Review: The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

9780143799825

 

 

Title: The Homestead Girls

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: Penguin June 2015

Status: Read from June 24 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Fiona McArthur’s, The Homestead Girls, is a heartwarming story of friendship, courage and compassion set in the outback of NSW.

In The Homestead Girls, Soretta Byrnes is struggling to keep her grandparent’s farm solvent in the drought, especially after her grandfather is badly injured in an accident, so when it’s suggested that she accept some boarders as a way to earn extra income, she agrees, determined to save Blue Hills Station.
Soretta is quickly joined by Daphne Prince, a flight nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, eager to help the battling farmer; Dr Billie Green, with her rebellious teenage daughter in tow, who has returned to her hometown of Mica Ridge to fulfill a childhood dream by taking up a position with the RFDS; and eighty year old widow Lorna Lamerton, looking for company.
Despite their differences, the unlikely housemates soon become close friends, finding strength, support and happiness in their relationships with one another as they face a myriad of challenges.

I liked all the women in The Homestead Girls and delighted in their growing friendship. They all benefit from their living arrangements in both practical and emotional ways.

With such a large primary cast I did find some elements of the story a little underdeveloped. I’m not sure, for example, that the subplot involving Billie and her ex husband added anything to the story overall, the confrontation between the pair was anti-climatic and quickly overshadowed by following events.
Though there is romance in The Homestead Girls, for both Billie and Daphne, it doesn’t overwhelm the story. With both Billie and Daphne having been deeply hurt in past relationships they are wary of involvement and their romances with their respective partners, Morgan and Rex, develop slowly, though Daphne’s has been a long time coming.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is an invaluable resource in regional Australia and McArthur highlights their stellar work in The Homestead Girls. The RFDS provides numerous services to outback communities from running immunisation and antenatal clinics in remote areas, to dealing with emergencies such as snakebites, heart attacks and vehicular accidents. I really enjoyed learning more about what it’s like to work for the service and reading about the team’s varied medical experiences.

An uplifting story of friendship and romance, The Homestead Girls is a lovely read I’d be happy to recommend.

CLICK HERE to read more about the inspiration for the setting of The Homestead Girls in Fiona’s guest post published earlier today.

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Review: The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

 

Title: The Forsaken { Quinn Colson #4}

Author: Ace Atkins

Published: Corsair: Murdoch Books June 2015

Status: Read from June 21 to 22, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

This is the fourth installment of Ace Atkin’s crime fiction series featuring former Army Ranger Quinn Colson, now Sheriff of Tebbehah County in rural northeast Mississippi.

The Forsaken begins a few short months after the tornado that devastated the county as Quinn and his deputy, Lillie, are faced with possible charges for the dramatic confrontation in The Broken Places that left a corrupt sheriff and his deputy from another county dead, and over $200,000 in cash from a decades old armoured car robbery missing.

It’s no surprise that Johnny Stagg is behind the investigation into the shooting but his motive is. It seems Stagg’s past is about to catch up with him and, needing Colson on his side for this particular battle, he has concocted an elaborate scheme to ensure Quinn’s support.

Doing his best to ignore Stagg’s machinations, which isn’t doing his chances for re-election as Sheriff any good, Colson is drawn into investigating a decades old cold case involving the rape and murder of a young girl, and the subsequent lynching of the black man accused of committing the crime. Finding evidence that the man was innocent, Colson is determined to identify the men and bring the members of the lynching party to justice.

The narrative moves between the past and the present, and once again, Colson’s professional and personal life become tangled when he learns that both his uncle, the former town Sheriff, and his absentee father, were most likely involved in the crime.

As I have come to expect, the dialogue is genuine, the humour quick and there is enough action to keep things interesting. The rural setting is well drawn and the details authentic. The characters are terrifically well drawn, often deeply flawed but interesting and nuanced.

Though The Forsaken could conceivably be read as a stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend it as familiarity with the primary characters and their history adds depth to the story. I continue to enjoy this gritty series and I’m looking forward to reading The Redeemers.

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Review: The Unbroken Line by Alex Hammond

 

 

Title: The Unbroken Line {Will Harris #2}

Author: Alex Hammond

Published: Viking Penguin Au June 2015

Read an Excerpt on Book’d Out

Status: Read from June 21 to 24, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Unbroken Line is Alex Hammond’s second legal thriller featuring defence lawyer Will Harris, following on from his Ned Kelly Award nominated debut, Blood Witness.

Will is still dealing with both the personal and professional consequences of the events in Blood Witness, when he and girlfriend Eva are brutally attacked by two masked men. They have a message for Will from their anonymous employer – back off. Angry and confused, Will has no idea what the men are referring to, but now he is determined to find out, and unwittingly becomes the target of a deadly conspiracy, headed by Melbourne’s elite.

