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


Title: The Natural Way of Things

Author: Charlotte Wood

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2015

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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


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Review: Night Owls by Jenn Bennett


Title: Night Owls

Author: Jenn Bennett

Published: Simon & Schuster September 2015

Status: Read on October 01, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Night Owls is a charming contemporary young adult novel from Jenn Bennet.

When aspiring medical illustrator Beatrix Adams meets a handsome teenage boy while waiting for San Francisco’s owl bus, she’s surprised to learn he is responsible for the stunning word graffiti that has the city in an uproar. Busy putting together an entry for an art contest, and her summer job, Bex doesn’t expect to see him again, but after Jack makes a grand gesture on her birthday, everything changes.

The romance between Jack and Beatrix is sweet and gentle. I liked the way Bennett developed their relationship, and even though the time-frame was fairly short, I believed in their progression. I enjoyed their banter during their first meetings and later, the support they offered each other. I was a little surprised by the sexual intimacy, but I think it was beautifully written.

The connection Bex and Jack make through their art is an important part of Night Owls. I love that Bex is an aspiring medical illustrator, it’s such a unique choice and I really like the way Bennett worked the idea throughout the novel. Jack’s graffiti art is intensely personal, and his motive very touching.

Though the romance between Bex and Jack is a major element of the story, Bennett also explores several important themes including divorce and mental illness. Bex and Jack’s family’s are very much a part of the story. Bex is close to her older brother Heath and her single mother but she is estranged from her father who left the family after an affair and is unsure when he reaches out to her. Jack’s family situation is also complicated though in an entirely different, and heartbreaking way.

A witty, stirring, and poignant story about love, family, art and heart, Night Owls is beautifully written.


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* Also published  as The Anatomical Shape of the Heart

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Giveaway & Review: Cloudwish by Fiona Wood


Title: Cloudwish

Author: Fiona Wood

Published: Pan Macmillan AUS September 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Cloudwish is a delightful new contemporary young adult novel from Fiona Wood, author of Six Impossible Things and Wildlife.

Asked to choose a prop for a creative writing assignment, Vân Uoc Phan selects a small glass vial. Inside, a slip of paper says wish. Vân Uoc considers the possibilities, she could wish not be the only ‘scholarship/poor/smart/Asian’ in her privileged private school, or that the government would stop persecuting asylum seekers, but Vân Uoc’s most private and fervent wish, is for Billy Gardiner to like her.

Readers familiar with Wildlife might recognise Vân Uoc and Billy for their role in the book as minor characters.
Vân Uoc is the only daughter of Vietnamese refugees, she lives in a housing commission flat, attending the prestigious Crowthorne Grammar on an academic scholarship. She is quiet and studious, her parents expect she will become a doctor or a lawyer, though Vân Uoc dreams of becoming an artist.
Billy Gardiner is Crowthorne Grammar’s golden boy, he is smart but takes very little seriously. One of the first eight on the successful school rowing team, the son of wealthy parents, he takes his privilege for granted in a way Vân Uoc never can.

When Billy suddenly takes notice of her, Vân Uoc assumes she is being set up for a joke but as his attention persists, she begins to wonder if a wish really can come true. The ensuing relationship between Vân Uoc and Billy is sweet and believable, deftly handled by the author within the context of the story.

But this is not just a story about a teen romance, throughout the story, Wood sensitively explores the experience of diversity in all its forms with a focus on socioeconomic, racial and cultural difference. Vân Uoc keenly feels the divide between herself and her classmates, she can’t afford designer jeans or even a cup of coffee after school, her free time is limited to spending Friday nights watching movies in her neighbours flat, and she has responsibilities they can’t imagine. Vân Uoc is also haunted by her parents experiences as refugees. Though she knows few of the details, her mother’s annual slide into depression suggests unimaginable horrors.

With references to Jane Eyre, Vân Uoc’s idol, and Pretty in Pink, Australian politics and the legitimacy of asylum seekers, mean girls, Chapel Street, and magic, Cloudwish is a wonderfully observed and heartfelt Australian story about identity, belonging, love, and dreams.

