Review: Summer Harvest by Georgina Penney

 

Title: Summer Harvest

Author: Georgina Penney

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Jan 2016

Read an Extract

Status: Read from January 24 to 25, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“‘A ticket to Australia,’ she said faintly.’Wonderful Gran, Louis, thank you so much.’ She forced her mouth to curve upwards into something resembling a smile.’This is great. Just great.'”

When Beth Poole’s grandmother gifts her an airline ticket from Yorkshire to Western Australia for her birthday she’s reluctant to vacation in a country in which every living thing seems to be lethal. Nevertheless, Beth books a months stay in a holiday cottage in George Creek looking forward to a few weeks of peace and quiet.

Loosely linked to Georgina Penney’s previous novels, Irrepressible You and Fly In Fly Out, Summer Harvest is a lovely contemporary romance novel set in the the south west winery region of Australia.

The focus of the story is on the relationship that develops between Beth and Clayton Hardy, whose family owns the winery next door to where Beth is staying. They enjoy an intimate holiday fling which becomes complicated when Beth reveals a secret she has been keeping. An additional subplot involves a fractious relationship between Clayton’s father, Rob Hardy and new winery hire, Gwen Stone, who have a history neither are willing to disclose. Both plotlines also explore the themes of loss, grief and moving on.

The characters are well drawn. Beth is a strong character, having survived the loss of her family and the desertion of her husband, as well as breast cancer, and Clayton is an appealing lead. I enjoyed the supporting characters including Beth’s outspoken grandmother Violet and Angie, the matriarch of the Evangaline Rest Winery, chatty Laura and her cheeky brother Jeff. Fred, the perpetually stoned farm hand, is good for a laugh too.

Penney’s writing style is warm, I enjoyed the very Aussie humour and the witty dialogue. The emotions are believable, the intimate scenes between Beth and Clay are well written and the story is well paced.

Summer Harvest is an engaging read and the ending satisfied the romantic in me.

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Review: Desert Flame by Janine Grey

 

Title: Desert Flame

Author: Janine Grey

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Jan 2016

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on January 19, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Desert Flame is a contemporary novel of romantic suspense set in rural Australia from author Janine Grey.

Eliza Mayberry is stunned when she learns her late father’s company is near bankrupt. With little left of her former life of privilege except the company name, ‘KinSearchers’ Eliza agrees to assist the firms single remaining client who wants Eliza to meet his long lost great nephew. Eliza’s search leads her to an opal claim near Lightning Ridge in outback New South Wales where she meets the disturbingly attractive Fingal McLeod, who couldn’t be less interested in reuniting with the family who abandoned he and his mother.

Fin’s focus is on his search for the rare Dark Flame opal to provide security for his ailing mother but Eliza proves to be a distraction he can’t ignore. The relationship between Eliza and Fin is initially based on mutual attraction and lust, which soon develops into admiration and respect as they get to know one another. The development is perhaps a little rushed but I did enjoy the romance. There are several intimate encounters in the novel and I thought they were well written, offering something more interesting (especially that outdoor shower spectacle) than the standard soft focus bedroom scenes.

Several threads of mild suspense run through Desert Flame. The first involves the suspicious behaviour of Fin’s mother’s long term companion, the second a series of mishaps at the mine, and the third involves the fate of Logan McLeod, Fin’s deadbeat dad. Grey balances the multiple story arcs well with the burgeoning relationship, creating a novel with an engaging mix of drama, tension and romance.

Humour springs from the quirky townspeople of Helton, such as cheeky Mick and the brassy barmaid. I thought Grey’s vivid descriptions of the mine and its surrounds evoked the heat, dust and isolation of the region. The only real flaw perhaps was the pacing which I felt was a little slow at times.

A quick and pleasant read, I enjoyed Desert Flame and I’d recommend it to fans of the genre.

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Review: The Grass is Greener by Loretta Hill

 

Title: The Grass is Greener

Author: Loretta Hill

Published: Bantam Australia January 2016

Status: Read from January 11 to 12, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Grass is Greener is Loretta Hill’s fifth contemporary novel and like the last, The Maxwell Sisters, this novel is also set largely among the vineyards in the fertile southern region of Western Australia.

“The long and short of it is….Bronwyn needed a sabbatical from the law, so she left town to work on my family’s vineyard. I wanted to get back into law so I marched in and took her job….It was a great plan from both of our perspectives and it would have been perfect-…”

Succumbing to family obligation has left best friends, Bronwyn Eddings and Claudia Franklin, miserable. Despite her pedigree, Bronwyn detests practicing law in Perth and dreams of another life, while Claudia resents having been compelled to abandon her own fledgling law career to work at her family’s failing winery. The solution seems simple, they’ll swap places and both get exactly what they want.

