AWW Feature: Amanda Ortlepp and Claiming Noah

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I’m pleased to introduce Amanda Ortlepp today who is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Claiming Noah. Amanda always wanted to be a writer but it took thirty years and a decade working in marketing and communication roles before she started her first book. She lives and works in the inner west of Sydney and is currently working on a second novel.

An emotionally challenging novel, Claiming Noah is a taut and thoughtful story.

Catriona and James are desperate for children, and embark on an IVF program. After a gruelling round of treatments, Catriona finally falls pregnant, and they donate their remaining embryo anonymously.
Diana and Liam are on a waiting list to receive an embryo. Sooner than expected, they are thrilled to discover one is available.
After a difficult pregnancy, Catriona gives birth to Sebastian. But severe postnatal depression affects her badly, and quickly turns into deadly psychosis. For her protection and her baby’s, she’s admitted into psychiatric care. When she comes home, she again struggles to bond with her baby, but gradually life finds its own rhythm.
Meanwhile, Diana has given birth to a beautiful little boy, Noah.
But when he is two months old Noah is abducted … and Diana and Liam’s nightmare begins.
Where is Noah?
This gripping, emotional thriller binds together the stories of Catriona and Diana and will leave you on the edge of your seat.
What if your child belonged to someone else?

My review of Claiming Noah will be published later today, in the meantime, please read on to learn more about  Claiming Noah.

Delving into a scary new world

by Amanda Ortlepp

I don’t have children. And I’ve always been on the fence about whether or not I want to someday. I adore children, especially my nephews and my friends’ children, but having your own is another thing entirely. I feel it’s the single biggest decision people have to make in their lives. I’m often asked if I want children and when I say “I’m not sure” I’m consistently told “You will one day.” Perhaps they’re right, but I think there are plenty of people like me out there who are ambivalent about wanting to have children. And after all the research I had to do for Claiming Noah, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be brave enough to become a mother.

While writing Claiming Noah I researched fertility treatments, miscarriages, difficult pregnancies, even more difficult childbirths. Then of course there are all the problems you can face after the baby is born: trying to get your baby to feed and sleep while facing a barrage of advice (mostly unsolicited, from what I’m told) and dealing with the expectations placed on you by others and by yourself. I learnt that postpartum disorders are extremely common. Eighty per cent of women experience the baby blues, one in seven experience postnatal depression, and one or two in every thousand new mothers experience postpartum psychosis. They’re grim statistics and I really feel for any woman who has had to deal with these disorders while trying to take care of a newborn. Then there’s the competitive gauntlet of mothers’ groups, juggling work and childcare, and dealing with other people’s judgment and advice while trying to work out how to raise your child to be a decent human being. As an outsider to all of this it seems incredibly difficult and I’m in awe of anyone who can get through raising a child unscathed.

Claiming Noah is about two couples on either side of an embryo donation: the couple who decide to donate their excess embryo, and the couple who adopt and implant the embryo to raise as their own child. I hadn’t heard of embryo donation before I started writing Claiming Noah and I was surprised when I found out that it has been available in Australia for over 10 years. I knew that in the past IVF used to produce a lot multiple births – twins, triplets, even quadruplets. We all remember hearing about the mother who after going through IVF gave birth to octuplets in the US four years ago. But most fertility clinics won’t implant multiple embryos anymore. In Australia they’ll only implant one at a time (two at the most). The science behind IVF is progressing all the time and embryologists can work out which embryos have the best chance of survival, so those are the ones implanted first. A consequence of this change in process is that there are thousands of excess embryos in frozen storage. It’s estimated that there are over 120,000 in Australia. So embryo donation makes a lot of sense, even though only a small percentage of couples choose to take up that option.

I was interested in how the lives of couples on both the donating and receiving end of an embryo donation would intersect, so I decided to tell the story of Claiming Noah in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of each of the two women. I wanted to tell the story this way because the characters’ lives are so closely linked, even though they haven’t met each other, and I wanted to explore how the actions of one woman affected the other.

The other reason I had for structuring the story in this way is because I want the readers to empathise with both women and therefore find themselves torn about whose side they’re on. There isn’t a clear antagonist in this story, even though many of the characters do awful things at some point, and I think that’s an accurate representation of life. Everyone has their own agenda and we don’t always think about what impact our actions will have on other people.

