Review: Turtle Reef by Jennifer Scoullar

 

Title: Turtle Reef

Author: Jennifer Scoullar

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin March 2015

Read an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

Turtle Reef is Jennifer Scoullar’s fifth novel, and her fourth engaging contemporary regional romance.

City girl Zoe King is thrilled when she lands her dream job at a marine park and research center in Kiawa, a small town in northern Queensland, looking forward to working with the Reef Center’s impressively credentialed director, Bridget Macalister.
Though the job proves more demanding than she expected, Zoe quickly learns to embrace its challenges, impressed by Bridget’s dedication to the center and delighted by the aquarium’s residents, including their six rescue dolphins.
Its the findings from Zoe’s first research project, monitoring the local dugong population and mapping seagrass meadows, that alerts her to a problem not only with the reef, but also the operation of the marine center.

Conservation management and environmental protection is a major theme of this novel. Set in a small sugar cane community on the Queensland coast, Scoullar writes of the risks outdated cane farming practices poses to the coastal environment, the general threats to our fragile marine ecosystem as well as the desirability of rehabilitating wild creatures for return to their natural environment.

The intrigue in the novel is a touch slow to develop but I enjoyed the measured unraveling of secrets. The suspense is fairly low key for most of the novel but the danger Zoe faces when she comes too close to working out exactly what is going on came as a surprise, raising the tension considerably.

There is an unconventional romance for Zoe in Turtle Reef. Quinn Cooper is a fifth generation local cane farmer and a caring guardian of his brain injured younger brother, Josh. Zoe is attracted to his good looks and down to earth charm from their first meeting, but as Bridget’s long term boyfriend, Quinn is strictly off limits. I have to be honest, I found the relationship a little odd, though the chemistry is there, the circumstances are awkward.

The Reef Center is home to a half dozen rescue dolphins, given delightful personalities by Scoullar. I was charmed by Josh’s interactions with them and saddened by the way in which they were betrayed. I was surprised to learn how intelligent octopuses can be, and fell in love with Einstein.

Scoullar’s descriptions of the beauty of the reef and the ocean are highlights of the novel.
“All around them lay a tapestry….Brightly coloured parrot fish abounded and were utterly fearless. Zoe could hear the soft chomping of their beaks as the grazed on the branching coral gardens. Blue-spotted lagoon rays scooted past,… and a shovelnose shark, with its strange triangular snout.”

Turtle Reef is a lovely novel from a storyteller whose fiction evokes the romance of the Australian landscape, and the heart.

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Also by Jennifer Scoullar

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Seasoned Traveller 2015

 

Weekend Cooking: The Umbrian Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to participating.

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Title: The Umbrian Supper Club

Author: Marlena de Blasi

Published: Allen & Unwin March 2015

Status: Read from March 20 to 21, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“A good supper…restores to us the small delights that the day ransacks. Through crisis and catastrophe, and rare moments of uninterrupted joy, it’s the round, clean and imperishable wisdom that sustains them: cook well, eat well and talk well with people who are significant to your life.”

Every Thursday night for decades a small group of Umbrian women, occasionally accompanied by the their husbands or lovers, have met in an old stone house belonging to Miranda to share their supper. Under sheaves of dried olive branches, seated on plank benches, they have laughed, cried, cooked and eaten together.

Befriended by Miranda, Marlena De Blasi, an American chef, journalist and food critic who has made her home in rural Orvieto, was invited to join the women, taking a place at the table every Thursday, delighting in both the food, and the stories each woman has to tell.

In The Umbrian Supper Club, Marlena shares what she learned of the lives of the four women members – Miranda, Ninuccia, Paolina and Gilda, as she joined with each in preparing Thursday night suppers over a period of four years.

The women’s stories are moving and fascinating, aged between 52 and 80 something, they have lived full lives. They have variously been wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and lovers, they have endured heartache, loss, poverty and celebrated love, friends, and food. They speak, as the gather, prepare and cook their supper of childhood, family, aging, sexuality, of the evil eye, the Mafia, religion, of life and death.

