Review: Starcrossed by Carla Caruso




Title: Starcrossed

Author: Carla Caruso

Published: HarperCollins August 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Starcrossed, by Carlo Caruso, is a contemporary romance novel mixed with suspense and magical realism.

Newly divorced and struggling with writer’s block, romance author Simona Gemella agrees to accompany her best friend, Nessie, to an astrological health and wellness retreat on Kangaroo Island. Simona is hoping to relax and find inspiration for her next book, but she is unsettled by the presence of handsome marine biologist Denham Cobalt, and a series of odd, and increasingly sinister, events that begin to plague the guests at the Sea Star Manor.

Written in the third person, most of the story is related through Simona, however the narrative is also shared by fellow guests at the Manor; Nessie, Raquel and Jordana, and a fifth perspective identified only as ‘Him’.

Caruso gradually introduces the idea something is not quite right at the Manor, building the suspense slowly, advancing towards the showdown on the night of the ‘Blood Moon’. But while the author neatly links the fantastical elements to the retreat’s focus on astrology, I thought each of the women had a little too much going on externally, which is a distraction to the main thrust of the plot.

Nessie is hiding a secret while flirting with the Yoga instructor, heavily pregnant Raquel is worried about her partner’s fidelity, and Jordana, accompanied by her husband, with his own drama, is struggling with infertility. Simona, on top of being newly divorced, suffering from writers block, and stressing over the release of her debut novel, also has to contend with the anticipation of meeting her writing ‘idol’, Astrid’s revelations, and of course, her attraction to Denham.

Overall I thought Starcrossed was a quick and engaging read, but needed a little more focus.

Click HERE to learn more about Carla Caruso and Starcrossed

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Review: The Replacement Wife by Rowena Wiseman


Title: The Replacement Wife

Author: Rowena Wiseman

Published: HarperCollins AU September 2015

Status: Read from September 09 to 10, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

The Replacement Wife by Rowena Wiseman has an unusual premise. When Luisa rekindles an old romance after a family BBQ she becomes determined to escape her lacklustre marriage of twelve years. Desperate not to be branded as a homewrecker, Luisa concocts a plan to find her husband a replacement wife, allowing her to exit the marriage blamelessly. While fantasising about the new life she will build with Jarvis, Luisa pushes a procession of single women at her husband but when it seems she has finally found him the one, she’s no longer sure she wants to be replaced after all.

Though I didn’t like Luisa at all, I thought Wiseman’s characterisation was very interesting. Luisa has a delusional self narrative, she believes herself unselfish for wanting to secure her husband’s happiness before she leaves him, compassionate for selecting women who will a good mother to her son, moral because she refuses a physical relationship with Jarvis while still married. Luisa’s skewed perspective is obvious to the reader, who can see exactly how flawed her thinking is, and the looming pitfall’s of Luisa’s grand plan.

‘Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it’ is the overriding theme of The Replacement Wife, however I struggled with the inconsistent tone of the novel. The first three quarters of the book or so reads mostly like a screwy romcom as Luisa attempts to fix up her husband with a handful of single women while swooning over the ridiculously effusive texts and emails from Jarvis, but then the tone shifts abruptly and The Replacement Wife becomes a serious morality tale, and though Luisa’s fate is deserved, the overall imbalance is awkward.

I didn’t dislike The Replacement Wife, I thought the unique premise was quite clever, and the writing of a good standard, but unfortunately the execution didn’t quite work for me.

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Review: How To Be a Grown-Up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus


Title: How To Be a Grown-Up

Author: Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Published: Atria July 2015

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Status: Read from July 30 to August 01, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Rory McGovern is a part time freelance stylist, who lives in New York with her actor husband and two young children, but with her husband’s star fading and residuals dwindling, Rory is forced to find full time work. Just as she lands a position with a start up webzine run by Millennials, her husband announces he needs some space, and Rory is suddenly the only grown-up at work and home.

Rory often made me shake my head, both in empathy and disbelief. I could relate to the chaos of parenting, less so to the doormat aspects of her personality. Sadly most of the other characters were little more than stereotypes, from Rory’s man child husband, and loopy mother in law, to bitchy colleague, and the hunky man about town love interest. I did like Claire though, and Josh of course, as I was meant to.

Rory’s experiences in the workplace are highly exaggerated, or at least I hope so. I certainly wouldn’t stand for Taylor’s snotty attitude, life is too short and I’m far too old (just a year older that Rory) to put up with that sort of crap. The highstrung, self absorbed Millennial staff are ripe targets for mocking however and McLaughlin and Kraus delight in poking fun at them, as well as the inane ‘jargon’ favoured by youth that actually have nothing to say.

How To Be a Grown-Up was entertaining, but only mildly so. A quick read that demands little on a lazy summer’s afternoon.

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Review: The Hand That Feeds You by AJ Rich


Title: The Hand That Feeds You

Author: AJ Rich

Published: Simon & Schuster July 2015

Status: Read from July 23rd-24th, 2015 – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:
The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich {a pseudonym for the partnership of authors Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment) offers an interesting premise.