I’ve been asked many times by people who have read Claiming Noah how it affected me to write a story that deals with such extreme emotional issues and moral dilemmas. Let’s just say I wasn’t a barrel of laughs while I was writing the first draft. I was working full-time, coming home from my marketing job to have dinner and relax for a while before I started writing at about 10pm and worked into the early hours of the morning. I’m a night owl anyway, so that isn’t as extreme as it sounds, but I remember the feeling of panic when I’d look at the clock, realise it was three o’clock in the morning, and then realise I had to get up for work in four hours. As well as the sleep deprivation, I was carrying around in my mind thoughts of infertility, postpartum psychosis, kidnapping and a mother’s grief at losing her son. Some scenes made me cry as I wrote them, others made me feel like a sociopath. But that’s what writing is all about. If you don’t feel anything, how can you expect your readers to?

Claiming Noah is available to purchase from

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Review: Shadow Study by Maria V Snyder

Title: Shadow Study {Soulfinders #1; Study#4; The Chronicles of Ixia #7}

Author: Maria V Snyder

Published: HarlequinTeen Au March 2015

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Status: Read from February 26 to 28, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Shadow Study launches an exciting new fantasy adventure trilogy by Maria V Snyder featuring characters familiar from her Study and Glass series.

It opens as Yelena, on her way to meet Valek for a brief reunion, is attacked by a hidden assailant who shoots her with a poisoned arrow. Able to heal herself, Yelena enjoys a passionate reunion with Valek before he returns to Ixia, but twenty four hours later she realises her magic has disappeared. Returning to Sitia, Yelena is desperate to find out how she has been stripped of her powers, and how to get them back. Without them she is vulnerable, especially since an old enemy is bent on revenge, and a new one is determined to destroy her.

While Yelena sets out to find the answers she needs, Valek is busy in his role as the Commander’s second after being gone for almost a year. His point of view details life at the keep, as well as Valek’s recall of his past as a student of the The School of Night and Shadows, desperate to avenge the murders of his family, and sets up what I assume will be the main thrust of the plot for this trilogy – a brewing war between Sitia and Ixia.

I don’t think it is strictly necessary to have read the previous books set in this world to enjoy Shadow Study, but those that have will have the slight advantage of being privy to both the history of Snyder’s world, and the development of the characters and their relationships. Snyder does introduce a few new characters in Shadow Study, most notably Onora, a talented assassin with her eye on Valek’s job, and Gerik, a soldier, who are partnered with Janco and Ari.

For established and new fans alike, Shadow Study should prove to be a fast paced and entertaining fantasy adventure. Fair warning though, the book ends on a cliffhanger and the second book, Night Study, won’t be published until 2016.

Available to purchase from

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YA Adventure

Review: Blue Stars by Emily Gray Tedrowe

 

Title: Blue Stars

Author: Emily Gray Tedrowe

Published: St Martin’s Press February 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from February 16 to 17, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Inspired in part by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center scandal that exposed a shocking litany of bureaucratic neglect in the care and housing of injured returned soldiers and their families in 2007, Blue Stars, by Emily Gray Tedrowe, is a story about the realities of the modern day home front for two women.

Ellen is a Midwestern literature professor, who is drawn into the war when her legal ward, Michael, enlists as a Marine. She struggles to reconcile her objections, and her fears for Michael’s safety, with her desire to support him.

Lacey is a loyal ‘Army Wife’, enormously proud that her husband, Eddie, serves his country, but she struggles with the realities of marriage to a career Army man, money is tight and she is often lonely.

Though a little slow to start, as Tedrowe establishes the personal histories and circumstances of her lead characters, I quickly found myself absorbed in the lives of Ellen and Lacey. The two women are very different, representing almost opposite lifestyles and viewpoints, who cope with their loved one’s deployment in contrasting ways.

The two women don’t meet until Michael and Eddie, in separate incidents, are badly injured in Iraq and housed at the Walter Reed. As their loved ones battle to recover from their injuries, Ellen and Lacey forge a friendship as they struggle to cope with the responsibilities, stresses, uncertainties and unending bureaucracy of their situation.

A frank and affecting portrayal of the challenges faced by the families of serving soldiers, and the shame of the Walter Reed Hospital scandal, Blue Stars is a moving and thought-provoking novel.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Harm’s Reach by Alex Barclay

 

Title: Harm’s Reach {Ren Bryce #4}

Author: Alex Barclay

Published: HarperCollins February 2015

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Status: Read from February 24 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

Harm’s Reach is the fourth book in Alex Barclay’s crime fiction series featuring FBI Agent Ren Bryce.