“Jane had all the answers. Of course she did. When had she ever let Vân Uoc down? It struck her like a proverbial bolt from the blue that within Jane Eyre’s framework of realism – of social commentary on class, on charity schools, on imperious rich relations, on gender equality and the restricted opportunity for women, on love and morality…there was also some mad magic.”

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Courtesy of Pan Macmillan, I have

1 print edition of

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

to giveaway to one lucky Australian resident.

Leave a comment on this post and then


*Sorry, entry is for Australian residents only*

Entries close October 4th, 2015


Review: Breakaway by Kat Spears


Title: Breakaway

Author: Kat Spears

Published: Pan Macmillan October 2015

Status: Read from September 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Breakaway by Kat Spears is contemporary young adult fiction for an empathetic and perceptive reader.

In the wake of his younger sister’s death, Jason Marshall is sad, angry and lost. As his single mother sinks into depression, Jaz should be able to rely on his best mates, but Mario is too busy getting high, Jordan is distracted by his new girlfriend, and Chick has his own problems.

Written in the first person, Jason doesn’t really have insight into much of what motivates him, nor Spears other characters, so the underlying pathos that unravels his story has to be pieced together from the context and subtle leads in the narrative.

Struggling with his past and present, Jason is a sympathetic protagonist. Desperate to protect himself from further pain related to his father’s desertion, his mother’s emotional absence, and his sisters death, he retreats into himself, often taking refuge in an abrupt, defensive and sarcastic attitude.

While previously the linchpin for his group of best friends, Jason simply doesn’t have the emotional strength to confront either Mario or Jordan, or cope with Chick’s distress at the relationship drift. It’s easier for him to just let it go and pretend it doesn’t matter, or to blame circumstances outside his control, especially as his experience has taught him that everybody leaves.

Raine proves to be an excellent distraction for Jason. Convinced she couldn’t be interested in him, he feels in control of their interactions, and most importantly to him, there is no risk of the rejection he fears. Raine in turn is good for Jason, calling him out on his worst behaviours and attitudes, and eventually offering him hope that things can be different.

An edgy, poignant coming of age novel exploring the themes of friendship, loss and love, Breakaway reflects the ordinary, often messy, complicated and dark, reality of adolescence.


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Review: The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo


Title: The Art of Crash Landing

Author: Melissa DeCarlo

Published: HarperCollins September 2015

Read Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

“When you’re ass deep in lemons, you start looking for a shovel, not a pitcher and a cup of sugar.”

Thirty year old Mattie Wallace is homeless, jobless and pregnant, so an inheritance from the grandmother she never met is an unexpected life line. With her worldly belongings crammed into six plastic trash bags, Mattie drives from the Florida panhandle where she grew up with her alcoholic single mother, to small town Gandy, Oklahoma. Stranded in town when her 1978 Chevy Malibu gives out, Mattie settles into her grandmothers house while waiting for probate to clear, and curious, begins to ask questions about her mother the locals are reluctant to answer. Determined to learn why her mother fled her comfortable life, Mattie sets out to solve the mystery of her mother’s past, and perhaps forge a new path for herself.

The Art of Crash Landing by debut author Melissa DeCarlo is a hilarious, audacious and surprisingly poignant story about loss, regret, secrets and forgiveness.

“I have ninja skills when it comes to screwing things up. It’s like a superpower only lamer.”

Mattie is a bold character; snarky, foul mouthed and irresponsible, her former stepfather, whom she affectionately calls Queeg (as in Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny), compares her to a natural disaster. She has a history of dating deadbeats, drinking too much, and doing the wrong thing. Damaged by her difficult childhood, Mattie knows she is a mess, but feels destined to repeat her mother’s mistakes. I loved her irreverent attitude, and snarky wit, she is smarter than she gives herself credit for, and I really enjoyed the growth of character over the course of the novel. Solving the mystery of her mothers childhood is what lets Mattie reconcile with her past and begin to change the course of her future.

“I don’t know what she’s thinking, but I’m thinking about how fluid the border is between crazy and interesting, and hard it is to decide who belongs where.”

