Blog Tour Review: Rose River by Margareta Osborn

 

Title: Rose River

Author: Margareta Osborn

Published: Random House March 2015

Status: Read from March 04 to 05, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Rose River is a lighthearted contemporary rural romance from Margareta Osborn, expanded from her 2012 novella, A Bush Christmas.

Jamie Hanrahan can’t see any reason to celebrate Christmas, a year ago her beloved father suddenly passed away and now she has been unceremoniously retrenched from her high-paying executive PR job. Eager to escape the festive season in Melbourne, Jamie impulsively accepts an offer to housesit in Burdekin’s Gap, high up in the East Gippsland Mountains. Jamie is looking forward to peace and quiet, but then Polly Plains House manager, Stirling McEvoy roars into her life on his gleaming Yamaha and suddenly Jamie may be able to find a few reasons to celebrate the season after all.

It took me a little while to warm up to Jamie but she surprised me when she willingly helped Stirling draft cattle, despite being clueless, and quickly, if a touch reluctantly, involved herself in the Burdekin’s Gap community. Emotionally Jamie is a bit of a mess, still grieving for her father and angry at her mother for her quick remarriage, but Burdekin’s Gap, and the friends she makes, reveals a strength she never knew she had.

Stirling isn’t terribly happy to make Jamie’s acquaintance, he had been expecting a housesitter who could help around the station, not a Sass and Bide, Jimmy Choo wearing city slicker ‘Princess’. I liked Stirling, whom Jamie nicknames ‘Marble Man’ due in part to his impressive physique, though I felt there were some inconsistencies in what I expected of his character in the second half of the novel, after his ex girlfriend shows up.

Complications between Stirling and Jamie arise in the form of Stirling’s bitchy ex-girlfriend, Tiffany, who is reluctant to let go, and Jamie’s stepfather’s nephew, Marty, who seems determined to win Jamie’s affection despite her oft repeated disinterest. With their relationship so new and undefined, neither Stirling nor Jamie are willing to declare themselves and misunderstandings abound.

I really enjoyed Osborn’s portrayal of the Burdekin’s Gap community, from Stirling’s immediate family to pub owners Bluey and Jean, and the fundraising events, including Buck (naked) Cricket, and Cow (poo) Lotto, that unites the residents. The setting is also wonderfully drawn from the town itself, to the surrounding country landscape.

Those that read A Bush Christmas should enjoy the continuation of Jamie and Stirling’s romance, though it should be noted that novella is reproduced almost verbatim within the story. I found Rose River to be a straight forward, high spirited romance, that should appeal to fans of the genre.

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Review: Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

 

Title: Doctor Death {A Madeleine Karno Mystery #1}

Author: Lene Kaaberbøl

Published: Atria Books February 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Set in provincial France during the late 1800’s, Doctor Death is the first book in a new historical mystery series from Lene Kaaberbøl, featuring Madeleine Karno.

“My father was reluctant to let me assist when he examined the dead. He said it could only hurt my reputation and my future – by which he meant my chances of marriage. For the most part, my father was a man of progress, absorbed by the newest ideas and the latest technology. But he was incomprehensibly old-fashioned on this particular point.”

The daughter of a widowed surgeon/coroner, Madeleine dreams of one day following in his footsteps but for now must be content with those rare times when her father allows her to assist him. Intelligent, rational and ambitious, Madeleine is an admirable character who chafes at the expectations of the era though rarely in an overt way. When her father is injured she seizes the opportunity to become more involved in his current case that begins with a dead girl, scarred with human bites, found on her snow covered doorstep.

Solving the complex mystery involves a combination of common investigation techniques led by Madeleine’s father’s colleague, the Commisioner, and the fledgling science of forensics utilised by Madeleine and her father. It is a strange case that involves an unidentified parasite, a missing boy, a pack of wolves, a murdered priest and it becomes increasingly unsettling as Madeleine gets closer to unmasking a killer. There are red herrings and twists that keep the reader guessing as Kaaberbøl explores the conflicts of human and beast, science and faith.