Despite not being familiar with the previous novels in this series I didn’t feel at all adrift. Ren, an FBI agent attached to a multi agency task force in Denver, is following up on a bank robbery when she stumbles upon the body of a young pregnant woman, shot to death in a rental car on the side of the road. No one seems to be able to explain what Laura Flynn was doing there or why any one would wish her harm.

The investigation twists in unexpected ways, with Ren’s colleague and friend, cold case investigator Janine Hooks, becoming involved when they theorise that Laura may have uncovered some sensitive information about a fifty year old crime. Even as they explore the possibility, Ren continues to delve into Laura Flynn’s life, and discovers that the wealthy employers that claim Laura as family are hiding secrets from them. I enjoyed the intricacies of the plot and was surprised by the way the threads converged to resolve not one but three very different cases.

I really liked getting to know Ren who is an intelligent and capable investigator with a wicked sense of humour. Ren is also struggling with a recent diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, an unusual trait for a lead character in this genre, and a new long distance relationship with a man who is unaware of her condition.
Ren’s colleagues and friends are appealing, I enjoyed her banter with Janine and her task force mates, and the relationship between Ren and her boss, and with her therapist, offers additional insight into her character.

Offering strong and interesting characterisation, and a well crafted story I really enjoyed Harm’s Reach and I’m eager to read more of this series.

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Diversity

Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

Title: My Sunshine Away

Author: M.O Walsh

Published: GP Putnam & Sons: Penguin USA February 2015

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

My Thoughts:
My Sunshine Away is a moving and poignant coming of age narrative from debut author M.O. Walsh.

The unnamed narrator of My Sunshine Away is fourteen during the summer of 1989. He lives with his mother in middle class Baton Rouge, where he rakes leaves, plays baseball in the streets, chases the ice cream van and spies on the object of his obsessive crush, fifteen year old Lindy Simpson. One late summer evening his suburban idyll is disrupted when Lindy is is attacked on their street on her way home from a track practice.

This is a story of memory and hindsight, innocence and heartache, blessings and tragedy. Walsh brilliantly recalls the emotional intensity of adolescence, the confusion, the conviction, the naivete, and the regrets that can linger into adulthood. He highlights the joy and melancholy of first love, the shock of first disappointments, and the way in which these things stay with us.

The intensity of the first person narrative is tempered slightly by the adult perspective as the narrator segues between recall and rumination of Lindy’s rape and the aftermath.

“Every moment is crucial. And if we recognize this and embrace it, we will one day be able to look back and understand and feel and regret and reminisce and, if we are lucky, cherish.”

Referencing defining events such as the Challenger explosion, the capture of Jeffrey Dahmer and Hurricane Katrina, Walsh evokes nostalgia for long summer days on neighborhood streets, before the advent of cell phones and the internet. He explores the way in which the experiences of childhood and adolescence help to shape who we become as adults, but also the ways in which our memories of that time may be deeply flawed.

“But for every adult person you look up to in life there is trailing behind them an invisible chain gang of ghosts, all of which, as a child, you are generously spared from meeting.”

Evocative, tender and sincere My Sunshine Away is an absorbing, beautifully observed tale.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

 

Title: Red Queen {Red Queen #1}

Author: Victoria Aveyard

Published: Hachette Au February 2015

Status: Read from February 11 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

A fast-paced high fantasy adventure, Red Queen introduces Victoria Aveyard’s debut trilogy.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of Red Queen is its fairly formulaic concept. Aveyard pits an elite group – the Silvers – against an oppressed faction – the Reds. The Silvers, so called because of their silver blood, have a range of special abilities and hold all the wealth and power. The Reds, who bleed red blood, have no such gifts and are used as little more than slave labour or as fodder for the war with neighboring factions, subject to the whims of the ruling class. Enter the Scarlet Dawn, a band of Red rebels determined to overthrow the Silver’s.

“We will rise, red as the dawn.”

In terms of plot however, the author ably develops exciting conflict, intrigue, and betrayal. There is plenty of tension, high emotion and drama as Mare struggles to deal with the dangerous situation she finds herself trapped in. The story is fast paced with plenty of action and the obligatory romantic triangle, though with a surprising twist.

“I see a world on the edge of a blade. Without balance, it will fall.”