Mattie is both helped, and hindered, by a cast of several quirky characters. Queeg, Mattie’s stepfather who remains in Florida, is the most endearing. Then there is Luke, the paraplegic lawyer; Tawny, the teenage wannabe bad ass; Mattie’s mothers former best friend Karleen, librarian ‘Aunt’ Fritter, JJ and the doggie Winstons.

“We are all more than the worst thing we have done”

I laughed often, entertained by the witty banter, eccentric characters and occasionally absurd situations in The Art of Crash Landing, but I was also intrigued by the mystery surrounding Mattie’s mother’s past, and touched by Mattie’s struggle to escape her mother’s shadow.

“Sometimes well begun never has a chance to finish, and every once in a while, a bad beginning turns out okay.”

DeCarlo’s style is similar to that of Cathy Lamb, an author I adore, and I’m looking forward to more from her. The Art of Crash Landing is a great read I’m happy to recommend.

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Review: $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J Edin & Luke Shaeffer


Title: $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Author: Kathryn J Edin and Luke Shaeffer

Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt September 2015

Read an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

In October 2014, ACOSS released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line. Of those, 603,000 or 17.7%, are children.

And as politicians whine about the increasing costs of the welfare system (from the suite of their tax payer funded five star hotel room) and the media whips middle class society into a frenzy by highlighting the worst examples of the minority who abuse the system, the Australian government is considering implementing a program similar to America’s model of SnAP.

What $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America shows is that the American welfare system, and specifically the reliance on the SnAP program, fails to provide for or protect its most vulnerable citizens. It looks generous on paper but in practice, but it leaves families without access to cash, vital for everyday life. Without cash they are unable to use public transport, pay bills, buy underwear, or school supplies, without having to resort to trading SnAP for half its worth on the dollar, selling blood, collecting cans, or illegal activities, such as prostitution, all for a few dollars.

Statistics show that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children, and the authors introduce the reader to eight families who are struggling to survive on incomes of $2.00 per person, per day or less.

The causes of such extreme poverty are complicated. ‘Get a job’ cries the middle classes, but with scarce unskilled work opportunities and exploitative employers, the answer is not that simple. Modonna worked as a cashier in one store for eight years but when her register came up $10 short after a shift she was fired, and even though the store later found the money, she received no apology nor an invitation to return to work. Unable to keep up with her rent she was evicted and she and her teenage daughter were forced into a homeless shelter, and despite applying for hundreds of jobs, Modonna remains unemployed.

And what of the children? Tabitha is one of thirteen children. She grew up with one set of clothes, sharing a mattress with seven of her siblings in a three bedroom apartment. They often went without food especially when their mother found it necessary to trade some of the SnAP she received, at almost half its value, for cash in order to pay the electricity or water bill. In tenth grade a desperate Tabitha agreed to sleep with one of her teachers who offered her food in exchange in for regular sex. In her junior year she was forced to leave home when she intervened in a fight between her mother and her abusive partner and the man issued Tabitha’s mother an ultimatum. Now eighteen she is finishing high school and has a place to live thanks to a boarding school scholarship, but she will graduate in a matter of months and though she’d like to go to college, there is no money to do so.

There are no easy solutions to the kind of poverty experienced by Modonna and her daughter, or Tabitha and her family, but its clear the current welfare system is failing. Without cash, many families have no hope of escaping the cycle of poverty, or surviving the experience without deep physical and emotional wounds. The authors argue for sensible reforms that would go some way to alleviating the plight of those living on $2.00 per person, per day.

This is an eyeopening and important book that will challenge your preconceptions of poverty, welfare and the poor. It is much harder to blame or condemn the homeless or unemployed (or dole bludgers in the Australian vernacular) for their circumstances when you understand the challenges they face.

“…the question we have to ask ourselves is, Whose side are we on? can our desire for, and sense of, community induce those of us with resources to come alongside the extremely poor among us in a more supportive, and ultimately more effective, way?”


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Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay


Title: The Secret Years

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin  August 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 23 to 25, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Years is Barbara Hannay’s 49th book, in which she blends a contemporary and historical narrative to present an engaging novel about family, heroism, heartbreak and love.

