Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

 

Title: The Invasion of the Tearling {Queen of the Tearling #2}

Author: Erika Johansen

Published: Bantam Press July 2015

Status: Read from July 19th to 23rd, 2015 – I own a copy {Courtesy the Publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Review to come

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.
But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.”

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Review: The Trivia Man by Deborah O’Brien

 

Title: The Trivia Man

Author: Deborah O’Brien

Published: Bantam Au June 2015

Status: Read on July 09, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Trivia is a serious business, not a social occasion’

Kevin Dwyer is a socially awkward middle aged forensic accountant whose obsession with collecting information informs his only hobby – trivia. When Kevin, on his own, blitzes the other teams on the first night of competition at the Clifton Heights Sports Club he is feted by his competitors, but Kevin isn’t a team player, until he meets Maggie Taylor.

Deborah O’Brien’s novel unfolds from the perspectives of Kevin, Maggie and Kevin’s sister, Elizabeth, set over the twelve weeks of the trivia competition that brings together Kevin and Maggie.

Sweet and artless, Kevin lives alone, his only friend his eight-year-old nephew Patrick. Kevin knows he is different, never having understood the social ease of others but he is largely content with the status quo. O’Brien paints a sympathetic picture of a good man who slowly blossoms as the story unfolds.

Maggie, a teacher of high school French and Latin in her early fifties, is single after a decade pining over a lost love. She’s a lovely character, who befriends Kevin almost by accident, but is preoccupied with the reappearance of the aforementioned ‘one who got away’.

Kevin’s sister Elizabeth has always been embarrassed by her brother and she is horrified when the similarities between Kevin and Patrick behaviour are pointed out. I didn’t care for Elizabeth at all but Kevin is determined to show Elizabeth he can be ‘normal’, especially when she stops him from seeing Patrick, believing him a ‘bad influence’.

Smaller subplots play out amongst the members of ‘Teddy and the Dreamers’, filling out the story. Trivia buffs should enjoy answering the questions posed by the MC, and recognise the dynamics of the teams.

Comparisons to Graeme Stimson’s The Rosie Project are inevitable given the behavourial similarities between Don Tillman and Kevin, though O’Brien approaches both her characters and the story with a more serious and realistic tone. The humour is subtler, and Kevin’s quirks are not the focus of the novel.

I did enjoy The Trivia Man, it’s a sweet, uplifting read about friendship, acceptance and love.

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Review: Chasing Chris Campbell by Genevieve Gannon

 

Title: Chasing Chris Campbell

Author: Genevieve Gannon

Publisher: HarperCollins June 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Chasing Chris Campbell is Genevieve Gannon’s second novel, a contemporary story of love, travel and the adventure of finding one’s self.

When Violet Mason’s partner of nearly six years buys her a motorcycle instead of an engagement ring, she decides she has been waiting for her life to start for long enough, and when an email arrives from Chris Campbell, ‘the one that got away’, inviting her to ‘come to Asia’ she impulsively books a one way ticket to Hong Kong, hoping to reconnect with her lost love. Armed with an out of date tourist guide and plenty of hand steriliser, Violet plans to surprise Chris with her arrival, only to learn he has already moved on. Determined not to give up, Violet chases Chris through India to Nepal, back to Hong Kong and then to Vietnam, it is an adventure of a lifetime, but is it true love she finds?

Told in the first person, Violet, a sensible scientist with a mild phobia of germs, is completely out of her element as she travels through Asia. I thought Violet generally was a well developed and believable character. Though there are moments when she feels lost and lonely, with encouragement from her twin sister Cassandra, Violet slowly opens herself up to adventure. She makes friends with fellow travelers like the rather delicious Harry Potter (no, not that Harry Potter)and eventually learns a thing or two about herself. While I would never chase a guy half way around the world based on a few vaguely worded emails, I admired the fact that Violet took the chance and I vicariously enjoyed her adventures.

The author’s descriptions of the various places Violet visits are well written. I particularly enjoyed the journey through India, from Goa, to Delhi, to Varanasi.

Though there are flashes of humour, I have to admit I was expecting more given the novel is promoted as a romantic comedy. I found the writing tended to be a little stiff at times and the tone more often no-nonsense than lighthearted. The pace is good though and I appreciated the epilogue, which provided a satisfying ending.

