Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

 

Title: Saint Anything

Author: Sarah Dessen

Published: PenguinTeen Australia May 2015

Status: Read from May 16 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close. I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother, or smart and dynamic like my friends. That’s the thing though. You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are.”

Saint Anything is a thoughtful contemporary tale exploring the themes of family, self discovery, belonging, and change.

Sydney Stanford is used to living in the shadow of her charismatic, if rebellious, older brother Peyton, but when he is convicted and imprisoned for a drink driving offense that left a fifteen year old paralysed, she struggles under the burden of his reflected guilt.
Hoping to escape the gossip, and ease her parents financial burden, Sydney opts to transfer from her exclusive private school to a local public high school, where she befriends Layla Chatham and her brother Mac, after a chance meeting in the pizza parlour their parents own. Welcomed by the Chatham’s, and their friends, Sydney’s burden lightens but escaping her brother’s legacy will not be that simple.

Sydney feels as if she is the only one that carries the burden of Peyton’s actions. She is angry and frustrated by her mother’s seeming failure to acknowledge her brother’s guilt, or Sydney’s feeling about the situation, but can’t discuss the matter with her, as her mother is focused only on supporting Peyton.

“When she spoke again her voice had an hard edge to it. “It’s very scary. Especially for your brother, who is locked away, alone, with no support system other than us, his family….If he can deal with that for seventeen months,” she continues, “I think you can handle being slightly uncomfortable for a few hours. Don’t you agree?”

With her parents distracted, and Sydney unwilling to make demands on them, she finds freedom to be herself in her friendship with Layla, and her burgeoning romance with Mac. I really liked the way Dessen developed these relationships, which are warm and realistic and equally as important to Sydney.

But with a single mistake everything begins to fall apart. I was itching for Sydney to stand up for herself, both with her parents and Ames, but I think Dessen stays true to her character. Sydney has to develop the confidence and a surer sense of self before she can stand her ground.

“Why are you being like this?” I asked her. “I’m not a bad kid, and you know it, This was one night, one thing. One mistake. And I’m sorry. But you can’t-”
“Your brother started with one mistake as well, she replied. “Which led to another. And another.”
“I’m not Peyton” I said. It seemed crazy I’d have to say this, as all my life they’d made it clear it was the one thing they knew for sure.

Sydney’s story is one that would often be overlooked in favour of Peyton’s drama or his victim’s tragedy, but Dessen ensures it is just as important and affecting. Saint Anything is a quiet but emotionally powerful novel, thoughtful and beautifully written.

Saint Anything is available to purchase from

Penguin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AUvia Booko

BookDepository  I Amazon US I Indiebound

and all good bookstores.

Review: Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland

 

Title: Love and Miss Communication

Author: Elyssa Friedland

Published: William Morrow May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on May 14, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelwiess}

My Thoughts:

“No more stalking ­people on Google.
No more Facebooking exes.
No more reading twits on Twitter.
No more posting pictures and waiting for “likes.”
No more refreshing Gmail every thirty seconds.
No more hashtagging meaningless combinations of words.
No more Instagramming every instant.
No more Foursquaring her whereabouts.
No more bidding on eBay for the thrill of competition.
No more pretend job hunting on Monster.
No more blogs. (She was slandered on one, for God’s sake!)
No more watching two-­year-­olds boogie to Beyoncé on YouTube.
No more playing Scrabble against house-­bound Aspergians.
No more Candy Crush, that time-­sucking psychedelic mess of sugar balls. And, best of all, no more OkCupid, JDate, eHarmony, and Match.”

A modern story about life and love in the digital age, when Evie Rosen’s addiction to email derails her promising law career and a Facebook post breaks her heart, she impulsively decides to disconnect from the world wide web and reclaim her life.

I didn’t particularly relate to Evie, whose behaviour more closely resembles that of my eighteen year old daughter than a woman, who at nearly thirty five, is closer to my age. She is, for the most part, self involved and superficial, and that is something that is very slow to change over the course of the novel. She’s horribly neglectful of her friendships, complaining because of missed e-vites and texts, but never makes much of an attempt to reach out. She pines over her ex-boyfriend, and whines endlessly about being single, without ever examining her own behaviour or attitude.

I did like the way in which Friedland developed Evie’s relationship with Dr Gold. He proves to be a great guy, though not perfect, and also a really patient man, given Evie’s neuroses.