I liked Mare a lot, she is daring, feisty and loyal to those she loves. She has never simply accepted her lot in life as a Red, rebelling by becoming a petty thief in order to help support her family, and she jumps at the chance to become part of the revolution. Mare’s idealism is tempered with a hard earned streak of pragmatism but it proves to be not quite enough to protect her from intrigue of the Silver Court. She makes mistakes, tending to take things at face value, and as such is vulnerable to placing her trust in the wrong people with dramatic consequences.

“It is impossible. It is foolish. It is our best chance.”

The other main characters introduced in Red Queen also prove to be interesting, particularly the Silver Princes, Cal and Maven. Their complicated dynamic is integral to the plot development and Aveyard uses it well.

“He’s strong, he’s talented, he’s powerful – and I’m his shadow. The shadow of the flame.”

Entertaining and exciting I really enjoyed Red Queen and I am looking forward to the next book.

Available to purchase from

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Review: A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

 

Title: A Small Madness

Author: Dianne Touchell

Published: Allen & Unwin Feb 2015

Status: Read from February 03 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

” The heat was over, along with summer. They walked the dunes in a flush of new shyness, talking of the beginning of their last year of high school.”

Rose and Michael have just had sex for the first time, they are in love and shyly thrilled with their new intimacy. In the heat of the moment they forgot to use a condom, just twice, but as each others first, Michael’s older brother assures him, at least they don’t have to worry about disease.
Two months later, Rose counts the days in her student diary – her period is 61 days late and a pregnancy test, obtained by her best friend Liz, shows two bold pink lines.

“‘I’ve worked it out. We won’t tell anyone. No one could help us anyway. I can hide it. It’s not real….These things go away all the time.'”

With compassionate insight, Australian author Dianne Touchell explores Rose and Michael’s responses to their unplanned pregnancy in A Small Madness. Ill-equipped to deal with the reality of their situation, Rose and Michael take refuge in denial that only grows deeper as time passes, leading to horrendous consequences.

Rose and Michael are ‘good kids’ from middle class families who regularly attend church, gets good grades and have plans for their future. I can’t profess to understand their behaviour, but I feel that Touchell communicated her characters rationalisations well and my sympathy was stirred for both characters despite their egregious mistakes.

“She was a good person. And she was as genuinely appalled as everyone else by speculative descriptions of the monster who must have done this dreadful thing in the bush. Because it wasn’t her.”

The premise of A Touch of Madness may seem far fetched to some, but it was inspired by an American case reported in the media. I was curious to know just how common Rose’s denial of her pregnancy is. I was quite stunned to learn that it happens in about 1 in 2,500 cases, and less than half the instances involve teenagers.

An emotionally powerful and provocative cautionary tale for both young adults and their parents, A Small Madness is beautifully written examination of a complex issue.

A Small Madness is available to purchase from

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Review: Runaway Lies by Shannon Curtis

 

Title: Runaway Lies

Author: Shannon Curtis

Read an Extract

Published: Harlequin MIRA February 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Runaway Lies is an engaging novel of romantic suspense from Shannon Curtis. The plot is fast moving, offering some exciting and dramatic moments, and the romantic tension sizzles.

Darcy Montgomery has managed to elude her former boss for four months but when she rescues the children of wealthy business tycoon Dominic St. James from his ex wife’s sinking car, her anonymity is at risk of being compromised. Despite her injuries, Darcy is determined to slip away before anybody discovers the dangerous truth about her.
Dominic is grateful to Darcy for saving the lives of his four-year-old twins, and feels responsible for her injury when it’s determined that the accident was engineered. He’s puzzled though by her reluctance to accept his offer of help, even when she has lost everything.
Despite Darcy’s hesitation, Dom convinces her to spend at least a few weeks recuperating with him and his family and, after months on the run, she finally begins to let down her guard. But just as Darcy decides to trust Dom with her secret, her carefully constructed facade collapses and Darcy has no other choice but to run to protect her life…and her heart.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Darcy at first. Curtis presents her as a guilty woman on the run and I made the assumption that she had somehow bought her troubles on herself. I was relieved to discover as the story unfolded that Darcy had simply found herself in an awful position and was doing her best to do what was right, even though it meant she had to lie.

I have to admit my least favourite character trope in romance is the ‘billionaire boyfriend’, it is usually relied upon as a plot convenience allowing the author to circumvent issues that would trouble someone without a Platinum credit card, but Dom’s wealth doesn’t interfere in the story. I liked him a lot, he proved to be a great guy and a caring father.