“Illness is not necessarily a punishment from God…. Sometimes it just comes to us. If we are lucky, it is a trial from which we can learn. Other times, we must just accept that we humans do not understand everything.”

The tone is quite dark overall and there are elements of the story which readers may find disturbing. There is a touch of unconventional romance which will be interesting to see develop in further installments. The pace is good but the narrative does feel a little dry and formal at times, perhaps a consequence of the translation as much as a reflection of the period.

I did enjoy Doctor Death, the mystery was intriguing and Madeleine is an interesting lead but I have to admit I wasn’t as engaged as I hoped to have been. I do hope to continue with the series though to see how it develops.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Intensive Care by Nicki Edwards

 

Title: Intensive Care

Author: Nicki Edwards

Published: Momentum February 2015

Read  an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

Crushed when she discovers her live in boyfriend of three years has been having an affair, ICU nurse Kate Kennedy packs up her belongings and desperate to move on, impulsively accepts a position at a hospital in the small country town of Birrangulla, five hours west of Sydney. Everything seems to be falling into place, she’s found the perfect job, the perfect home, and in search of the the perfect cup of coffee, may just have found the perfect man, but

Intensive Care is a contemporary rural medical romance in which the author, Nicki Edwards, draws on her love of country Australia and her personal nursing experience.

I found Kate to be a bit of a passive-aggressive character. There is a lot of emphasis on her dislike of confrontation but I thought she was often over sensitive, snappish and impatient. I understood her avoidance of her cheating boyfriend Marcus, especially as more details about their relationship were revealed, and sympathised with her feelings of hurt and betrayal. And while I admired Kate’s professional compassion for her patients, her reaction to Joel’s sister’s concerns bothered me, she didn’t demonstrate a lot of understanding for the younger woman’s fears.

Taking place over the period of about a year the romance between Kate and Joel develops slowly. Though they both have good reasons to be wary of beginning a new relationship, I found their chemistry a bit lacking. Joel in particularly seems disinterested much of the time while Kate tries to force the issue, which was slightly discomfiting.

Joel, with his Irish accent, coffee making genius, and handyman skills, is an appealing hero, made more so by his tragic past. Though perhaps a little passive for my taste, I found him sweet and charming.

A blend of medical drama, and rural romance, Intensive Care is a pleasant novel which should appeal to fans of both genres.

 

Please click here to learn more about Nicki Edwards and her writing journey.

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Review: Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

Title: Before I Go

Author: Colleen Oakley

Published: Allen & Unwin February 2015

Status: Read from February 12 to 13, 2015  – I own a copy { Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Daisy Richmond is twenty seven, happily married, working towards her Master’s degree and about to celebrate three years cancer-free, when her doctor delivers the news that her body is riddled with tumours, and it’s likely she won’t live beyond six months. Daisy is devastated but her overwhelming concern is for her husband, Jack. How will her wonderful but disorganised and absent minded husband cope without her? Who will scratch his back when he can’t reach, make sure he eats regular meals, or save him from drowning in a sea of dirty socks?

Before I Go is a poignant, tender debut novel authored by Colleen Oakley that tugged on my heart strings as I read it. However, on reflection, I don’t have much to say about it.

It doesn’t offer a particularly unique premise though the idea of finding a replacement for yourself is thought provoking. The characters are engaging, evoking an appropriate mixture of sympathy, admiration, and frustration, but none of them surprised me.

I did feel that the book was well written, and I appreciated the way Oakley tempered the inevitable seriousness with flashes of humour. The underlying message, about savouring and living in the present, is sincerely and simply presented.

Before I Go is an emotional, bittersweet story about love, loss, life and death. A lovely read, just not really memorable for me.

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Review: The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

 

Title: The Fire Sermon { The Fire Sermon #1}

Author: Francesca Haig

Published: Gallery Books February 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from February 05 to 07, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A dystopian blend of fantasy, sci-fi and adventure with a touch of romance, The Fire Sermon is the first book in a planned trilogy from Australian author, and award winning poet, Francesca Haig.