The most charming aspect of the novel involved Evie’s relationship with her grandmother, a stereotypical Jewish Bubbe desperate to see Evie get married and have children.

Even though this is chick-lit, I thought there were missed opportunities to really explore what its like to be ‘unplugged’ in this day and age. Evie isn’t really challenged to live in the real world while ‘unplugged’, her generous severance payment gives her a lot of freedom, not that she really does much with it.

I am left with mixed feelings about Love and Miss Communication, the premise is great but Evie wasn’t a character I could root for and I felt the story was somewhat underdeveloped.

Available to Purchase From

William Morrow I Amazon US I BookDepository  I IndieBound

 Via Booko

Review: Only We Know by Victoria Purman

 

Title: Only We Know

Author: Victoria Purman

Published: Harlequin MIRA Aus May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 08 to 10, 2015   – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Full review to come

A rugged island. Two people. Family secrets.
When Calla Maloney steps on the boat to Kangaroo Island, she’s filled with dread. Part of it is simple seasickness but the other part is pure trepidation. She’s not on a holiday but a mission: to track down her estranged brother, who she hasn’t seen since her family splintered two years before.
Firefighter Sam Hunter left the island twenty years ago and has made a habit out of staying as far away as he can get. But when his father’s illness forces him home, he finds himself playing bad cop to his dad and reluctant tour guide to a redhead with no sense of direction.
As Sam and Calla dig deeper into their long-buried family secrets, they discover that no one is an island and that opening up their hearts to love again might be the most dangerous thing they will ever do.

Only We Know is available to purchase from

Harlequin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Also by Victoria Purman on Book’d Out

 

aww-badge-2015

Review: The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor

 

Title: The Daylight Marriage

Author: Heidi Pitlor

Published: Algonquin Books  May 2015

Status: Read from May 07 to 08, 2015   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

Hannah was the kind of woman who turned heads. Tall and graceful, naturally pretty, often impulsive, always spirited, the upper-class girl who picked, of all men, Lovell–the introverted climate scientist, the practical one who thought he could change the world if he could just get everyone to listen to reason. After a magical honeymoon they settled in the suburbs to raise their two children.
But over the years, Lovell and Hannah’s conversations have become charged with resentments and unspoken desires. She’s become withdrawn and directionless. His work affords him a convenient distraction. The children can sense the tension, which they’ve learned to mostly ignore. Until, after one explosive argument, Hannah vanishes. And Lovell, for the first time, is forced to examine the trajectory of his marriage through the lens of memory–and the eyes of his children. As he tries to piece together what happened to his wife–and to their lives together–readers follow Hannah through that single day when the smallest of decisions takes her to places she never intended to go. “

A Quick Thought:

Just an okay read for me. I didn’t care much for either Hannah or Lovell, and found the details of their middle class marriage woes rather tedious. I was sufficiently intrigued by the mystery  surrounding Hannah’s fate to keep reading though and thought the resolution was quite original.

Available to Purchase From

Algonquin Books I Amazon US I BookDepository  I IndieBound

 Via Booko

Review: What She Left by T.R. Richmond

 

Title: What She Left

Author: T.R. Richmond

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin May 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read from May 01 to 03, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

Who is Alice Salmon? Student. Journalist. Daughter. Lover of late nights, hater of deadlines. That girl who drowned last year. Gone doesn’t mean forgotten. Everyone’s life leaves a trace behind. But it’s never the whole story.

A Brief Thought:

I think the premise of What She Left is good and I was excited by the idea of the epistolary format, yet somehow the story didn’t quite live up to it’s potential for me. There seemed to be more focus on Professor Cooke, Alice’s former tutor,  than on Alice and her life. I also struggled with the scattered timeline and fairly slow pace.

What She Left is available to purchase from

Penguin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

eclecticreader15

Epistolary Fiction

Review: Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy

 

Title: Stay with Me

Author: Maureen McCarthy

Published: Allen and Unwin May 2015

Status: Read from April 30 to May 01, 2015  – I won a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Stay With Me is a powerful novel about family dysfunction, mental illness and domestic violence.

Full review to come

Tess is in trouble. Stuck on a farm outside Byron Bay, cut off from family and friends, Tess knows she must find a way to escape her violent partner to save her life and the life of her child …
A chance meeting offers a way out – but can she ever trust again? Tess embarks on a desperate road trip back to the heart of her past. But what will be waiting for her at home? Will her family forgive her – and can she forgive them?