Army logistics officer Lucy Hunter is relieved to be home in Townsville after her six month deployment in Afghanistan but she isn’t prepared for the changes in store for her. Her mother has exchanged her childhood home for a sterile condo apartment she is sharing with a new man, her grandfather’s health is failing, and her fiance, Sam, has cold feet. With several weeks of leave ahead of her, Lucy is at a loose end until she discovers a box of wartime memorabilia that contains clues to her family’s history that neither her mother or grandfather are willing to talk about. Hoping to understand the secrets of the past, Lucy travels to Cornwall, a place where she just might find her future.

Moving between the past and present, the narrative shifts between Lucy’s journey to unravel her family’s secrets, and the story of the relationship between Lucy’s cattleman grandfather, Harry, and his aristocratic bride, Georgina. Emotions run high in both timelines through scenes of wartime drama, desperate passion and captivating romance.

I liked Lucy and I sympathised with her desire to understand the past. The mystery stems from the discord between Lucy’s mother, Ro and Lucy’s grandfather, Harry, which Lucy learns is related to her mother’s brief time in England. I also enjoyed Lucy’s romance with the dashing Nick.

But it was the story of Harry and George’s courtship and marriage that I found particularly entrancing. Their love is touching, and their wartime experiences are exciting, if also sobering.

The story takes us from Australia’s coastline and outback, to London during the Blitz, from the wild bluffs of Cornwall to the jungles of Papua New Guinea as the Japanese invade. Both the contemporary and wartime settings are vividly described, as are the characters experiences of them.

The Secret Years is well written with appealing characters and a moving story. Another winning romance.

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Review: The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth




Title: The Beast’s Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: Random House AU August 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Inspired by the Grimm Brothers fairytales, most notably ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, a variant of Beauty and the Beast, Kate Forsyth weaves a compelling tale of romance, war, heartbreak and courage in The Beast’s Garden.

The Beast’s Garden opens in 1938 as Hitler begins to persecute the Jewish population of Berlin. Nineteen year old songstress Ava Falkenhorst is stunned by the violence, and horrified when close family friends, the Feidlers are targeted simply for being Jewish. When Ava’s childhood friend Rupert is transported to Buchenwald, and her father threatened with arrest, Ava permits the attentions of Leo von Lowenstein, a high ranking handsome Nazi officer torn between duty and honour. Though their marriage secures Ava’s father’s safety, Ava, who is determined to help the Feidlers and others like them, can’t trust that Leo will not betray her and hides her subversive activities, unaware that her husband is also working against the regime he serves.

With authentic and compelling detail Forsyth explores life under the Nazi regime in the lead up and during World War Two. The terrible suffering of the Jewish population and their attempts to defy Hitler are exhaustively documented, but rarely is mention made of the Germans who rebelled against the Gestapo in both small and significant ways. Forsyth acknowledges the efforts of the German people who risked their own lives to mitigate the attrition, and real historical figures, such as Admiral Canaris, and Harro and Libertas Schulze-Boysen of the Red Orchestra Resistance, who actively worked to disrupt Hitler’s rule.

Not that Forsyth shies away from illustrating the experience of Nazi rule for the Jewish. Threads of the story illustrate the harrowing experiences of Rupert, imprisoned in Buchenwald, a concentration camp ruled by Karl-Otto Koch and his sadistic wife known as The Witch of Buchenwald; and life for Rupert’s sister, Jutta, in Berlin as she becomes involved in the resistance and struggles to stay one step ahead of the SS.

It is the relationship between Ava and Leo that echoes the fairytales we are familiar with. Ava, the innocent, brave beauty, Leo the ‘Beast’; an unlikely love, besieged by tragedy, that blooms, like the roses that feature in their courtship. Rich characterisation ensures neither Ava nor Leo are mere cliches, and though there is a happy ending, it is hard won.

Skillfully crafted, The Beast’s Garden is another magnificent historical novel seamlessly melding truth and fiction, from Kate Forsyth. A wonderful tale of daring and courage, of struggle and survival, of love and loyalt, this is a ‘must read’.

Please CLICK HERE to learn more about Kate Forsyth and The Beast’s Garden

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Review: My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb


Title: My Very Best Friend

Author: Cathy Lamb

Published: Kensington Books July 2015

Read an extract

Status: Read from August 01 to 02, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

From Cathy Lamb, comes another poignant, funny and winsome novel, titled My Very Best Friend.