In the world four hundred years after The Blast, every person is born with a twin. One is always healthy and whole, while the other suffers from some abnormality. Identified as the Alpha and Omega, the twins are separated in early childhood, the Alpha is given the privileges of education and power, while the Omega, whose life only has value because their fate is entwined with the Alphas, is branded and banished to a life of poverty.
Cass and Zach have been raised together much longer than most twins while waiting for the Omega trait to surface. They are thirteen when Zach, eager to embrace his birthright of entitlement, finally betrays Cass as a seer and she is cast out.
Seven years later, Zach has risen to a position of power on the Alpha Council and to protect himself from his rivals, imprisons Cass in an Alpha facility where she is confined to a cell, her only regular visitor The Confessor, an Alpha colleague of her brother, determined to exploit Cass’s ability as a seer. It’s another four years before Cass has an opportunity to escape and she sets out to find the Omega Resistance, hoping to change the world.

The idea of Alpha and Omega twins is interesting though the general concept of a society, where one faction is privileged and another oppressed in a post apocalyptic setting, isn’t a new one. Haig doesn’t offer any explanation for the ‘twinning’, but I like the way it allows her to exploit the ‘greys’ of the premise. The physical link between the twins raises some philosophical and ethical questions that relates to issues in our own society.

AU Cover

I’m in two minds about Cass. I admired her determination to escape and search for something better but she is more pious and naive than I was comfortable with, with her compassion, and her eagerness to find excuses for her brother’s behaviour, verging on being a weakness of character rather than a virtue of idealism. Neither did I find Cass particularly brave or heroic and overall I didn’t feel her character demonstrated much growth over the course of the novel.

The pacing is somewhat uneven, Cass and Kip’s road trip in particular drags on a bit and I felt that Haig waited a bit too long to introduce the Resistance, but the writing is strong enough to encourage momentum. The tension is there when needed and there are a couple of twists designed to surprise the reader.

Marketed at a crossover adult/YA audience I’m sure the Fire Sermon will find readers among fans of dystopian fiction. Though the Fire Sermon didn’t wow me, I do think the trilogy has potential and I’m interested to see how the story develops.

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Review: Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing by Lisa Walker

 

Title: Arkie’s Pilgrimage to The Next Big Thing

Author: Lisa Walker

Published: Random House February 2015

Status: Read from February 07 to 09, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A quirky tale with a hint of magical realism, Lisa Walker’s third novel, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ is the story of one woman’s search for all the things she has lost….including herself.

“I am forty-one years old but perhaps it is possible … Can my life begin again?”

A year ago, Arkie Douglas’s life fell apart. Her husband left her when Arkie confessed to an affair, and shortly after her business failed, her trend forecasting mojo having deserted her. It’s New Year’s Eve and Arkie is waiting on a deserted platform in Byron Bay planning to throw herself under the next passing train when a young Japanese woman carrying a briefcase and a surfboard, strikes up a conversation. Despite herself, Arkie is intrigued by Haruko Iida and excited when she recognises her own brand of trend spotting magic in the twenty year old. Abandoning her plans for suicide, Arkie convinces Haruko to work with her, hoping to recover her career.

“Pilgrimages are so hot right now. I think they are the Next Big Thing.”

The idea is Haruko’s, suggesting society is ready for a resurgence of spirituality, self discovery and simplicity. Arkie enthusiastically embraces the idea but traveling to Japan is out of the question, so instead she proposes a journey closer to home, a pilgrimage to Australia’s ‘Big Things’. Traveling by train, bus and on foot, while avoiding the Yakuza and Arkie’s ex husband’s divorce lawyer, Arkie and Haruko set out their unusual pilgrimage in search of the Next Big Thing.