Stay With Me is available to purchase from

Allen & Unwin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

aww-badge-2015

Review: Northern Heat by Helene Young

9780143799740

Title: Northern Heat

Author: Helene Young

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 03 to 05, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Helene Young delivers another exciting and engaging romantic suspense novel with Northern Heat, her sixth novel.

Northern Heat begins with a murder and the suspense and action continues as Connor is targeted by both police and the bad guys. Throw in a vicious assault, a frightened wife, rebellious teens and a cyclone bearing down on the town, and the story is fast paced and tension-filled. The last few chapters in particular had me frantically flipping the pages.

Readers familiar with Safe Harbour will recognise Connor as the stranger rescued from wild seas by Darcy Fletcher and Noah Moreton. A financial manager who turned over evidence against the Russian Mafia, Connor is living under an assumed named on a yacht moored at Cooktown, investigating a lead on the identity of the hitman who murdered his wife and child, while doing his best to atone for his past sins.

Connor first meets Dr Kristy Dark at the Cooktown PCYC as the coach of her daughter’s basketball team. After losing both her young son and husband in tragic circumstances, Kristy has made a home for herself and her teenage daughter, Abby, in the small community of Cooktown. She is attracted to Connor but wary of relationships given her history, and has her hands full with her concerns about her daughter’s eating habits, and with helping a friend, a victim of domestic violence.

The developing relationship between Connor and Kristy is complicated by Kristy’s unresolved feelings for her late husband, and the secret of Connor’s true identity. While Kristy is worried about maintaining her hard won equilibrium, Connor feels opening up to Kristy will put her, and Abby, at risk from the dangers that haunt him. Despite the conflict, they are inevitably drawn to each other and when faced with a cyclonic crisis are forced to trust in each other to survive.

With a dramatic storyline, strong characterisation, passion and fast paced action, Northern Heat is another stellar read from Australia’s Queen of romantic suspense.

Northern Heat is available to purchase from

Penguin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Click the banner below to learn More about Northern Heat and how to WIN your own copy

Northernheat_banner2draft

 aww-badge-2015

Review: Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn J McLeod

 

Title: Season of Shadow and Light

Author: Jenn J McLeod

Published: Simon & Schuster May 2015

Status: Read from April 28 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

“Light can illuminate truth, let us see things we might otherwise unknowingly pass by in the dark. It can also illuminate the signs that will allow each of us to find the road to forgiveness, to trust, to hope, to belief and to the future.”

An engaging story of secrets and lies, of trust and betrayal, of family, friendship and forgiveness, Season of Shadow and Light is Jenn J McLeod’s third novel of contemporary fiction set in rural New South Wales.

Unhappy and frustrated after a difficult few years, Paige Turner decides to take her six year old daughter, Matilda, and mother, Alice, and spend two weeks in country New South Wales. Their destination, Saddleton, is determined by signage visible in an old photograph of Paige’s mother in her youth, but rising floodwater results in the trio becoming stranded in the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully. Though Paige is content to enjoy the hospitality of the generous locals who offer the family a place to stay, Alice is increasingly anxious. Coolabah Tree Gully is home to a secret Alice has kept for decades and, should it come to light, has the potential to destroy everything she holds dear.

The story of Season of Shadow and Light unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Paige and Alice, two richly drawn, complex characters confronted with a legacy of secrets.

Paige has had an extraordinarily difficult time recently. A late term miscarriage was followed by a postpartum stroke, leaving her with physical deficits and destroying her career as a food critic. Learning of her husband’s infidelity pushes Paige to the breaking point, motivating her to escape to the country with her daughter and Alice. Paige choose Saddleton as a destination with the vague notion of tracing the origins of a photo of her mother, Nancy, unwittingly ending up in the town her mother fled in the dead of night almost forty years earlier. Paige of course has no idea about her mother’s past, but nevertheless feels incomplete.

“I lost the things that made me who I am, the things that made me feel complete as a person. You know that jigsaw puzzle Mati has – the one with the missing pieces we searched high and low for that day? That puzzle is me. There are pieces missing, and I don’t mean my sense of smell and taste. The fact I can’t explain what I feel frustrates the hell out of me.'”

Alice has been Paige’s sole parent since the death of Nancy, her partner and lover, when Paige was ten. Aware of Nancy’s hidden past, Alice had promised never to reveal the truth of it to Paige, but stranded in Coolabah Tree Gully it becomes harder for her to determine exactly who she is protecting, especially when she is confronted with the consequences of keeping it to herself. Alice really struggles with the thought of not only betraying Nancy, but being held accountable by Paige.