After a twenty year absence, reclusive bestselling romance writer, Charlotte Mackintosh is returning home to Scotland to arrange the sale of her family’s cottage. She is also hoping to reconnect with her childhood best friend, Bridget, who has stopped replying to her letters. She is shocked to discover the cottage in a state of bad disrepair, and to learn that Bridget, who has been living a lie, is missing.

My Very Best Friend is a story about friendship, about love, about childhood and coming home. It features a decidedly odd but endearing heroine, a handsome Scotsman, a broken woman and a community of quirky characters.

It deals with serious issues including sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction, grief, and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. There are some unbearably tragic moments in the novel that had tears welling in my eyes, others that had me gritting teeth at the injustice.

But what Lamb does best is to remind us that life, for all its sorrows, can be utterly glorious. Charlotte and Toran’s reconnection will have you sighing and swooning, the ladies of the St Ambrose Garden Club (aka The Gabbing and Gobbling Gardeners) will have you screaming with laughter as they lead rowdy drunken sing-along’s in the town square and ride bikes in their lingerie at midnight, and a surprise reunion will have you smiling so hard your cheeks will hurt.

It has a few flaws, including a somewhat slow moving, muddled start and a little repetition, but I’m willing to forgive all because Lamb redeems herself with such fantastic characters and heartfelt commitment to the story.

Witty, wise and wonderful, My Very Best Friend is another winner for me.

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Review: Kingdom of the Strong by Tony Cavanaugh


Title: Kingdom of the Strong {Darian Richards #4}

Author: Tony Cavanaugh

Published: Hachette AU July 2015

Status: Read from July 27 to 28, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Kingdom of the Strong is the fourth crime thriller by Tony Cavanaugh to feature ex homicide detective Darian Richards. In Promise and Dead Girl Sing, Darian reluctantly came out of retirement, on his own terms, in order to stop a serial killer and a human trafficker respectively. In The Train Rider, he faced off with his nemesis, and lost. In Kingdom of the Strong, Darian is asked by his oldest friend and mentor, Police Commissioner Copeland Walsh, to return to Melbourne to investigate a decades old cold case.

Deputising QLD officer, Maria Chastain, Darian finds himself down the hall from his old squad, tasked to prove that the coroner’s open finding in regards to the death of eighteen-year-old Isobel Vine in 1990 in no way implicates any of the four officers who were present at the original crime scene, one of whom is about to be named Walsh’s successor. The pair quickly rule out suicide, but given the scant evidence, uncovering the truth more twenty years after the fact is a tremendous challenge.

As in previous books, Cavanaugh presents a rather cynical view of policing where ego and politics makes a mockery of the service. Darien is perhaps predisposed to believe the worst of the four officers who he can prove behaved questionably as young constables, but not definitively responsible for murder. There are plenty of twists and turns as Richards and his team are sidetracked by one of Isobel’s former teacher’s, an aging drug dealer, a hit man who takes a run at Maria, and Casey Lack, Maria’s boyfriend. Few will be able to unravel the carefully crafted mystery before Darian does.

Kingdom of the Strong is a dark and gritty crime novel, but flashes of humour relieves the bleakness. I particularly enjoyed Isosceles frustration with the ‘old-school’ investigation, and Darien’s rather macabre ‘murder’ tour of Melbourne.

In my review of The Train Rider I wrote that I hoped the author would reconsider his depiction of his ‘uniformly beautiful, bright and sensual.’ female characters, and I was surprised when the author got in touch to thank me for the criticism, promising to do better. Though there are few female characters in Kingdom of the Strong, I’m pleased to say I think Cavanaugh has done just that. The teenage victim, though long dead, is a nuanced character, and Maria has a more defined role in the story (with Isosceles ogling her cleavage far less often).

While Kingdom of the Strong can be read as a stand alone, I’d encourage readers to seek out Cavanaugh’s backlist, you won’t be disappointed.

*P.S. Thank you Tony, for your generous acknowledgement in Kingdom of the Strong.


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