From the Big Redback Spider, to the Big Banana and the Big Prawn, Arkie and Haruko look past the peeling paint and wire fences to find the beauty and meaning in the outsized icons. Their adventure is blessed by the Shinto Gods and smiling Buddha’s found in unlikely places, but they face challenges on the ‘yellow brick road’ along the way. Arkie in particular is forced to reflect on the root causes of her present unhappiness and look closer to home for fulfilment .
I enjoyed traveling to the Big Things with Arkie and Haruko, I have visited a few in my time. In fact the town where I live is home to The Big Oyster. It was once a restaurant, housing a roadside cafe underneath for highway travellers between New South Wales and Queensland, but the bypass forced its closure and the site was redeveloped, so now The Big Oyster is empty, presiding over a car dealership.

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Truthfully Arkie doesn’t engender a lot of sympathy, she is self absorbed and a confessed adulterer, but I could sort of relate to the questions she is struggling with. Her life has imploded and she is lost, looking for a way to regain her equilibrium.
Haruko is an unlikely spiritual guide in the guise of a quirky, hip Japanese girl. An enigmatic character with an ethereal quality, she is self possessed with a talent for reinventing herself.

Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing is an offbeat, sometimes surreal, contemporary novel that will have you reminiscing about your last visit to one of Australia’s ‘Big Things’ and perhaps yearning for your own spiritual road-trip.

Learn more about Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing and Lisa Walker’s connection to Japan her guest post for Book’d Out.

Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing is available to purchase from

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Review: The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

 

Title: The Secrets of Midwives

Author: Sally Hepworth

Published: Macmillan February 2015

Status: Read from February 05 to 06, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A warm hearted story of family, motherhood and midwifery, The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth features three generations of women – Neva, Grace, and Floss.

“I suppose you could say I was born to be a midwife. Three generations of women in my family had devoted their lies to bringing babies into the world; the work was in my blood. But my path wasn’t so obvious as that. I wasn’t my mother—a basket-wearing hippie who rejoiced in the magic of new, precious life. I wasn’t my grandmother—wise, no nonsense, with a strong belief in the power of natural birth. I didn’t even particularly like babies. No, for me, the decision to become a midwife had nothing to do with babies. And everything to do with mothers.”

As the narrative unfolds from the alternating perspectives of each woman, it is revealed that they each hold a secret. Neva has successfully hidden her pregnancy for 30 weeks and now that she no longer can, refuses to divulge the identity of the father, her mother, Grace, is struggling both personally and professionally, and Floss, the family matriarch, is increasingly anxious about the repercussions for both her daughter and granddaughter, of a choice she made years before.

Though the plot is fairly predictable and lacks any real sense of depth, The Secrets of Midwives is an engaging read. The drama generated by the women’s secrets is fairly low key, there is never really any doubt that things will work out, and their issues are resolved quite neatly by the end of the book.
I’m a sucker for birth stories so I particularly enjoyed the midwifery angle. I was a little worried that Hepworth may have had a ‘natural birth’ agenda but she presents a fairly balanced view that favours choice for the mother.

The characters are easy to relate to and generally believable. I thought the dynamics between the three women were well drawn, particularly between Neva and Grace whose relationship is loving but complicated, simply because they are very different people. Grace is probably the most nuanced of the three characters, but it was Floss, and her story, that I found most interesting.

An easy and amiable novel, I found The Secrets of Midwives to be a pleasant and satisfying read.

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Review: War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

 

Title: War of the Wives

Author: Tamar Cohen

Published: Harlequin Jan 2015

Status: Read on January 21, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Told from the perspectives of two women, Tamar Cohen’s War of the Wives is a story of love, loss and devastating betrayal.

Selina Busfield is devastated when her husband’s body is found in the Thames River, especially as Simon was supposed to be working in Dubai and not due home until the next day. The police suspect suicide, but Selina is convinced her husband would simply not be capable of such a selfish act and, after twenty eight years of marriage and three children, she is certain she knows him better than anyone.
Lottie is stunned when she receives a phone call from an old colleague offering her condolences on the death of her husband. Lottie is confused, as far as she knows Simon, her husband of 17 years and the father of her teenage daughter, is in Dubai, working, but when she fails to reach him and as more details come to light, a shocking truth dawns.
Simon has been living a double life, he was two wives, two families… and their worlds about to collide.