Of course it’s not nearly that easy and Hill introduces plenty of conflict for both of her protagonists to work through, developing circumstances that engender mild tension and drama.
Bronwyn’s high profile mother is furious when her daughter abandons her career without a backward glance and is insistent that Bronwyn return to the fold. The Franklin family, still struggling with the aftermath of family tragedy, are hurt by Claudia’s leaving and resistant to the idea of Bronwyn taking her place.
Additionally Claudia and Bronwyn both find themselves caught up in a strange situation involving a pregnant Mastiff, a possible dog fighting ring and a local crime heavyweight.
Romance also features heavily in The Grass is Greener. The return of Jack Franklin, Claudia’s eldest brother, to the vineyard after a five year absence reignites Bronwyn’s long held desire for him.
Meanwhile Claudia finds the dark good looks and intelligence of her immediate boss, Sebastian Rowlands irresistible, despite his breathtaking arrogance.

“The truth is. it was never about swapping our lives exactly. It was always about making the most of our own….

So…what you’re really saying is, the grass is greener on the other side, but only if you water it.”

The Grass Is Greener is a warm and engaging story about friendship, autonomy, family and love from Loretta Hill. Enjoy it on a summer’s afternoon with a glass of Western Australian wine.

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Also by Loretta Hill

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Review: Grand Slam by Kathryn Ledson

 

Title: Grand Slam {Erica Jewell #3}

Author: Kathryn Ledson

Published: Penguin AU January 2016

Status: Read from December 26 to 29, 2015   – I own a copy (Courtesy the publisher)

Erica Jewell can’t worry about hunky hired gun, Jack Jones, and his commitment-phobic ways right now. She’s flat out managing Dega Oil’s sponsorship of the Australian Open tennis tournament, and doing a pretty good job. That is until a devastating oil-rig explosion sends Dega’s reputation and share price plummeting.
Public outrage over the incident upsets Emilio Méndez – the Open’s biggest drawcard – and he wants to cut all ties with Dega. When Erica is sent to calm him, superstitious Emilio becomes convinced he needs her by his side to win. He demands she stay close, and the media annoyingly misinterprets their relationship, much to Jack’s irritation. Meanwhile danger lurks, threatening Emilio and Erica, and she must race against time to discover: Who’s trying to kill them and why?
From the elite inner sanctum of the Australian Open to the packed halls of Chadstone Shopping Centre, can Australia’s favourite accidental heroine save her job, Emilio, and her so-called relationship with Jack Jones?”

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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Review: Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths

Title: Smoke and Mirrors { DI Stephens & Max Mephisto #2}

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: Quercus November 2015

Status: Read from November 16 to 20, 2015  -I own a copy

Brighton, winter 1951.
Pantomime season is in full swing on the pier with Max Mephisto starring in Aladdin, but Max’s headlines have been stolen by the disappearance ’of two local children. When they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it’s not long before the press nickname them ‘Hansel and Gretel’.
DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The girl, Annie, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms’ fairy tales. Does the clue lie in Annie’s unfinished – and rather disturbing – last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?
For Stan (aka the Great Diablo), who’s also appearing in Aladdin, the case raises more personal memories. Back before the Great War, he witnessed the murder of a young girl while he was starring in another show, an event which has eerie parallels to the current case. Once again Edgar enlists Max’s help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But with both distracted by their own personal problems, neither can afford to miss a trick. For Annie and her friend, time is running out…”

My Thoughts:

review to come

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Review: An Empty Coast by Tony Park

 

Title: An Empty Coast

Author: Tony Park

Published: Pan Macmillan Australia December 2015

Status: Read from November 09 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy

Sonja Kurtz – former soldier, supposedly retired mercenary – is in Vietnam carrying out a personal revenge mission when her daughter sends a call for help.
Emma is on a dig at the edge of Namibia’s Etosha National Park studying archaeology and she’s discovered a body that dates back to the country’s liberation war of the 1980s.
The remains, identified as Hudson Brand, are a key piece of a puzzle that will reveal the location of a modern-day buried treasure. A find people will kill for.
Sonja returns to the country of her birth to find Emma, but she’s missing.
Former CIA agent Hudson Brand is very much alive and is also drawn back to Namibia to finally solve a decades-old mystery whose clues are entombed in an empty corner of the desert.

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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Weekend Cooking: Prick With a Fork by Larissa Dubecki

wkendcooking

Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads is a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

****

 

Title: Prick with a Fork

Author: Larissa Dubecki

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2015

Status: Read from September 25 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Prick With a Fork is a funny, lighthearted expose of the food industry from the point of view of a disenchanted waitress turned restaurant critic.

From almost killing a stripper with a wayward steak knife to staging go slow’s to frustrate obnoxious customers, Larissa Dubecki claims she was the world’s worst waitress, unashamedly sullen, insolent, disinterested, and often hungover, yet she spent over a decade waitering in everything from cyber cafe’s to gastro pubs throughout Melbourne.

In Prick with a Fork, Dubecki details working with psychopathic chefs, hostile customers, drug addled colleagues and bartenders on the take and reveals insider secrets about illicit trysts in coolrooms, cash hidden under registers, and unpleasant uses for carrots. Her anecdotes are hilarious, though often slightly nauseating, you may never be able look your waiter in the eye again.