“‘I wish life could end all even, like a supper when there’s that last little roasted potato with a single needle of rosemary clinging to its crust and the end of a sausage, charred to a crunch, a heel of bread, the last long pull of wine. Even. Everything in harmony. I have always preferred that last bit of my supper to the first, the beginning being fraught with hunger, the last with serenity. As life should be. Every supper can be a whole life'”

Full of mouthwatering descriptions of food preparation and feasting, The Umbrian Supper Club will delight any foodie. Crusty bread freshly baked in a woodfire oven is dipped in oil pressed by a donkey driven mill, pasta is simmered in litres of local red wine, thyme leaves are stripped from their branches to flavour scored duck breasts.
Several full recipes of traditional Umbrian dishes, such as Zucca Arrostita and La Crostata di Pere e Pecorino adapted for the modern cook, are included, but plenty of cooking advice is informally dispensed through the pages.

“In a basket on the worktable there are perhaps a dozen heads of garlic, the purple colour of the cloves bright beneath papery skins. Slapping head after head with the flat of the cleaver, she scrapes the smashed, unpeeled cloves into a five-litre jug of new oil in which she’s earlier stuffed leaves of wild sage, wild fennel flowers, rosemary,a fistful of crushed, very hot chillies. She is building one of her famous potions. Violence, she calls it. She uses it to gloss vegetables before tumbling them into the roasting pan, to massage into loins of pork and the breasts and thighs of her own fat chickens, to drizzle over burning hot charcoaled beef and veal.”

The Umbrian Supper Club is a delightful true story of family, friendship and food.

Available to purchase from

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Seasoned Traveller 2015

Review: Life or Death by Michael Robotham

 

Title: Life or Death

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: Mulholland Books March 2015

Status: Read on March 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Life or Death is Michael Robotham’s tenth novel, a rare stand alone from one of Australia’s favourite crime fiction author’s, best known for his O’Loughlin/Ruiz series.

Inspired by a real life news report, Robotham has built his story around the character of Audie Palmer who, after serving ten years in prison, escapes the day before his scheduled release. No one understands why Audie would run when he risks an extended sentence if caught, but it’s assumed that it has something to do with the unrecovered $7 million dollars stolen during the robbery he was convicted of committing.

It soon becomes obvious however that Audie isn’t motivated by money, hunted by the authorities and criminals alike, he is on a mission to save a life. Despite what Audie stands accused of, he quickly becomes such a likeable character, a victim of bad luck and worse luck, he demonstrates an enviable strength of character to rise above it all. He is the ultimate underdog, battling to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.

Flashbacks provide the details of Audie’s back story, explaining his present predicament. The twists and turns of the plot are well executed, even if a touch predictable. I read Life or Death in a matter of hours, Robotham’s fluid writing, and tight pacing ensures this is a page turner.

An entertaining read with a great premise, appealing characters and a strong and satisfying ending, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Life or Death.

Available to Purchase From

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AUS/UK cover

Review: A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows

 

Title: A Time of Secrets

Author: Deborah Burrows

Published: Pan Macmillan March 2015

Status: Read from March 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A Time of Secrets is Deborah Burrows’ third wonderful novel blending Australia’s wartime history with mystery and romance.

While Burrows previous novels take place in Perth, A Time of Secrets is set in Melbourne in 1943. Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge is out shopping with her roommate and colleague, Dolly, when she overhears a whispered conversation in Malay between a group of Australian soldiers. Concerned with the implications she alerts her boss at the APLO, The Australian Pacific Liason Office, only to be drawn into a covert investigation headed by her superior officer, Lieutenant Nick Ross.

As Stella and her colleagues work to uncover the identity of the traitor sabotaging the Australian war effort they have to negotiate the politics of the APLO. I enjoyed the intrigue of the storyline and learning a little more about the war effort. In this, as in both of Burrows previous novels, A Stranger in My Street and Taking a Chance, Burrows’ brings to life the experiences and contribution of women during wartime in Australia.