For more information about Genevieve Gannon and  Chasing Chris Carson please CLICK HERE to read Genevieve’s guest post ‘Long Distance Love’.

 

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Review: The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

 

Title: The Third Wife

Author: Lisa Jewell

Published: Atria Books June 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Adrian Wolfe is devastated when his wife, Maya, is hit by a bus and killed. A year later, a mysterious woman and the discovery of a cache of nasty emails sent to Maya, addressed ‘Dear Bitch’, are discovered and Adrian begins to wonder if Maya’s death was simply a drunken accident or by deliberate design.

Moving between the past and the present, giving voice to Adrian, Maya and various other family members, The Third Wife examines the complicated dynamics of family, relationships, and love.

The story pivots around architect Adrian Wolfe and his family – ex-wife number one, Susan, and their near adult children Luke and Cat; ex-wife number 2, Caroline, and their three young children, Otis, Pearl and Beau; and his third wife, the recently deceased Maya.
Adrian is an immature man without any understanding of how his choices have affected his his ex-wives and his children until matters are brought to a head after Maya’s death. Prompted by his third wife’s secrets, revealed to a stranger, he realises that he had simply ignored anything in conflict with his own preferred view of things, from Maya’s unhappiness, to his sons’ anger.

“He’d expected everyone to be happy, just because he was. Who the hell did he think he was?”

Though initially we are led to believe that the members of Adrian’s ex-family’s appear to be largely unaffected by his serial desertions, they even spend vacations together. However it slowly becomes clear that beneath the veneer, resentments have festered and his idealised life is beginning to fall apart around him.

“Where had he been? Where on earth had he been?….Everyone so angry and unhappy. And where had he been? Sitting cross-legged in the middle of this toxic tornado of human emotions humming la la la with his hands over his ears?”

Though the ending is a little facile, with interesting and well drawn characters, keen insight into the complexities of relationships, and a touch of intrigue, The Third Wife is a good read.

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Review: The Darkling Child by Terry Brooks

 

Title: The Darkling Child {The Defenders of Shannara Trilogy #2}

Author: Terry Brooks

Published: Hachette June 2015

Status: Read from June 08 to 10, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

High Fantasy is not a genre I read often but I have fond memories of Terry Brooks’ original Shannara trilogy, read when I was a teen, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming television series adaption.

Though it can be read as a standalone, The Darkling Child is the second novel in The Defenders of Shannara trilogy that takes place several years after the previous book, The High Druid’s Blade. It is also the 29th book in the Shannara saga, which Brooks intends to wrap up in just four more books.

The Defenders of Shannara features Paxon Leah, the Druid’s Blade, and his nemesis, the Sorcerer Arcannen. In the Darkling Child, Arcannen who has been in hiding since Paxon foiled his grand plans for dominion over the Four Lands, is seeking revenge after his refuge is razed to the ground by an elite command of Federation soldiers. Fortuitously Arcannen stumbles across Reyn, a young man with the rare power of the Wishsong. Reyn neither understands nor can control his ability, and when Arcannen offers to mentor him, he accepts.
Meanwhile the Druid Council is alerted to the use of Wishsong and Paxon along with Druid Avelina are dispatched to find the magic user. Unfortunately they are too late to prevent Reyn from falling under Arcannen’s influence but they are determined to thwart whatever nefarious plan Arcannen is using Reyn for.

Even with only vague memories of the Original Shannara series, The Darkling Child feels familiar. Brooks’s world is easy to understand, the magic system makes sense, and there is enough backstory provided to create context where needed.

The plot involves fantasy’s most enduring trope, a quest to prevent evil triumphing over good. Arcannen is a suitably ruthless, if uncomplicated villain and Paxon a valiant, if flawed, hero. There is plenty of action in the confrontations between the sorcerer and his enemies, a small measure of intrigue stemming from the question of Lariana’s true motives, and a dose of emotion with death, guilt and romance.

I found The Darkling Child to be a quick and entertaining read but I’m not struck with the urge to continue with the trilogy. Fans may be more appreciative.