I really liked the way Curtis involved the children in the story. It’s notoriously difficult to do so in a way that is realistic but the author manages to integrate them neatly into the plot and keep their behaviour and actions age appropriate.

An entertaining tale of intrigue, action and romance, set in NSW, I really enjoyed Runaway Lies and would recommend it to fans of Helene Young and Bronwyn Parry.

Available to purchase from

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About: Volcano Street by David Rain

 

Title: Volcano Street

Author: David Rain

Published: Atlantic Books Jan 2015

Status: Read from January 31 to February 01, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

“In the tradition of great Australian literature Volcano Street is a wonderfully vivid portrayal of small-town life and the uncertainties of childhood.
‘What would Germaine do?’
This is the mantra that Skip and Marlo Wells turn to as they navigate their way through the twists and turns that life brings. Such as the sectioning of their mother Karen Jane.
Marlo puts her faith in her hero, Germaine Greer, and twelve-year-old Skip trusts her clever big sister to know the right thing to do. But when the sisters are forced to move to their Auntie Noreen and Uncle Doug’s home in the backwater city of Crater Lakes even Marlo can’t think of a solution.
At age sixteen, Marlo is forced to quit school and work in the family hardware store. Skip manages to get on her auntie’s bad side from the get-go and is an outcast at school as she vehemently declares the injustice of the Vietnam War – not what Noreen wants to hear with her precious son Barry off fighting.
Against the backdrop of a broken home, the fight for equality and a far off war Volcano Street is a heartfelt tale of acceptance and belonging, and learning what family truly means.

I really enjoyed this, David Rain captures the spirit of twelve year old ‘Skip’, an adventurous tomboy, and sixteen year old Marlo, both desperately unhappy to find themselves living with their estranged aunt and uncle in Crater Lake. The cast is lively and interesting, from obese Auntie Noreen to Skip’s on-and-off-again best friend, Honza, to the enigmatic Ghost of Dansie House.  Rain vividly evokes some of the best and worst elements of Australian life in the 1970’s and the claustrophobic oppression of a small country town.

Available to purchase from

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Review: Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

 

Title: Gun Street Girl {Sean Duffy #4}

Author: Adrian McKinty

Published: Sceptre: Allen and Unwin January 2015

Status: Read from January 28 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I’ve been curious about Adrian McKinty’s work for a while. Though born and raised in Ireland, McKinty now lives in Australia, allowing us to claim him as one of our own. Despite my dislike of starting a series in the middle, so to speak, I couldn’t resist the lure of Gun Street Girl, the fourth book in his gritty police procedural series featuring Sean Duffy, an Irish Catholic Detective Inspector in Northern Ireland during the mid 1980’s.

It’s a busy night for Detective Inspector Duffy who, after observing a multi-agency midnight raid on some gun runners which goes spectacularly wrong, is not long home when he is called out to deal first with a sensitive situation in a local whorehouse and then a double homicide just inside the border of their RUC district. A wealthy couple has been shot dead while watching the TV, and Detective Sergeant McCrabban is eager to take on the case. The scene seems straightforward, the dead couple’s missing twenty-two year old son determined to be the likely perpetrator, but it soon becomes clear that this investigation will be anything but simple and Duffy finds himself chasing missing missiles, gun dealers and a clever assassin.

Duffy is a complex guy, a cop who believes in justice but is cynical about the law. He is not above breaking the rules, enjoying the occasional snort of cocaine and regularly circumventing the chain of command, but he clearly prioritises the truth over diplomacy or procedure. His failure to play by the ‘rules’, and the fact that he is one of the few Catholics amidst an overwhelmingly Protestant police force, means he will likely never rise any higher.

Th plot is well crafted with several layers, though I didn’t really feel like it offered any surprises. I did appreciate that Duffy, with the help of McCrabban and Lawson, has to really work the case to get the answers he needs. The investigation is thorough but never tedious and enhanced by the story’s subplots.

Set against the background of ‘The Troubles’ and referencing real events, the story is particularly well grounded in time and place. I love that Duffy’s house is McKinty’s childhood home in Carrickfergus, and though I’m not really a fan, music lovers may enjoy constructing their own playlists from Duffy’s preferences.

Thankfully I felt that Gun Street Girl worked well as a stand alone novel (though I’m still eager to read the previous books in the series: The Cold Cold Ground ; I Hear the Sirens in the Street and In the Morning I’ll be Gone). Well crafted, with an appealing lead character and interesting setting, Gun Street Girl is a great read for crime fiction fans.

Available to purchase from

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