Review: Private Sydney by James Patterson & Kathryn Fox

 

Title: Private Sydney {Private #10}

Author: James Patterson and Kathryn Fox

Published: Random House Australia August 2015

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Status: Read from August 17 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
In the latest addition to the Private series, James Patterson teams with Aussie crime author Kathryn Fox, introducing the reader to Craig Gisto, and his staff, in the Private Sydney agency who have two cases to investigate in this crime thriller novel.

The first involves a surrogacy scam, a murdered woman and a missing baby. Gisto’s agency is accused of negligence when a couple hires Private to run a background check on a woman who has volunteered to be their surrogate. Within hours of turning over the report, the woman is murdered, an 8 week old baby in her care abducted, and the identities of the couple prove to be false. Gisto and his team have few leads and work hard to unravel the scam, determined to find the missing infant.

The second case involves the missing CEO of a billion dollar company. Stonewalled by the man’s business partner, Gisto begins to suspect large scale fraud is the issue. However it soon becomes clear that whatever Eric Moss has done, he has made some dangerous enemies. Despite attempts at intimidation, Gisto refuses to back off, especially when threats are made against the missing man’s daughter.

Short chapters, an economy of words, and a sense of immediacy keeps the pace moving quickly. The plot is well crafted and not entirely predictable, with some smaller subplots that fill out the pages. Studded with action, there is also a touch of romance. You don’t get much more than a general sense of the characters, but it is enough to satisfy.

The Australian setting, which moves from Sydney city to the Blue Mountains, should appeal to Patterson’s international and local fans.

Private Sydney was exactly what I expected, a quick, easy, entertaining read.

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Review: The Callahan Split by Lisa Heidke

Title: The Callahan Split

Author: Lisa Heidke

Published: August 2015

Status: Read from August 14 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

The Callahan Split is Australian author Lisa Heidke’s sixth novel but her first foray into the world of self publishing, supplementing her successful career in traditional publishing.

Professional doubles tennis champions, sisters Samantha and Annie Callahan, have each others backs both on and off the court. Riding high after winning a gold medal at the Olympics they are favourites to win the Australian Open, until Annie’s new boyfriend drops a bombshell just before their first match, and the girls relationship begins to falter. Samantha, ambitious and driven, is irate as a love-struck Annie loses interest in their childhood goal, and is completely devastated when her sister severs their partnership to pursue a singles career. Without Annie by her side, Samantha is lost and is forced to wonder if winning is really everything.

The Callahan Split is a story about sisters, Samantha and Annie share a close personal and professional bond which is severely tested when their goals in life no longer coincide. The main theme takes Heidke’s protagonists on a journey of self discovery, but it also explores serious issues such as depression, anxiety, and abandonment.

I didn’t relate particularly well to either sister initially. I found Samantha’s single-minded focus and emotional immaturity draining, and Annie’s desertion selfish. To be fair, the sisters have their reasons, not the least being their mother’s abandonment, which had a significant impact on them both, and I wasn’t entirely unsympathetic to the pressure they were both under as elite athletes trying to stay on top. Most of the story unfolds from Sam’s perspective, and I grew to appreciate the hard earned growth her character experienced. I felt her relationship with Violet and her family, and her romance with her coach, Bear, also softened her sharper edges somewhat.

I have to admit, I’m not that interested in tennis, though I spent several sleepless nights watching the Australian Open in 2003 as Andre Agassi and Serena Williams claimed the title, while nursing my newborn daughter, however I did enjoy the behind the scenes look this elite level sport, including the gossip about the on and off court antics of the players.

A tale of personal and professional adversity and triumph, The Callahan Split is an engaging story, another winner for Lisa Heidke.

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Review: The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

 

Title: The Art of Baking Blind

Author: Sarah Vaughan

Published: Hodder & Stoughton UK August 2015

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Status: Read from August 09 to 10, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Art of Baking Blind is pleasant debut novel for British journalist Sarah Vaughan.

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published ‘The Art of Baking’, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. A year after her death, a competition is being held to find the ‘New Mrs Eaden’, where the winner will receive a £50,000 contract to advise the supermarket on its selection of baked products, take the lead in an advertising campaign, and write a monthly magazine column. Four women and one man have been chosen to compete, striving for the perfection in the kitchen, that has eluded them in their real lives.

The novel unfolds through the viewpoints of Vaughan’s four main female characters intertwined with Kathleen Eaden’s story, and excerpts from ‘The Art of Baking’.
Vicki, mother to three year old Alfie, is finding being a stay at home mother difficult and is excited by the challenge of the competition. Jenny has given all of herself to her family, but with her daughters having flown the nest and her husband disinterested, baking is all she has left. Karen strives for perfection in all things and views the competition as a way to prove herself. Claire is a hard working single mother who hopes that winning the contest will give her and her daughter a chance to better their lives.