A minor subplot focuses on Stella’s roommate Dolly, and the secrets she is keeping both from her fiance and Stella, while a second involves an axe wielding murderer stalking women in Melbourne. The theme of domestic violence is prominent in the novel. as is violence on the home front in general.

There is romance for Stella with the enigmatic soldier Staff Sergeant Eric Lund. A special operative, his life is at risk if the rumours of a traitor imbedded within the APLO are true. Stella’s attraction to Lund is complicated by his capability for violence, her first husband who was killed in action physically abused her, and she is wary. A sort of love triangle also develops as Ross, an unapologetic ladies man, makes his interest in Stella clear.

Burrow’s is a talented storyteller who brings wartime Australia to life. Offering an interesting mystery combined with strong characterisation and a well crafted plot, A Time of Secrets is an engaging historical fiction novel.

Available to purchase from

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and all good bookstores.

 

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Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

 

Title: The Shut Eye

Author: Belinda Bauer

Published: Bantam Press UK March 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Belinda Bauer’s backlist, including Rubbernecker, has been on my ‘must read’ list for quite some time but as it happens The Shut Eye is the first of her six published books I have read.

DCI John Marvel is haunted by the case of missing schoolgirl, Edie Evans, and resents being distracted from his investigation when he is tasked by his boss to find his wife’s poodle. Marvel couldn’t care less about the fate of Mitzi but when he is approached by Anna Buck, a young mother grieving for her own missing son, with information that seems to link Mitzi, Edie and Richard Latham, a local self-proclaimed psychic, his interest in the case is assured.

The Shut Eye is solid crime fiction with unexpected flashes of dark humour, unfolding from the perspectives of Marvel, Anna, and her husband James.

DCI John Marvel is a dogged and driven detective, but not a particularly nice man. He is brutally dismissive of his colleagues, his de facto partner, and suspicious of humanity in general. He is also a skeptic, and detests Latham’s ‘psychic’ claims, so he is challenged by the inexplicable elements of the case even though he is willing to do anything to solve it.

James is shamed by the depth of his wife’s grief, and feels guilty for the role he plays in it, but is at a loss as to how to help her. A mechanic, he works in the garage next door to their flat with a motley assortment of illegal colleagues, doing little else than putting one foot in front of the other every day.

Five months after her four year old son slipped out of the front door of their home, accidentally left ajar by her husband, and vanished without a trace, Anna Buck is still crazed with grief. Bauer’s portrayal of Anna’s emotional agony is raw and affecting, she is teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown when she reaches out to Latham.

The paranormal element of the story comes into play when Anna visits Latham’s ‘church’ in search of answers. Though he refuses to help her, soon after Anna believes she is either experiencing visions, or has finally gone mad.

The Shut Eye is a good read, but I thought the characters were more convincing than the plot. I enjoyed the uncertainty Bauer created by blurring the line between proof and visions, and offering multiple suspects. The ending didn’t quite sit right for me though, feeling a little rushed and aspects of it unlikely.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: The Secret Life of Luke Livingston by Charity Norman

 

Title: The Secret Life of Luke Livingston

Author: Charity Norman

Published: Allen and Unwin March 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from March 15 to 17, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone is an emotionally powerful story of a family in crisis from Charity Norman.

A respected solicitor and beloved husband, father and grandfather, Luke Livingston seems to have it all, but he has a secret with the potential to destroy it all.

With thought provoking insight and sensitivity, Norman tells the story from four different points of view – Luke’s, his wife’s Eilish’s, and their children’s Simon’s and Kate’s.

I couldn’t help but admire Luke for his courage in finally following his heart. His despair and heartbreak is very affecting as he struggles with the realities of his situation. I rejoiced in each tentative step he took towards reconciling with his own truth.

“Because I’ve come to the end of the road, Eilish. The very end. I can’t go on, I was facing a choice last night: to end my life, or to accept what I’ve always really been.”

I sympathised with Eilish’s shock and feelings of betrayal, and the initial reactions of Luke’s adult children, Kate and Simon, when Luke’s secret is revealed. Norman portrays their confusion, anger and grief with believability as their comfortable world is turned upside down. I was furious with Simon’s extreme reaction, tempered only slightly when Norman revealed the awful memories Luke’s announcement stirred in him.