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Review: If You’re Not the One by Jemma Forte

Title: If You’re Not the One

Author: Jemma Forte

Published: Sourcebooks Landmark June 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 04 to 06, 2015 — I own a copy   {courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Jennifer Wright has a comfortable life – a hard working, if inattentive husband, Max, two lovely young daughters, and a comfortable home in the suburbs, but she is restless. In the throes of a mid life crisis she is wondering, ‘What if?’. One evening, after a bitter argument with her husband, Jennifer runs from the house and is hit by car. Comatose, Jennifer’s subconcious gives her the opportunity to explore what her life may have been like had she made different choices, what if she had runaway with Aiden? Or married Tim, or stayed with Steve? What could’ve been?

‘What If?’ is a game many of us have played, especially when things aren’t going well, even if it’s something we rarely admit to. We can only imagine how differently things might have turned out had we made a different decision, could we have been happier? Richer? Poorer? Sadder? In If You’re Not the One, author Jemma Forte explores the possibilities for her protagonist had she chosen a life with one of three ex suitors.

The premise is not really original (think Sliding Doors) but I was interested in how Jennifer’s alternate lives unfolded. I was surprised, even pleased by the ending, which is not as tidy as I expected, but it may frustrate readers who prefer closure.

The structure of the novel is a little tricky involving not only Jennifer’s actual present and past, but also the past and future revelations of her ‘alternate’ lives. Though the narrative shifts are titled, it still takes a bit of effort to keep track of who and when, and can feel a little disjointed at times.

Challenging readers to consider their own ‘What if’s?’, If You’re Not the One is an engaging read. I think it’s a book that would particularly generate interesting discussion among book club members.

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Weekend Cooking: Eat the Week by Anna Barnett

wkendcooking

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

****

 

Title: Eat the Week: every meal, every day

Author: Anna Barnett

Published: Murdoch Books May 2015

Status: Read on May 31, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In her introduction to Eat the Week: Every Meal Every Day, Anna Barnett, blogger (www.annabarnett.com), columnist (‘The Reluctant Vegetarian’ in the UK newspaper Independent) and pop up restauranteur writes,

“This book is drawn from all my enthusiasms and experiences; it’s food from and for the lives many of us lead. It’s aim is to serve as inspiration for fun, delicious dishes that you can dip in and out of, and that reflect real lives and lifestyles.”

Offering a good mix of dishes suitable for singles, couples and families with a liking for fresh, (and mostly) healthy ingredients, Eat the Week is a good resource for a home cook looking for a simple way to add a gourmet touch to everyday meals.

The large hardcover cookbook is illustrated both with full page photographs of the dishes as well as some ‘lifestyle’ shots of the author. Neatly formatted, with a sentence or two of introduction, the recipes include both metric and imperial measurements, as well as a guide to prep and cooking time as well as serving size.

What I really like about Eat the Week is the way in which it is organised. For each day of the week, ‘Budget Mondays’, ‘Lazy Tuesdays’, ‘Make it Fancy Wednesdays’, ‘Cooking for Company Thursdays’, Barely in the Kitchen Fridays’, ;Something Special Saturdays’ and ‘Slow Sundays’, Barnett offers two menus which both include a Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Dessert and Leftovers.

A mixed sampling of the dishes includes Muffin Tinned Huevos Rancheros; Beet and Blueberry Smoothie; Asparagus, Parmesan & Pesto Crostini; Chilli Kale Chips; Pub Peanut Noodle Salad; Haloumi & Chorizo Salad Wrap; Fishcakes with Spicy Roasted Tomato Salsa; Cheat’s Aubergine Parmigiana; Peanut Butter & Cherry Chocolate Cups; and Pineapple & Gooey Coconut Macaroon Stack. There are around 100 individual recipes, many of which are suitable for vegetarians. Few are labour intensive, most requiring a minimal amount of prep or cooking time, and appeal to varied grocery budgets.

If you’re curious, sample pages, including recipes can be viewed via Amazon’s Look Inside feature.

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Review: Ascendance by John Birmingham

 

Title: Ascendance {Dave Hooper #3}

Author: John Birmingham

Published: PanMacmillan May 2015

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

My Thoughts:

The final novel to feature rig engineer turned superhero monster slayer Dave Cooper, Ascendance picks up right where Resistance left off.

Super Dave, newly teamed with the katana wielding Russian spy Karen Warat (aka Colonel Ekatarina Varatchevsky), is in New York. Dismissing Trinder, they race to defend areas of the city under siege but are nearly overwhelmed as the Hunn continue boiling up from the underworld realm. The powers that be soon realise that the Horde is using Professor Compton’s theoretical model for collapsing western civilisation, and the world is in real peril. However Dave’s primary concern becomes his sons when he learns New Harbour is under attack and if he can’t save the world, he is determined to at least save his children.