With a well crafted and complex plot, The Unbroken Line is a fast paced story of corruption, violence, conspiracy and vengeance. As Will searches for answers to the attack on he and Eva, he must also defend his new law firm partner, barrister Chris Miller, when he is arrested for negligent homicide, prevent a judge’s teenage son from being charged with manslaughter, and repay his debt to the Ivanics family, all whilst under investigation by the Legal Commissioner for ethics breaches related to his actions in Blood Witness. With some surprising twists, Hammond reveals the links between these seemingly unrelated threads developing an exciting multi-layered storyline.

Will is an appealing protagoinist, flawed but intelligent, with a strong sense of justice. Under siege professionally, Will is faring no better in his personal life. He is still struggling to recover from the debilitating physical effects of the vicious stabbing that left him near dead in Blood Witness, and Eva, traumatised and scarred by the masked men’s attack, flee’s to New York. Though The Unbroken Line could be read as a stand alone, I’d recommend readers begin with Blood Witness, which establishes his relationships with Eva, Chris and several of the other other characters that appear in both novels.

I enjoyed The Unbroken Line, it is a well crafted and gripping legal thriller. Perfect for fans of John Grisham and Michael Connelly.

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Review: After We Fall by Emma Kavanagh

9781492609193-PR

 

 

Title: After We Fall

Author: Emma Kavanagh

Published: Sourcebooks Landmark June 2015

Status: Read on June 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

From the sky above South Wales a plane falls, on a snowy river bank below, a woman’s body lies.

Unfolding from the perspectives of four characters, After We Fall by Emma Kavanagh (first published as Falling) is a multi-layered story of low key psychological suspense.

Flight attendant Cecelia, who that morning had resolved to leave her husband and son, is one of only a handful of survivors of the crash, wondering why she lived when so many didn’t.

Freya is the 24 year old daughter of the plane’s pilot, determined to protect her family from the horrifying suggestion that her father deliberately caused the crash.

Frustrated with his wife, police detective Tom throws himself into the investigation of the murder of PCSO Libby Hanover.

Jim, a retired police superintendent, is the dead woman’s devastated father.

As the protagonists each grapple with their private tragedies, the plot follows the investigation into the doomed plane alongside the investigation of Libby Hanover’s murder, slowly uncovering shocking connections between the two incidents.

Informed by her extensive career experience in psychology, Kavanagh creates four complex, though not always likeable, characters struggling with difficult pasts and complicated relationships, whom drive the narrative of this novel. All become entangled in the mystery that surrounds both the downed plane and the murdered woman, in both direct and indirect ways, as the author skillfully weaves the multiple threads together.

After We Fall is an impressive debut novel, an atmospheric and tense tale.

 

CLICK HERE for an exclusive excerpt and guest post from the author posted earlier today

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Weekend Cooking: The Best Homemade Kid’s Snacks on the Planet

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

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Title: The Best Homemade Kids’ Snacks on the Planet: More than 200 Healthy Homemade Snacks You and Your Kids Will Love

Author: Laura Fuentes

Published: Fair Winds Press: Murdoch Books June 2015

Status: Read on June 13, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Best Homemade Snacks on the Planet contains more than 200 recipes designed to tempt toddlers, children and perhaps even teenagers to snack on wholesome homemade treats.

baked-items-best-snacksMy copy of The Best Homemade Snacks on the Planet is a large format softcover. The recipes are generally presented two to a page. Though there are full page colour photographs every few pages, not all recipe results are pictured. Both metric and imperial measurements are provided, as are yield amounts.

In the first chapter you will find time-saving tips, storage solutions, information about allergies, ingredient substitutions, and Laura Fuentes ‘Snacking Rules’.

The Recipes are sorted into seven chapters titled Fruit and Veggie Snacks, No-Bake Bites and Dips, Baked Bites, Reimagined Classics, Mini Meals, Super Smoothies and Drinks and lastly, Frozen Delights and Special Treats.

Simple to prepare and serve, using largely fresh and easy to source ingredients, recipes include Crunchy Berry Salad; Chocolate Avocado Pudding; Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Dough Bites; Cheese Crackers; Ninja Turtle Nuggets and Elvis Shakes.