While the contestants strive to turn out perfect pastries and pies every weekend, Vaughan slowly reveals the challenges each woman is facing at home. Jenny, for example, is almost certain her husband is having an affair, while Claire’s daughter’s father makes an unexpected return. There is depth here, though I think perhaps Vaughan spreads herself a little too thin and some of the characters, and their stories, are truncated. Karen’s story finishes quite abruptly, and Mike, the fifth contestant, is little more than a token.

The competition to become the next Mrs Eaden bears similarities to the television show, The Great British Bake Off, though this contest is not televised and there is no weekly elimination. Sadly there are no recipes included in the book, but the descriptions of the contestants offerings, ranging from Chelsea Buns to a Springtime Quiche, are ambrosial and I couldn’t resist baking a simple after school treat for my children when I’d finished the last page.

A story about family, relationships, and the art of baking, I enjoyed this engaging novel.

“There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.

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Review: The Veil by Chloe Neill

 

Title: The Veil {Devil’s Isle #1}

Author: Chloe Neill

Published: NAL August 2015

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Status: Read from August 02 to 03, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I have always intended to read Chloe Neill’s popular Chicagoland Vampires series but never found the time, so I leapt at the chance to read The Veil, the first book her new Devil’s Isle series.

It has been seven years since the Veil between New Orleans and the supernatural world was torn open permitting the egress of paranormals determined to enslave or wipe out humanity. War raged for a year, leaving thousands dead and the land scarred before the Veil was closed. Magic was banned and the Para’s who survived incarcerated in a neighborhood adjoining The French Quarter, nicknamed Devil’s Isle.

Claire Connolly owns and runs an antique and supply store, inherited from her late father, at was what ‘ground zero’. She refuses to abandon the family store and leave New Orleans even though she risks everything to stay, for after the Veil was reinstated, Claire discovered she was a ‘sensitive’, a human with the ability to wield magic, and discovery would mean ‘containment’.

But when Claire witnesses a woman being attacked by two wraiths (sensitives that have been overwhelmed by their magic) she intervenes and to save herself must use her magic. Certain she will be arrested and imprisoned, assistance comes from an unexpected source, bounty hunter Liam Quinn, who not only helps destroy the evidence of her actions, but also finds her a mentor to teach her to harness her magic.

Walking a fine line between remaining hidden and discovery, everything changes when Claire and Liam discover a dangerous plot to reopen the Veil.

Though New Orleans isn’t an unique setting, Neil’s worldbuilding is solid. The society has dystopian elements what with almost martial law and street level magic monitoring, and there also an apocalyptic feel given the scorched earth, ruined buildings and communication issues.

There is quite a lot of information to digest in The Veil, including the history of the war, the current status of New Orleans society, the make up of Para’s, and the motives of the Beyond. I felt Neil integrated the details well for most part, maintaining a good pace and advancing the plot.

The characters are likeable, Claire is stubborn, resourceful and she has a close knit group of friends that are her substitute family. Liam is essentially a loner, especially since losing his sister. As a bounty hunter he can move quite freely between New Orleans and Devil’s Isle where his grandmother is and he has, if not friends then sources, such as Moses, a computer hacker with horns. The attraction between Claire and Liam is immediate and inevitable, and a strong element of the plot.

Though I’m not irreversibly hooked, I did enjoy The Veil. It’s a quick and engaging read and I will most likely pick up the next.

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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:

The Invasion of the Tearling is the sequel to Erika Johansen’s debut, The Queen of the Tearling.

Kelsea Glynn, now the reigning Queen of Tearling, is preparing for war with The Red Queen, having put a stop to the human tithing practiced by her country’s former rulers. As Mortmesme’s forces amass on the border, Kelsea struggles to determine a way for her vulnerable country to defend itself from the invasion while dealing with internal strife and the challenges of the kingdom.

‘Invasion’ also endeavours to explain the origins of the Tearling world, revealing the secrets of The Crossing, through crippling visions experienced by Kelsea. It’s quite an unusual story that reveals why Johansen’s world blends a feudal society and magic with reminders of modern life.

As a character, Kelsea undergoes some dramatic changes in this instalment, and not for the better. Haunted by the visions of Lily’s life, the visits of a mysterious dark spirit, and the seductive power of the emeralds, Kelsea becomes secretive and increasingly dark. I was disappointed by the inconsistencies and sometimes confused by her changing motivations.

I didn’t always find it easy to follow the narrative of The Invasion of the Tearling either. The shifts between Kelsea’s world and her visions of Lily’s were sometimes jarring, additionally there were a couple of minor story threads that seemed to dissolve into nothing, while others contributed little to the overall story. I’m also at a loss to understand Kelsea’s physical changes, which seem rather absurd.

The Invasion of the Tearling builds to a confrontation between Kelsea and The Red Queen but again ends with more questions than answers. I’m curious as to how Johansen will choose to end things in the final book of the trilogy, but I’m worried she will be unable to pull everything together in a satisfying manner.

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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

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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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