Psychology student Morgan Prager is devastated when she returns home one evening to find her fiance, Bennett, mauled to death by her beloved pets, a Great Pyrenees and two fostered pit bulls. But when attempts to notify Bennett’s family of his death reveal he was not the man she thought he was, for Morgan, a psychologist writing a thesis about victimology, the betrayal is stunning and she is determined to unravel the truth.

While I found The Hand That Feeds You to be a quick and largely enjoyable read, unfortunately I felt the execution didn’t quite work on a number of levels.

Morgan is an inconsistent character, whose potential is undeveloped. I really loved the idea of a psychologist studying victimology becoming a victim, but was disappointed that Morgan was revealed to lack even a modicum of self awareness, especially for a thirty year old woman with years of psychology study. While I could just about believe she could be romantically duped by Bennett, and her stubborn denial of some truths was frustrating.

I felt uneven pacing resulted in diluted tension, some plot elements were heavily foreshadowed while others seemingly came out of nowhere. There were some odd scenes that seemed out of place and the ending was ultimately anti-climatic.

The writing didn’t quite gel either, cold and occasionally awkward.

Overall I thought The Hand That Feeds You lacked the depth and subtlety that could have made this story a great psychological thriller.


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Review: The Other Side of The World by Stephanie Bishop


Title: The Other Side of the World

Author: Stephanie Bishop

Published: Hachette June  2015

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

My Thoughts:

Stephanie Bishop’s novel, The Other Side of the World, is garnering much praise amongst critics and readers alike.

Exploring the themes of home, longing, identity and love Bishop presents the story of a Charlotte, a wife and new mother who reluctantly agrees to emigrate from England with her husband, Henry, a British Indian, in search of a fresh start in the sunny promise of Australia.

I admired Bishop’s poetic descriptions of both the physical and emotional landscape experienced by her characters. The writing is lyrical and evocative creating a close atmosphere that envelops the reader.

But this is a character driven novel and I failed to connect with Charlotte in particular. Rather than developing empathy for her longing for England, or more honestly for the life she had before children, I was irritated by her self absorption, horrified by her behaviour towards her daughters, impatient with her self pity.

“But that is all she has; there is the brightness of the outside world and then the starved, dark space of her own consciousness”

I found Henry to be a more likeable and interesting character, his struggle with his identity, of his yearning to belong, well articulated.

“Once more no one knows quite who, or what he is meant to be. He experienced this in England, but it was worse here – with his Queen’s English and his strange-coloured skin….his voice and appearance do not fit. Not here. Perhaps not anywhere.”

Though I appreciate the elegance of Bishop’s writing, the insightful exploration of themes, and finely wrought characterisation, I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy The Other Side of The World.

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Review: And Then Came Paulette by Barbara Constantine


Title: And Then Came Paulette

Author: Barbara Constantine

Published: MacLehose Press June 2015

Status: Read from June 06 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Ferdinand, a widower (whose wife was by all accounts an unpleasant woman) lives alone a rambling French farmhouse, with only a cat for company since his son and his family moved in to town. Bored and lonely, he spends his days at a small cafe, surreptitiously tripping young woman with his cane, while hoping to spend a few minutes with his beloved grandsons on their way home from school.

Ferdinand is on his way home one evening when he discovers his neighbour, Marceline has become overwhelmed by a gas leak. Concerned that she tried to end her life he vows to keep an eye on her and when he discovers her home is barely habitable, he insists she, along with her cheeky donkey Cornelius, cat Mo-je and dog Berthe, stay with him while repairs are carried out. Just a few weeks later the pair is joined by an old friend of Ferdinand’s, followed by a pair of elderly sisters-in-laws, a trainee nurse and an agricultural student. Ferdinand’s farmhouse is suddenly bursting at the seams. And then comes Paulette.

And Then Came Paulette is a charming story about family, friendship and community, wherein a collection of lost and lonely souls in need find refuge with one another. There is humour, tenderness and joy, despite the individual sorrows that unites these characters as together they rediscover a sense of purpose, usefulness and comfort.

The characters have their own stories and quirks, from newly widowed guy to ninety five year old Hortense. Ferdinand also has his family to worry about when it seems likely his son is heading for a divorce. The identity of Paulette comes as quite a surprise, one I’m not willing to spoil.

Translated from the author’s native French, And Then Came Paulette is a quick, uplifting read. I must admit the ending feels very abrupt and the story unfinished as a result, but I did enjoy it.