“An improbable set of circumstances.
An impossible situation.
How long could she hold on to the truth? Should she hold on?….Was she obligated to protect the deceptions of the dead when the truth might somehow help the living?”

A low key element of romance is introduced by Aiden, a local man recently returned from Sydney, ‘cheffing’ in the local pub, his own future in tatters after being betrayed by his ex-girlfriend. He is attracted to Paige, who appreciates the attention given the state of her shaky marriage, and eventually proves to be a link between Paige and her mother’s secret but to be honest I thought Aiden’s point of view, shared in brief chapters throughout the novel, wasn’t really necessary.

Through her characters McLeod explores issues such as miscarriage, stroke recovery, infidelity, identity, same sex partnerships, and organ transplantation. The larger themes of the novel examine the nature of loyalty, trust, deception and betrayal. Suspense stems from the nature of the secret that Alice is keeping and the anticipation of Paige learning it. McLeod skillfully teases out the details of Nancy’s hidden past but I did feel there were times when the narrative stalled briefly, repeating Alice’s angst and Aiden’s upset a little too often.

“Love is about connection.” says Alice, and Season of Shadow and Light is a story about connections – between partners and lovers, between parents and their children, and between siblings – tested, sometimes frayed and weakened, but strengthened by forgiveness, trust and love.

Learn more about Season of Shadow Light by reading Jenn J McLeod’s guest post, Fiction with an Order of Food

Season of Shadow and Light is available to purchase from

Simon & Schuster Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

seasonshadow_banner2

 

aww-badge-2015

Blog Tour: Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn J McLeod

seasonshadow_banner1

I’m delighted to host Jenn J McLeod on Book’d Out today to celebrate the publication of her third novel, Season of Shadow and Light.

When Jenn J. McLeod quit Sydney’s corporate communications chaos, she bought a little café in a small town and ran a unique, dog-friendly B&B in country NSW. Home now is a caravan, her days spent writing heart-warming tales of Australian country life while traveling the land she loves. Readers and reviewers alike enthusiastically received Jenn’s debut, House for all Seasons, and her second novel, Simmering Season.
Please read on to learn more about Season of Shadow and Light

Fiction with a side order of food!

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with food all my life. I love it. Sadly, my hips do not.

Kicking off my sea change in 2004, I gave up my city job to buy a café in a small town and ran it for four years. The work almost killed me (I now have the greatest respect for hospitality workers) but the experience changed my life and irrevocably changed the way I viewed food. (You may get a ‘taste’ of this in certain parts of the story! “A plate of hardened arteries, anyone?”) After the café I ran a B&B where I provided restaurant-quality evening meals. To me, every meal—morning, lunch or dinner—is an event one plans and looks forward to.

But let’s talk about my version of fiction with a side order of food.

Whenever you walk into a café there’s generally a main menu featuring all the usual dishes diners love. Often there’s also a specials board, meant to tempt you away from the everyday, to try something new. How the plot and the characters in Season of Shadow and Light evolved was a little like that—founded on convention with a little side order of fun. I had my traditional characters and conflict planned out—or so I thought: a mother (Paige) who is on a personal mission and needing time away from her cheating husband, a her daughter (Matilda) who keeps her grounded and responsible. Stranded by floodwaters in the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully, Paige and her entourage find a publican with an uncanny resemblance to Mr Magoo, a cranky cook battling a broken heart, and someone who knows that truth can wash away the darkest shadows, but the question is…
Are some secrets best kept for the sake of others?

However, something happened as I started stirring a little conflict into the plot—a dash of Aiden, a splash of Alice and a sprinkling of Rory. Soon Aiden was really spicing things up. The once sought after executive chef was now executive chip fryer at his uncle’s small town pub and a little side order of Aiden (gotta love a damaged man) was just what the plot needed—and what Paige needed, tempting her away from her everyday life to try something new.