It is a plot ripped from the tabloid headlines – a man with two families, each oblivious to the other, whose shocking secret is revealed after his death, devastating those left behind. Cohen allows the new widows to tell the story as they struggle with their grief and the chaos of the aftermath.

Selena and Lottie are opposites in temperament, lifestyle and looks, both however are crushed by hurt in the wake of Simon’s betrayal. Trying to hang on to a thread of loyalty to the man each believed was their loving husband, they blame each other, and themselves, for the untenable situation they have found themselves in. I feel like Cohen portrayed the emotions of both women well, I believed in their bitterness, their self doubt, their grief and their rivalry. I also liked the way in which Cohen involved the young adult children in the story, their anger, distress and confusion felt real.

Additional complications arise when it becomes clear that in order to finance his double life, Simon had become involved in something unsavoury. I’m not sure though that this thread really adds much to the story except to act as a distraction.

I liked War of The Wives, the characters in particular were interesting, and it was a quick read but I didn’t find it particularly gripping.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Let Down Your Hair by Fiona Price

Title: Let Down Your Hair

Author: Fiona Price

Published: Momentum Jan 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Billed as story with a modern twist on the classic fairytale story of Rapunzel, the two stories share several elements. In essence, Sage was given to her grandmother (the wicked witch) in exchange for her mother’s desires and then kept captive, albeit in an ivory tower. And it is a ‘Prince’ who saves Sage, though not in the manner touted by Disney, and their separation and reunion, has more in common with the original Grimm tale.

Let Down Your Hair isn’t a light read though, there isn’t a lot of humour and the romance is sidelined. Instead, this is a coming of age story in which Price explores a fairly specific agenda related to ‘women’s’ issues such as body image, the portrayal of women in popular culture and feminism.

Price deliberately uses stereotypes to emphasise her themes. Sage’s grandmother, Andrea is a feminist zealot, rejecting anything male, while Sage’s mother, Emmeline, is the quintessential shallow beauty, whose self worth is tied to her attractiveness, especially to men. Astute readers will however glean that the views of both women were shaped in reaction to particular incidents. (view spoiler)

Caught between two such extremes, Sage struggles to find a moderate path that suits her, and her journey is a difficult one. Condemned by her controlling grandmother when her relationship with Ryan is discovered, then rejected for a second time by her mother, and separated from her lover, she finds herself pregnant and alone.

Let Down Your Hair is well written, offering an interesting and engaging modern day spin on Grimm’s Rapunzel.

Read about the inspiration for Let Down Your Hair in this guest post by Fiona Price posted earlier today.

Let Down Your Hair is available for purchase from

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Review: The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield

 

Title: The Undertaker’s Daughter

Author: Kate Mayfield

Published: Gallery Books Jan 2015

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

My Thoughts:

The Undertaker’s Daughter is a memoir by Kate Mayfield whose family owned and operated a funeral home in Jubilee, a small town on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, from the 1960’s to the late 1970’s.

Kate and her family, her parents Lily and Frank and siblings Thomas, Evelyn and Jemma, lived above the business, housed on the ground floor of their home. As a young child Kate had the run of the place, though she was required to tiptoe around their quarters when a body was in residence. In the first few chapters, she shares her charming curiosity about the deceased that passed through the home, uncomplicated by a fear of death and social disapproval.

As Kate grows up, the memoir’s focus shifts to the town and her family, though the undertaking business remains relevant. She details the small town politics the family had to contend with, the often eccentric townspeople, and touches on the issues of segregation and desegregation, through her friendship with the family’s housekeeper, Belle, and her own clandestine relationships with two African American boys as a teen. With regards to her family, Kate reveals her sister’s mental illness but is especially focused on her relationship with her father, a complicated man she worshiped as a child, but who lost some of his lustre when Kate eventually learned of the secrets he kept as a serial adulterer and secret drinker.

Well written, The Undertaker’s Daughter is a charming and poignant memoir exploring one woman’s experience of life and death in a small southern town.

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