amanda Hampson

Title: Sixty Summers

Author: Amanda Hampson

Published: May 1st 2019, Viking

Status: Read May 2019 – courtesy Penguin

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My Thoughts:

 

Sixty Summers is a charming, astute and moving novel about friendship, love, and being true to yourself, no matter your age.

In their youth, Maggie, Rose, and Fran imagined bright futures filled with love, adventure, and success. Now, approaching their sixtieth birthdays, the three friends wonder what happened to those dreams. Maggie is overworked and under appreciated by her large family, Rose is bored, and frustrated by her needy husband, and Fran is disappointed with both her lacklustre career and love life.

Hoping to revive the spirit of joie de vivre they have lost, Maggie, Rose and Fran decide to relive a European tour they took in their early twenties. It’s a journey that will challenge and ultimately redefine who they are, and what they want.

“And here they were, forty years later. They had changed beyond recognition. And not changed at all.”

Hampson’s characterisation in Sixty Summers is thoughtful and feels authentic. Each of Hampson’s characters are unsatisfied with their lives at the outset of the trip. Fran perhaps only mildly, Rose a little more so, but Maggie is emotionally exhausted and near her breaking point. These women are closer to my mothers age than mine, yet I can empathise with each of them in some manner.

“She was struck by the horrible thought that this well-intentioned adventure could end up costing the three of them their friendship”

Despite retracing the route they took as young women, inspiring some joyful reminisces, it becomes clear that the lack of spontaneity in their comfortable itinerary is stifling the experience they hoped for, and Hampson thoughtfully portrays the women’s increasing frustration with the situation, and each other.

“So the upshot of this disaster is that it’s cheered us all up..”

An impulsive purchase, a theft, a near death experience, and a long held secret one of the women is keeping, all eventually conspire to throw their carefully planned schedule off track. Circumstances finally allows Maggie and Rose some freedom from their family’s transatlantic interruptions, so when they reach the Grecian Coast they are all ready to take a risk and be honest with each other, and themselves.

“Anyone who saw them would assume they were three old hens on a cosy holiday, never suspecting that they had met their younger selves, witnessed their lives from a different angle, and changed in ways even they couldn’t yet know.”

While I enjoyed the vicarious tour of Europe, visiting Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, through Italy and over to Greece, richly described by the author, (and whose real life tour is FEATURED HERE on Book’d Out), it’s really the emotional journey’s of Hampson’s characters that kept me engrossed in this novel.

In Sixty Summers, Hampson reminds us that the ‘third act’ need not be the final act, change is still possible, though it will take honesty and courage.

 

Read an Extract

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Available to purchase via the publisher at Penguin AU

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A thought about: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

 

Title: The Natural Way of Things

Author: Charlotte Wood

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2015

Status: Read from October 26 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

She hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, ‘I need to know where I am.’ The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, ‘Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.’

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue — but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

My Thoughts:

A thought provoking, provocative novel that explores a chilling near-future dystopia drawn from the realities of contemporary society for women. Beautifully written but deeply disquieting.

 

Available via

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About: Buying Thyme by TJ Hamilton

 

Title: Buying Thyme {Thyme Trilogy #1}

Author: TJ Hamilton

Published: Harlequin AU October 2015

Status: Read from October 27 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy

What else comes at a price?
Miranda is a high-class escort at an infamous agency in Sydney, and always in demand from their top clients. Although it’s a life she never imagined for herself, Miranda has mastered the art of seducing men and makes a good living from it.
Joe Tench, rich, powerful and alluring, owns the majority of the nightlife in Sydney and is a regular client of Miranda’s. He’s demanding, dominating and dangerous, but Miranda finds herself falling for his unexpected, yet enticing charm.
That is, until she meets the mysterious Tom Smythe, heir to a wealthy mining company, and becomes caught between her feelings for these two very different men.
But neither is what they seem, and when tragedy forces Miranda to embark on a journey of discovery she will find it difficult to escape from. What price will she pay for freedom?

Available via

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