Salted with confessions and peppered with pathos, Prick with a Fork is a light and entertaining read.

Available to purchase from

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and all good bookstores.

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Review: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

 

Title: Pretty Girls

Author: Karin Slaughter

Published: Cornerstone Digital July 2015

Status: Read from August 27 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Best known for her Grant County and Will Trent crime fiction series, Pretty Girls is Karin Slaughter’s second stand alone novel.

After nineteen year old Julia disappeared without a trace, the Carroll family fell apart in a spectacular fashion. Twenty four years later, sisters Lydia and Claire are little more than strangers, until they are reunited at the graveside of Claire’s murdered husband, Paul. When Claire discovers some obscene videos that depict the torture, rape and murder of teenage girls on her husband’s computer she is horrified. Though a local detective assures Claire the movies are fake, one of the victims looks eerily like a girl recently reported missing and Claire finds she can’t ignore her instincts, and reaches out to the only person she feels she can trust, her sister, for help.

Pretty Girls is primarily a psychological thriller but includes plenty of action and graphic violence. The fast moving plot twists and turns as Lydia and Claire are caught up in a nightmarish conspiracy and become the targets of a psychopath. Their shared narrative is full of tension as they renegotiate their relationship and heal old wounds, while working together to uncover the truth about Paul, and their missing sister’s fate.

A third perspective weaves its way through the novel. Sam is the girls’ father who was obsessed with searching for Julia until he committed suicide on the sixth anniversary of her disappearance. His narrative underscores the emotional agony experienced by the shattered families of the missing who find it difficult to move on without closure.

I’m really not sure why I didn’t find Pretty Girls as compelling as many readers seem to do. It is a dark, gritty and often page turning thriller, well written with plenty to recommend it, but it didn’t grip me as fully as I hoped.

Available to purchase from

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Review: Woman of the Dead by Bernard Aichner

 

Title: Woman of The Dead {Blum #1}

Author: Bernard Aichner (translated by Anthea Bell)

Published: Scribner August 2015

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

My Thoughts:

A dark and disturbing tale of vengeance and violence, Woman of the Dead is the first novel by Bernhard Aichner to feature Blum, mother, mortician and murderer.

When Blum’s beloved husband is killed in a hit and run she is nearly destroyed until she learns that he was deliberately targeted. The photographer, the cook, the priest, the huntsman, and the clown – these are the men responsible, and Blum is going to make them pay.

Woman Of the Dead has one of the most memorable character introductions I’ve ever read. The story opens with a during a defining moment in Blum’s life before leaping forward eight years to place us in the present. Blum is the devoted wife of Mark, a police detective, the doting mother of their two young daughters, and the owner of a successful funeral business. She is both hero and anti-hero in this story, grieving widow and ruthless killer.

There is raw and visceral emotion in The Woman of the Dead. The pain and numbness of Blum’s grief and the horror of the abuse Danya experienced at the hands of the mysterious cabal. There is also grisly and often explicit violence, this isn’t a story for the squeamish.

The plot is quite straight forward, perhaps stretched a little thin at times. It’s a fast paced story that builds suspense, though astute readers shouldn’t have any problems guessing the identity of the last man standing.

Woman of the Dead is an unusual story, with a rather extraordinary protagonist. I’m curious to see how the series develops.

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Review: No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg

 

Title: No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

Author: Ryan Berg

Published: Nation Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 20, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I recently binge watched America’s ABC Family series The Fosters, a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms. In one of the later seasons, a main character is remanded to a residential foster home and one of the teenage residents in the home is transgender. Though his story is told quite broadly over one or two episodes, it stuck with me, and so my interest was piqued when No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg came up for review.

No House to Call My Home is a book that illustrates the struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth of colour in America’s foster system. While the challenges for youth in foster care are numerous, the problems LGBTQ youth face are often compounded by their struggle with gender, sexual, racial and cultural identity. Berg states that 70% of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported experiencing violence based on their LGBTQ status, 100% reported verbal harassment, and 78% of youth were removed or ran away from placement because of hostility towards their LGBTQ status.

The stories in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ youth of colour Berg worked with in two residential units serving the LGBTQ foster youth in New York City. Focusing on a handful of characters, Berg shares their uniformly harrowing stories, often involving histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty and victimisation. Now aged between 14 and 21 (21 being the age at which foster children are released from the system) Berg and his colleagues battle to help these youths manage a myriad of issues, including addictions to drugs and high risk behaviours, to improve their chances at living healthy and fulfilling lives.

The stories are affecting, the children’s mixture of bravado, naivete, hurt and hope are difficult to read, but I think as a result I am better informed and more understanding of their circumstances. Sadly, most of the young people that we are introduced to in No House To Call Home will age out without the means, skills or opportunity to find stable housing or get a job with a livable wage.

No House to Call My Home is an accessible read for an audience curious about the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care. I imagine it also would have value for social workers, school counselors, foster carers and LGBTQ youth advocates.

 

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