“Perhaps we never really understand our families at all, any of us. Perhaps those we love the most are really a bunch of strangers, with secret thoughts and inner lives.”

I was hugely angered by the bigotry displayed by many of the characters. It appalls me that such a level of ignorance and hatred still exists in today’s society. The author does a wonderful job of educating the reader about gender and sexual identity without lecturing.

The novel is well written, drawing the reader into the characters lives, but I did feel as if the story stalled somewhat in the middle and its progression was somewhat predictable.

A sensitive and thought-provoking story The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone is a wonderful novel and deserves to be read widely.

Available to purchase from

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and all good bookstores.

 

Review: Resistance by John Birmingham

 

Title: Resistance {Dave Hooper #2}

Author: John Birmingham

Published: Pan Macmillan AU March 2015

Status: Read from March 12 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The second novel to feature rig engineer turned superhero monster slayer Dave Cooper, Resistance is another darkly funny, action packed fantasy adventure from Australian author John Birmingham.

Dave is enjoying his celebrity, in a typical Dave-like manner, after the defeat of the Hunn but the breach in New Orleans was just the start and now the Hunn are boiling up from the underworld realm all over the globe, eager to reclaim their dominion.

There is no getting away from the fact that Dave is a dick, and his basic nature is unchanged despite becoming a superhero. In Resistance he is confronted with his new responsibilities as the only man able to translate the intentions of the Hunn but he manages to alienate almost everyone when he makes the wrong choices.

Like Emergence, Resistance is a fast paced, entertaining read, hilarious, action – packed and unfailingly politically incorrect.

I’m looking forward to Dave’s final adventure in Ascendance

 

Resistance is available to purchase from

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Also available: Book 1

Review: Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway

 

Title: Lacy Eye

Author: Jessica Treadway

Published: Grand Central Publishing March 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from March 11 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:
It’s been three years since Hanna and Joe were brutally attacked in their own home. Joe died as a result, while Hanna was left with permanent physical and mental injuries. Now the man charged with the crime is seeking an appeal, and Hanna is desperate to recover her memories of the night her youngest daughter’s boyfriend tried to kill her, both to ensure he remains incarcerated and to put to rest any suspicion that her daughter, Dawn, was complicit in the attack.

The narrative unfolds from Hanna’s perspective and can at times feel claustrophobic. Hanna is isolated, her belief in Dawn’s innocence angers her older daughter, Iris, the case prosecutor and even strangers.

Hanna’s wilful self deception is frustrating though it soon becomes obvious she has a long history of avoiding uncomfortable truths. And though her past reflects somewhat poorly on her, it’s difficult to blame Hanna in the aftermath of the attack, for what mother would willingly entertain the idea that her daughter, whom she loves, wished her such harm.

While Treadway makes clear her sympathy lies with Hanna she demonstrates compassion for Dawn who struggled as a bullied child in the shadow of her older, popular sister. Nature vs nurture is a theme obliquely explored in Lacy Eye, through the relationships between mother and daughter and the differences between the two sisters.

The pace is measured as Hanna recalls the past and struggles with the events of the present. There isn’t a lot of dialogue or action but the tension is palpable as Hanna comes closer to understanding the truth of what happened that night.

Lacy Eye is a powerful psychological drama, inspired by a real life incident. It’s not an easy read but it is interesting and thought-provoking.

 

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Published in the UK and AUS as:

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Review & Giveaway: She’s Having Her Baby by Lauren Sams

Title: She’s Having Her Baby

Author: Lauren Sams

Published: Nero: Black Inc Books March 2015

Status: Read on March 11, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

She’s Having Her Baby is a funny and bittersweet debut chick lit novel from Lauren Sams.