I’ve bookmarked several snacks to try, and plan to my involve my children in making them, starting with this simple

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Pudding

1 banana, sliced
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup plain yoghurt

Combine the peanut butter and yoghurt in a blender til smooth. Add the banana slices and blend just until smooth. Refrigerate or serve immediately. Serves 4

The final pages of the cookbook includes a Feedback Chart, allowing you or your child/ren to rate and make notes for each recipe.mini-meals-best-snacks

The Best Homemade Snacks on the Planet offers a practical collection of snack recipes with plenty of appeal for a child’s fussy palette. While this would be the perfect gift for any busy mother, the recipes could also appeal to adults who enjoy healthy snacks and treats.

Visit the author’s website for additional recipes, instructional videos and more.

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Review: Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

 

 

Title: Palace of Tears

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2015

Status: Read from June 10 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales Palace of Tears is a generational saga of family, passion, secrets and vengeance from debut author Julian Leatherdale.

The shifting third person narrative unfolds from the perspective of several characters, Angie and her mother Freya; Adam’s wives, Adelina and Laura; Laura’s daughter, Monika; and in the present day, Lisa, Monika’s daughter. Only briefly do we hear from Adam Fox, the owner of the Palace and the man who connects these three generations of women.

Lisa’s interest in the past is triggered when, during a visit with her ailing mother, Monika laments the mysterious fate of Angie, the ‘girl who broke Adam Fox’s heart’. The name is unfamiliar to Lisa and curious she decides to investigate, contacting Palace historian Luke Davis. Over the course of the novel, Leatherdale unravels a family history marred by untimely death, adultery, betrayal, heartbreak and revenge. What became of Angie remains a mystery til the very end with a surprising twist.

Leatherdale firmly grounds his fictional characters in time and place. Adam Fox’s Palace is modeled on the Hydro Majestic Hotel, opened in 1904 in the tiny township of Medlow Bath in the upper Blue Mountains and he ably describes the opulence of the hotel and the magnificence of the setting. The author also references several relevant historical events of the first half of the twentieth century from the wartime internment camps, to the deadly influenza outbreak that swept New South Wales, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Antipodean tour, enriching the story with intriguing detail.

The tale is well structured, despite shifting between multiple perspectives and time periods. The story is well paced, with plenty of twists and turns in the plot to maintain interest. Descriptions, particularly of the setting are vivid, and

Melding history and fiction, Palace of Tears is an entertaining novel and an impressive debut from Julian Leatherdale.

“Nothing was achieved without risk and cost. The allure of the mountains had taught Adam that lesson…. The mountains offered up vistas of inspiration, horizons of wonder where the mind dared to leap and the imagination to soar. It enriched the spirit, breathed hope back in to the wounded heart. Yet there was always that reminder of the fall: vertigo’s strange seduction that dragged you down the bright waterfall into the shadow of the valley below. Mortality, failure, despair – all these must be acknowledged. Adam realised, over time, that his beloved mountains expressed the inner drama of his own soul.”

CLICK HERE to read How the Hydro Majestic inspired the Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

 

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Review: The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner

 

Title: The Lost Swimmer

Author: Ann Turner

Published: Simon and Schuster June 2015

Status: Read on June 08, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Lost Swimmer is a low key psychological thriller from debut author Ann Turner.

University department Head Rebecca Wilding is under extraordinary pressure both professionally and personally. Accused of embezzlement by a hostile colleague and fretting about her husband’s increasingly odd behaviour, she hopes that she can resolve both situations during a long planned overseas trip. Instead, Rebecca finds herself in the midst of a crisis when the she becomes the target of the fraud investigation and then she is suspected of murder when her husband disappears without a trace.

I’ve been trying to write this review for three days but somehow can’t quite find the words. This is not a reflection on the novel which I really enjoyed, but I have to move on, so here are some scattered thoughts:

* Told in the first person, the narrative is immediate and tense, and I was never quite sure whether I could trust Rebecca or not.
* I felt there were some inconsistencies in the characterisation of Rebecca, she didn’t always behave in ways that made sense.
* I’d guessed the identity of the person framing Rebecca fairly early on but still had doubts all the way through given the multiple red herrings, any of whom would have been reasonable suspects.
* Stephen’s disappearance has less relevance to the story than I expected from the synopsis.
* The pace is steady and Turner builds the suspense throughout the novel. I read it quickly gripped by the spiraling tension.
* The descriptions of landscape and sea are vivid, especially those of the Amalfi Coast.
* An atmospheric debut exploring the themes of trust, betrayal, loss and love.

Truth was growing increasingly elusive and I was contributing; if I went down that path I could get tangled in my own lies.”

 

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Review: In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Title: In the Unlikely Event

Author: Judy Blume

Published: PanMacmillan June 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 02 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As a young girl, I devoured everything written by Judy Blume, from Superfudge to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever as well as her adult novels Smart Women, Wifey, despite the fact I wasn’t yet even a teenager. I remember being excited when her third adult novel, Summer Sisters, was published in 1998 and seventeen years later we finally have a fourth and, Judy Blume herself confesses, her last, In the Unlikely Event.