Dave suffers badly in comparison to Karen whose training and discipline allows her to exploit her gifts, which includes an empathic ability. Not only does she wield her deadly katana like a master, she thinks strategically and seems to have her powers sussed out. Dave is pretty much left trailing in her wake like a meat-head while the choices he made in Resistance come back to haunt him.

The action in Ascendance is non-stop, violent and bloody. This is not a story for the squeamish what with splattering ichor and demon flesh and babies being tossed from buildings like confetti. To be honest I got a little bored with all the fighting, though the final confrontation was tense and exciting.

There is plenty of the bold and crass humour I’ve come to expect in this series. Dave is still a dick, Threshy’s thinkings are riotously confused and Karen adds her own brand of dry humour.

While this is supposed to be last book of a trilogy, the story definitely feels unfinished. It has been fun though.

 

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Review: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

 

Title: My Life as a White Trash Zombie {White Trash Zombie #1}

Author: Diana Rowland

Published: C & R: Allen & Unwin 2015

Status: Read from May 23 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

This title has been on my ‘to read’ list for eons. First published in 2011 this reprint coincides with the launch of CW’s new television series, iZombie. There is some debate as to the source of producer, Rob Thomas’s inspiration – there are vague similarities between the show and this novel, but Thomas claims the show is a loose adaption of the Vertigo comic book series of the same name (beginning with Dead to the World).

My Life as a White Trash Zombie is the first book in a series featuring Angel Crawford, an unemployed, high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record, who wakes up in the ER after an overdose she doesn’t remember taking. Confused, but accepting the scenario, she is further puzzled when she receives a letter notifying her that a job is waiting for her at the morgue, intimating that failing to follow through will result in her going to jail. Despite her reservations Angel reports for duty and soon discovers that whoever anonymously secured her the job has in fact saved her life, or at least her afterlife, because Angel is now a zombie, and needs to consume brains to avoid rotting away.

A zombie is an unlikely heroine, especially one with Angel’s ‘white-trash’ background, but Rowland has created a surprisingly likeable protagonist. Forced to figure out the rules for her new afterlife on her own, the character growth is really surprising, involving not only staying ‘alive’ but also getting sober and dealing with her alcoholic father and her ‘asstard’ boyfriend.

The mystery reveals itself when headless bodies begin turning up and Angel begins to suspect a rogue zombie is murdering the populace to feed, until she learns the dead were also zombies. Angel needs to figure out who is hunting zombies before she becomes the next victim. The answers to Angels’ questions are fairly predictable, including who made her a zombie, but I enjoyed it anyway.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie is a quick, fun read offering plenty of snarky humour, as well as some gross descriptions of bodies that might turn the stomach of the squeamish, a touch of romance, mystery and action.

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Review: The Confectioner’s Tale by Laura Madeleine

 

Title: The Confectioner’s Tale

Author: Laura Madeleine

Published: Black Swan Publishing May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 19 to 21, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Unfolding through dual timelines, The Confectioners Tale by Laura Madeleine is a pleasant blend of history, romance and light mystery.

In the present (well, 1988), Cambridge PhD candidate Petra Stevenson is desperate to protect her adored late grandfather’s reputation from being sullied by a biographer promising to reveal his role in an old scandal. Anxious to deflect any dishonour, and hoping to discover a more benign truth, Petra doggedly works to piece together events that took place in Paris nearly 70 years ago.

The alternating narrative is set during 1909 in Paris and slowly reveals the story of Guillaume (Gui) Du Frere, a railway labourer from Bordeaux, his forbidden romance with Mademoiselle Jeanne Clermont, the daughter of a famous Parisienne confectioner, and ultimately the scandal involving Petra’s grandfather.

For me the strength of the novel lay in the historical timeline, I liked the characters of Gui and Jeanne, delighted in their meeting, their secret romance, and despaired when scandal threatened to destroy them. I also thought the author’s depiction of early twentieth century Paris was evocative, and I enjoyed being behind the scenes of the Clermont Patisserie.

An easy, simply plotted story with a satisfyingly sweet conclusion, The Confectioner’s Tale is a novel with general appeal.

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