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Review: Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland


Title: Love and Miss Communication

Author: Elyssa Friedland

Published: William Morrow May 2015

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

My Thoughts:

“No more stalking ­people on Google.
No more Facebooking exes.
No more reading twits on Twitter.
No more posting pictures and waiting for “likes.”
No more refreshing Gmail every thirty seconds.
No more hashtagging meaningless combinations of words.
No more Instagramming every instant.
No more Foursquaring her whereabouts.
No more bidding on eBay for the thrill of competition.
No more pretend job hunting on Monster.
No more blogs. (She was slandered on one, for God’s sake!)
No more watching two-­year-­olds boogie to Beyoncé on YouTube.
No more playing Scrabble against house-­bound Aspergians.
No more Candy Crush, that time-­sucking psychedelic mess of sugar balls. And, best of all, no more OkCupid, JDate, eHarmony, and Match.”

A modern story about life and love in the digital age, when Evie Rosen’s addiction to email derails her promising law career and a Facebook post breaks her heart, she impulsively decides to disconnect from the world wide web and reclaim her life.

I didn’t particularly relate to Evie, whose behaviour more closely resembles that of my eighteen year old daughter than a woman, who at nearly thirty five, is closer to my age. She is, for the most part, self involved and superficial, and that is something that is very slow to change over the course of the novel. She’s horribly neglectful of her friendships, complaining because of missed e-vites and texts, but never makes much of an attempt to reach out. She pines over her ex-boyfriend, and whines endlessly about being single, without ever examining her own behaviour or attitude.

I did like the way in which Friedland developed Evie’s relationship with Dr Gold. He proves to be a great guy, though not perfect, and also a really patient man, given Evie’s neuroses.

The most charming aspect of the novel involved Evie’s relationship with her grandmother, a stereotypical Jewish Bubbe desperate to see Evie get married and have children.

Even though this is chick-lit, I thought there were missed opportunities to really explore what its like to be ‘unplugged’ in this day and age. Evie isn’t really challenged to live in the real world while ‘unplugged’, her generous severance payment gives her a lot of freedom, not that she really does much with it.

I am left with mixed feelings about Love and Miss Communication, the premise is great but Evie wasn’t a character I could root for and I felt the story was somewhat underdeveloped.

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Review: Death in the Rainy Season by Anna Jacquiery


Title: Death in the Rainy Season {Serge Morel #2}

Author: Anna Jacquiery

Published: Macmillan April 2015

Status: Read from April 11 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Full review to come

“Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.
Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?
Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .
A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”


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Seasoned Traveller 2015



Review: Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler


Title: Jinn and Juice {The Jinni #1}

Author: Nicole Peeler

Published: Orbit April 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on April 03, 2015  – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
Jinn and Juice introduces a new paranormal romance/urban fantasy series from Nicole Peeler.

It’s less than a week until Lyla will finally be free of the curse that condemned her to a thousand years of servitude when Ozan, a Magi needing her help to find a missing girl, binds her to his will. A Jinn, Lyla has little choice but to obey her new Master and can only hope he will stick to their agreement to release her when their mission is complete, but Lyla will have face to her worst nightmare before her most heartfelt wish cam be granted.

Lyla was the teenage daughter of a an ancient Persian king, desperate to avoid being married off, when she was cursed by the genie she sought help from. Now she is a Jinn and a belly dancer/burlesque performer at a Pittsburgh club, biding her time until the curse expires.

Lyla’s inner circle have her back and are a fun and interesting group, including a gay Delphi Oracle, a Will-o-the-Wisp, a half troll and a psychic drag queen.

The romance between Lyla and Oz doesn’t offer any real surprises but it is enjoyable. Lyla resents Oz at first and certainly doesn’t trust him, but eventually comes to realise he is a genuine and honourable guy.

There is plenty of humour, some of it a little crude and obvious but fun and snarky nevertheless. The action is fast paced as Lyla hunts for her new Master’s missing friend, which leads to a deadly confrontation with an age old enemy.

Set in modern day Pittsburgh, I liked the way in which Peeler uses the landscape and ‘stains’ the magic with steel. ‘Sideways’ is the magical world that overlaps our own and embraces a variety of creatures and beasties.

I enjoyed Jinn and Juice, it was a quick, escapist read for a lazy afternoon.


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Review: The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sánchez

Title: The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman

Author: Mamen Sánchez

Published: Doubleday UK March 2015

Status: Read from March 25 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman is a quirky tale of love, friendship, family and literature.

Heir of the Craftsman & Co publishing company, Atticus Craftsman, is sent by his father to close down their failing Spanish literary magazine. The staff of the ‘Librarte’, five close-knit women, are devastated and devise a plan to distract the Englishman from his mission, luring Atticus to Andalucía with the promise of an extraordinary literary find.

As Solea leads Atticus on a wild goose chase to her family home, Berta, Gabriela, Asuncion and Maria carry on, hoping to redeem the magazine. But when Marlow Craftsman realises his son is missing, and involves local police Inspector Manchego, the women are risking more than just their jobs.

Truthfully, farce is not really my thing so I didn’t really enjoy The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman the way some readers might. I found some parts amusing and I was charmed by several of the characters including Berta, the manager of Librarte, and the bumbling Inspector Manchego, but unfortunately overall I just wasn’t very interested.

Translated from her native Spanish, The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman is Mamen Sanchez’s fifth novel.


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