And, boy, didn’t I have fun bringing Aiden to life. I guess you could call him Paige’s love interest in the story, and although far from Mr Perfect, the thing I enjoyed most about Aiden was creating the perfect chef. (Can’t say I met many of those in my time as a café owner!) As Paige says at one point . . . (a little excerpt about a tiny tiff . . . )

Most chefs she’d known were highly- strung, with short fuses.
‘You know what?’ she fired back, fully prepared to tell this guy where to shove his platters, only to see a smile creep across Aiden’s face.
So totally unexpected—so absolutely gorgeous—her brain felt suddenly sous-vide, with every expletive instantly and silently sucked out, the bag then sealed tight. Although why she worried about offending this guy, she didn’t know. So far she’d witnessed him cursing into his mobile, throwing phones, happy to leave cows stranded, issuing orders and generally being a prattish, mulish, moronic chef. Typical, in other words, and Paige had met very few in the business who weren’t precious. Yes, he’d had cause to hit the roof about traipsing manure through a clean kitchen—any kitchen—minutes before service, but now here he was smiling.

Foodies will definitely enjoy what I call ‘the fun bits’: the cooking analogies, the kitchen antics and my favourite peanut jokes (which I still can’t believe my editor let me keep). I even get to include the best morning toast combo ever—vegemite and peanut butter. So, yes, there is quite a bit of me and my passion for food in this novel.

The truth is, not until I was asked to write a piece for you with a food theme, did I realise how many references there are. That got me thinking. I usually provide a ‘Tissue Rating’ for my novels (yes, sorry, you may need one of two for this one) but maybe Season of Shadow and Light should have come with a kilojoules count. I think I may have added two kilos to these hips of mine just thinking about all the food references in this book. Speaking of food . . .

Now for a side order of book blurb . . .

SEASON OF SHADOW AND LIGHT
Sometime this season…
The secret keeper must tell.
The betrayed must trust.
The hurt must heal.

When it seems everything Paige trusts is beginning to betray her, she leaves her husband at home and sets off on a road trip with six year old Matilda, and Nana Alice in tow.
But stranded amid rising floodwaters, on a detour to the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully, Paige discovers the greatest betrayal of all happened there twenty years earlier.
Someone knows that truth can wash away the darkest shadows, but…
Are some secrets best kept for the sake of others?

With early reader reviews already in, I am so excited about this story of secrets and love, of family loyalty, and of trust—the kind that takes years to build but only seconds to wash away—that I could hug a carrot.

carrotYou can read my review of Season of Shadow and Light by clicking HERE

Season of Shadow and Light is available to purchase from

Simon & Schuster Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

Also by Jenn J McLeod

aww-badge-2015

Review: The Falls by Cathryn Hein

 

Title: The Falls

Author: Cathryn Hein

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin April 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read from April 22 to 23, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Falls is Cathryn Hein’s sixth novel, loosely linked to Rocking Horse Hill.

Teagan Bliss is devastated when her father gambles away the family property, Pinehaven, and with it her future hopes and dreams. Betrayed and heartbroken, she seeks sanctuary at the home of her Aunt Vanessa in the Falls Valley, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. It takes time but slowly the idyllic surrounds of Falls Farm, the loving concern of her aunt, a new job, and the attentions of local farrier, Lucas Knight, encourage Teagan to see beyond what she has lost, but how can she trust in the vision of a new future, when she can’t trust in herself?

Teagan is not an easy character, though she engenders sympathy for the losses she has endured, her spiraling depression means she is closed off, prickly, and with her self esteem at rock bottom, always expecting the worst. Hein ably explores Teagan’s experience as she tries to fight off the ‘blackness’ that threatens to overtake her.

The romance between Teagan and Lucas is fairly low key given Teagan’s fragile emotional state. Though their attraction is mutual, Teagan is unable to believe Lucas could be interested in her and it takes Lucas a while to convince her otherwise. I liked Lucas, he proves to be kind and responsible, though perhaps a little naive in dealing with Teagan’s depression.

The chemistry between Vanessa and Domenic add interest to the plot along with Vanessa’s reservations about Domenic’s motives, and Domenic’s relationship with Lucas. So to does the complicated relationship between local vet, Bunny, and Duncan.

As always, Hein supports her protagonists with a community of colourful people and animals, from local busybody Colin, to Merlin the ram, and Falls Valley is vividly depicted from the rolling rural landscape to the main street of town. While cricket unites the Valley, plans for the expansion of a nearby exclusive ‘wellness’ center threatens to tear it apart and the tension affects Teagan who gets caught in the middle.

A little more ambitious in scope than her previous novels, The Falls is an engaging contemporary story about family, love, romance, belonging and healing, blending heartfelt romance with impassioned drama in rural Australia.

 

Available to purchase from

Penguin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

aww-badge-2015

Also by Cathryn Hein

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,922 other followers