While the tone and style of Blume’s writing remains remarkably familiar, the subject of this novel is quite different from what some may expect. Inspired by a series of passenger airplanes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey within a three-month period in 1951–1952, the author brings to life three generations of families, friends, and strangers, who are all profoundly affected by these events, either directly or indirectly.

While Blume employs multiple points of view in the narrative it is teenager Miri Ammerman who has the strongest voice. Against the background of such frightening community tragedy, Miri struggles with the typical trials of adolescence, such as identity, friendship, family and first love. Meanwhile her Uncle Henry makes his name as the journalist who covers the incidents, her best friend, Natalie, is haunted by a plane crash victim, and an elderly man mourning his wife beds down on her grandmother’s couch. The large cast may be off-putting to some readers but I felt the the varied perspectives enriched the narrative.

Blume successfully brings to life the facts surrounding the New Jersey plane crashes, honouring the real life victims of the tragedies. She authentically evokes the era that heralded social change in America, exploring issues such as changing morality and political unrest.

Written with genuine compassion and insight, and with finely drawn characterisation, In the Unlikely Event is an engaging story of life’s ordinary and extraordinary events.

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Review: Leap by Myfanwy Jones

 

Title: Leap

Author: Myfanwy Jones

Published: Allen & Unwin May 2015

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Status: Read from May 31 to June 02, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Leap by Myfanwy Jones is a sharply observed story of grief and guilt and the struggle to move on from loss.

Three years after the tragic death of his girlfriend, Joe is still wallowing in guilt. Unable to re-imagine his future without her, he simply aims to stay busy, working two dead end jobs, and running through the darkened streets of Melbourne, leaping any obstacles in his way.
Elsewhere, Elise’s marriage is falling apart and her work is uninspiring, mournful and lonely, she is drawn to the beauty and violence of the tigers housed at the Melbourne Zoo.

In Leap, Jones has created two very different characters deeply affected by their respective losses, angry, heart broken and plagued by inertia they are unable to move forward with their own lives.

So Joe is challenged by the slow return of his desire for life. Moving on feels like a betrayal, but his punishing routine of parkour and work is no longer as satisfying as it once was given his attraction to his newest housemate, an enigmatic nurse. He is further challenged by the charm of his blue-eyed workmate, the ailing health of his Uncle and the needs of the young troubled teen he mentors.

Meanwhile the listlessness pressing on Elise is finally pierced when her husband announces he is leaving her. She escapes, not unhappily, to the home of her best friend for a few weeks and on her return home immerses herself in her obsession with the tigers at the zoo, enjoying being unaccountable to anyone but herself. Alone, she is finally able to confront her resentment and grief, to mourn her lost daughter on her own terms.

While I struggled a little with the narrative initially, which is shared between the two characters and moves between the past and present, I soon settled into the rhythm of the story. The emotion is powerful, yet the story is not without humour. The prose is thoughtful and genuine.

Well written, Leap is a moving novel.

“And maybe no trick he pulls off is ever going to bring her back but this one-it’s for her. He is going to make a perfect landing.
Breathes: One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Leaps”

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Review: How To Write Your Blockbuster by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: How to Write Your Blockbuster: All I’ve learned about writing commercial fiction

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Penguin May 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read on May 30, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Even though I am one of the very few book bloggers with no real ambition to write, I can appreciate the wisdom Fiona McIntosh imparts in ‘How To Write Your Blockbuster’, offering practical, no nonsense advice for aspiring writers.

McIntosh insists discipline is an essential skill for a writer. She encourages dabblers to set themselves up to succeed by developing good working habits and understanding what it is they want to write.

Whether you are a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ she has practical advice for getting started. I really like her ‘word count equation’, it seems to me that the idea would make the process of writing a first draft much less intimidating.

McIntosh then goes on to discuss technique in developing character, plot, dialogue, pacing and exposition with reference to what she has learned in her own work. Each chapter is also accompanied by exercises to complete.

For those with a completed manuscript, McIntosh advises writers on the next step, including presentation and submission to Australian commercial fiction publishers, and shares knowledge about what might come next for those lucky enough to see their book in print.

‘How To Write Your Blockbuster’ is a solid resource for a fledgling writer from a talented and accomplished commercial fiction author who writes across several genres. Make sure your browse Fiona McIntosh’s extensive oeuvre – my favourites include The Scrivener’s Tale and The Lavender Keeper.

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