“This is it. She’s going to ask me to be her surrogate. No, she won’t. Surely she won’t. That only happens in Katherine Heigl movies, Jesus f** Christ, what if she asks? What am I going to say? There’s only one answer, right? Jesus f**”

Thirty something magazine editor, Georgie Henderson, has never wanted kids but her best friend, Nina Doherty, wants nothing more than to be a mother and when her latest IVF attempt fails, she asks Georgie for the ultimate favour. Reluctantly Georgie agrees to become Nina’s surrogate, willing to help Nina’s dream come true, but Georgie is wholly unprepared for what comes next…

Life doesn’t always go to plan and in She’s Having Her Baby the plot doesn’t quite develop as the reader may expect. Sharply observed, the author explores the themes of infertility, surrogacy, motherhood and friendship in a manner that is funny, poignant and compassionate.

I found Georgie to be an interesting character, she definitely has her flaws, being somewhat inflexible and self absorbed, but she is amusing, feisty and loyal in her own way. I admired Georgia for deciding to help Nina, though I think choosing not to have children for whatever reason is a perfectly valid decision, and though Georgia doesn’t cope particularly well when things don’t work out as expected, including with her relationship and career, she eventually pulls it together.

I’ve witnessed the toll infertility can take on the soul, and relationships, and I really felt for Nina, her desperation is authentic and moving. I laughed out loud at the passages describing the parenting styles of Ellie and the mothers at the playground. Those type of ‘helicopter’, holier than thou parents drove me crazy when my children were babies so I agreed . It’s not like I let mine play with knives or fed them a steady diet of McDonalds but they watched ABC Kids, ate jarred baby foods and wore disposable nappies, and let me assure you they are all bright, healthy and happy children.

The writing is of a good standard, the dialogue is natural, and humour is used to good effect, without undermining the more serious issues. The pacing works well with some surprises in the plot and a conclusion that is satisfying but not too neat.

I enjoyed She’s Having Her Baby, I found it to be both an entertaining and touching novel tackling issues relevant to the modern woman. Lauren Sams is a debut author with promise.

Learn more about Lauren Sams and her writing process in he guest post published earlier today at Book’d Out

She’s Having Her Baby is available to purchase from

Nero Books Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AU I via Booko

 Amazon US I BookDepository

and all good bookstores.

*****

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of Nero Books

I have 5 print editions of

She’s Having Her Baby by Lauren Sams

to giveaway.

*Sorry,  only Australian residents may enter*

Congratulations to the winners of She’s Having Her Baby:

Linda H; Jan O; Amanda N; Tash B; Kirsty A

Entries close March 22nd 2015

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Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

 

Title: The A to Z of You and Me

Author: James Hannah

Published: Doubleday UK March 2015

Status: Read from March 10 to 11, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah is a story of love, loss, truth, redemption, of life and death.

As forty year old Ivo lays in his hospice bed awaiting the end, his nurse suggests he play a simple game to distract himself. For each letter of the alphabet, he is to name a part of his body and recall a positive memory relating to it. A is for Adam’s apple, and anus and ankle, B is for blood, C is for chesticles… and slowly Ivo’s lifetime of achievements, regrets and failures is revealed.

“‘You find suddenly you’ve done all these terrible things for – for no reason, almost. Things that didn’t seem terrible at the time, you know? And not for a long time. But you find that – you know, your whole world’s changed because of them. Lots of people’s worlds. You’ve made your mark, whether you like it or not.’”

With each letter, Hannah unravels fragments of Ivo’s past as he reminisces about family, friends and the love of his life, Mia. For Ivo the memories are often uncomfortable, there are parts of his life he doesn’t want to think about, but a precious few make him smile.

“You’re everywhere. The memories of you, the shape of you. All the parts of my body seem to come together and remember you.”

Despite Ivo’s encroaching fate, The A to Z of You and Me is not as bleak or as sentimental as may be expected. Hannah’s portrayal of Ivo is raw and honest, but also compassionate. Darker moments are lightened by the humour and kindness of Ivo’s nurse, Sheila, and the regular reminder that life, even in the midst of death, goes on.

The unique structure of the novel is appealing and works well, merging the past with the present. The pacing is good and the details of Ivo’s life are teased out slowly to provide ongoing interest.

The A to Z of You and Me is an emotional and poignant story, a well written novel from a promising debut author.

Available to Purchase From

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