Review: The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner

 

Title: The Shadow Tracer

Author: Meg Gardiner

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Australia June 2013

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Status: Read from June 21 to 22, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Shadow Tracer is a rare stand alone thriller from author Meg Gardiner who is best known for her popular series, one which features Jo Beckett, a forensic psychologist, and the other, Evan Delany a journalist with a law degree.

The protagonist in The Shadow Trace is skip tracer, Sarah Keller. Since the night Sarah sister was murdered and she was forced to flee with her newborn niece, Sarah has been careful to remain off the grid. For five years she has been living under an alias, raising Zoe as her own, staying one step ahead of the violent, criminal cult that want to claim Zoe for the family when a minor accident, which leads to Zoe being hospitalised for treatment, uncovers a shocking secret and with their cover threatened, Sarah is forced to take Zoe and run.

The cult wants Zoe not only because she is family and therefore one of God’s ‘chosen people’ but also because she is unknowingly a key to part of their criminal enterprises. Without the intervention of a rogue FBI agent with vengeance on his mind, Sarah and Zoe may have stood a chance of escaping the clan’s assassins but Agent Harker’s single minded agenda complicates everything.

Sarah is uniquely placed to avoid the attention of those who are pursuing her and Zoe having spent her years on the run working as a skip tracer. There is just enough character development to make sense of Sarah’s motivations. I really liked the way in which she was portrayed as capable, resourceful and fiercely protective of Zoe. Yet despite the burner phones and untraceable pre-paid credit cards, with both the clan and the FBI hunting her, Sarah is forced to reach out to US Marshal Michael Lawless, despite being wary of him and his motives.

Though the plot isn’t entirely credible, the breathless pace overrides any real concerns. With the feel of a movie script due to several cinematic action scenes including a brutal murder in an isolated farmhouse during a snow storm, a dangerous car chase along a freeway and a final bloody confrontation in an airplane graveyard, The Shadow Tracer is an action packed thrill ride. The villains are suitably scary given their amoral and relentless, deadly pursuit of a an innocent five year old. And though the focus is firmly on the the frantic action, Gardiner still finds the time to introduce a subtle element of romance, or at least chemistry, between Sarah and Lawless.

This stand alone novel should be welcomed by Gardiner’s fans and tempt new readers to delve into her backlist. The Shadow Tracer is an entertaining, action driven thriller from an author Stephen King endorses as a ‘suspense superstar’.

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AWW Feature & Giveaway: Helene Young and Half Moon Bay

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Welcome Helene Young!

I am thrilled to welcome back Helene Young to Book’d Out today, celebrating the release of her fourth book, Half Moon Bay. Helene has previously been a guest here at Book’d Out  andI  had the pleasure of meeting her last year.

Helene’s previous award winning novels, Shattered Sky, Wings of Fear and Burning Lies formed a loosely linked trilogy and earned her the title of most popular romantic suspense author by the Romance Readers of Australia (ARRA) in 2010 and 2011. My review of Half Moon Bay has been published HERE. In the meantime enjoy catching up with Helene and enter for your chance to win a signed copy of Half Moon Bay. Read on…

This Floating Writer’s Life.

The last twelve months has seen four significant milestones come and go. I had a change of job within the airline, which gave me more time at home with hubbie and hound.

Capt G took extended long service leave in November to coincide with his 55th birthday, which also gave him a whole lot more time at home – a husband underfoot is a dangerous distraction…

We bought a 40 ft catamaran called Roo Bin Esque (named because she’s a voluptuous sexy French Boat with a couple of irreverent Australian sailors and dog aboard.)

Finally, we packed the contents of our house, along with several thousand books, into a shipping container and embarked on a sea change which we’ve been planning for fifteen years. (You can see the photos of our month’s journey north from Brisbane to Cairns on my blog.)

So now I’m a writer afloat with a new view from my window and a different rhythm to the day. It’s a little bit like camping as daylight hours dictate what you do. Sure we have a great big generator that makes lots of noise and produces beautiful 240 volts to run all the modern appliances, but who wants noise if you can have tranquility instead. I’ve always been a sparrow, up with first light, but now more than ever we wake with the sunrise and settle with the sunset.

It’s so much simpler than a house yet so much more labour intensive.  When we’re at sea there’s a dinghy to launch every time we want to go ashore. If the motors are on there’s a flurry of activity with water to make, batteries to charge, clothes to wash and decks to scrub. The fridge freezer demands to be defrosted every five days and the salt spray coats everything in a hazy layer.  Zeus, the long suffering Wonder Staffy, has to have a walk ashore twice a day since there’s not much play room on a boat, and besides those walks can be an adventure all of their own!

When we’re in a marina, there are people to chat to, chores to be done and a never-ending list of maintenance tasks.  Things we take fore granted like internet connection can prove to be fickle. We had several spots without internet or phone access on our sail north. They were the most peaceful days, but it took me a while to stop obsessively checking for service…

So how will all this affect my writing? I’m hoping for more down time to write. Half Moon Bay was released yesterday and my wonderful publishers would like the next completed manuscript in by mid-August. I’m working on it, but the view can be distracting and I find myself hurrying to find the camera and snap off another photo.

The upside is the inspiration in the scenery and people we meet.  For now I’ll soak up the ambience knowing there’s another significant milestone in a couple of weeks. Funny, but I don’t feel a day over twenty-five!

To go into the draw for a signed copy of Half Moon Bay tell us what you’d like to do if you could have a change from your current lifestyle in the comments. Would you be a tree changer or a backpacker, a sea change or jillaroo?

Competition closes Thursday 12 pm 30th May and the winner will be announced on the 31st May. Open worldwide

About Half Moon Bay

Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon Bay call for help she knows it’s finally time to return home.  As an international photojournalist, she’s used to violence in war zones, but she’s shocked when it erupts in the sleepy hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.

Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business. In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him. He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie’s sister, Nina, was shot and killed. Ellie’s been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn’t remember him…

As a storm rages and floodwaters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community. But who can she trust? Nick Lawson, the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who’s never let her down?

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Review: Dark Horse by Honey Brown

Title: Dark Horse

Author: Honey Brown

Published: Penguin Australia April 24th 2013

Status: Read from April 22 to 23, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

Read an extract See me in conversation with Honey Brown and the Reading Room

My Thoughts:

Having read After the Darkness last year I thought I knew what to expect from Honey Brown and while I was rewarded with a compelling story of psychological suspense, the shocking twist in the tale of Dark Horse took me by surprise.

After a messy divorce and the reluctant sale of her property Sarah Barnard can’t face a day of forced celebration with her parents and so just after dawn on Christmas morning, she packs supplies and canters into the bush upon her beloved horse, Tansy. Distracted, Sarah doesn’t notice the change in the weather until a torrent of water is rushing towards her. With no way to retreat, Sarah and Tansy are forced to seek higher ground and take refuge at the site of an old bushranger’s hut in the midst of being renovated. Resigned to waiting for rescue, Sarah establishes camp, content in her solitude, but then a man calls to her from the darkness, and Sarah is no longer alone.

From the moment Heath whistles to Sarah from the edge of the campsite I believed I knew the path the story would take but the twist in the plot left me breathless, catching me unaware. In hindsight the clues are there in the story, hiding, at times, in plain sight, but Brown masterfully plays on the reader’s expectations and with careful, but never obvious, manipulation, subverts the truth.

Sarah’s reason for being on the mountain is seemingly clear while Heath is the enigma. He appears untruthful, giving vague answers to even the simplest of questions and as Sarah’s suspicion of him grows, so does ours. The tension builds as Sarah battles her intense attraction to Heath, who is young, fit and handsome, even though she suspects him to be dangerous. Brown skillfully develops a relationship between Sarah and Heath that is, if not entirely understandable, feasible, despite the obvious contradictions.

The sense of unease that permeates the narrative comes not only from the situation but is also carefully cultivated by Brown as she creates a disquieting landscape of thick fog, unstable ground and howling winds. Lashed by rain and in danger of flooding, the mountain is a threatening presence. Sarah and Heath’s battle against the elements, and their isolation, heightens the suspense whilst enforcing intimacy with the need to keep dry and warm.

Once begun, I found it impossible to put Dark Horse aside. The pace is compelling, the tension superb and the plot veers into a breathtaking twist. Dark Horse is a finely crafted, stunning psychological thriller that I can’t recommend strongly enough.

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Review: The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Title: The Sunburnt Country

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: Penguin Australia February 2013

Read an Extract

Status: Read from February 25 to 28, 2013 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The Sunburnt Country is Fiona Palmer’s fourth engaging novel set in the regional area of her home state, Western Australia. In a small country town where the residents are struggling to survive the drought, bankers are the enemy.

Jonelle Baxter dreads having to meet with the new Bundara bank manager, her mechanical repair business is not in good financial shape despite keeping her as busy as ever and she is risking bankruptcy by falling behind in her loan repayments. She doesn’t expect to be attracted to the suited city boy who threatens everything she loves.
Daniel Tyler is in town to do a job, he has two months to tie up loose ends before the permanent bank manager will arrive and then he can return to his comfortable city life and a significant promotion. He doesn’t expect to find a home in Bundara… or love with the town’s only mechanic.

I found Jonelle aka “Jonny” a very likable character (though not her name so much). As a mechanic with a love of dirt car racing and a Torana her most prized, she is a little different to most romantic heroines, though definitely a tomboy she is still feminine. Her loyalty to her family, friends and community is her best trait. She risks her own business, accepting barter and delayed payment, in order to support those doing it tough and serves as an volunteer rescue crew member. She is close with her family which includes brother Zach and best friend Nae (Renee,) who provide a secondary romantic subplot and when childhood friend Ryan falls apart, she doesn’t hesitate to do all she can to help him get back on his feet.

Jonny’s close family and friendships contrast with Daniel’s lack of genuine relationships. His relationship with his father is complicated by the man’s narrow focus on work and his estrangement from his mother and younger brother after his parent’s divorce. Daniel is still very much in his father’s shadow but his time in Bundara gives him a fresh perspective. I liked the way in which Palmer developed Daniel’s character, though as a hero he was perhaps a little too passive for my tastes.

The romance between Jonelle and Daniel is fairly low key, developing naturally and pleasingly not beset by simple misunderstandings. There are good reasons for their wariness with each other – Jonelle will never leave Bundara while Daniel has a life in the city to return to. Though the romance is a feature of the novel, I really like that the author doesn’t rely on their relationship to promote personal growth for each of her characters. The decisions both Jonelle and Daniel make are about their individual needs, not the romance between them.

Fiona Palmer authentically captures the spirit of a community doing it tough, waiting for the rain, and I really liked the way in which she showed how the effects of the drought affect not only the farmers, but the town as a whole. She also touches on the issues of depression and suicide as Ryan struggles to deal with the end of his marriage and his failing farm.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Sunburnt Country, just as in The Road Home, Palmer’s own passion for the land bleeds into the story, her scenes are vivid and genuine, just as her characters are. This is another Australian rural fiction title I am happy recommend.

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Review: The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Title: The Autumn Bride {The Chance Sisters #1}

Author: Anne Gracie

Published: Penguin Viking Feburary 2013

Status: Read from February 13 to 14, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Penguin Australia}

My Thoughts:

The Autumn Bride is a charming Regency romance introducing the Chance sisters by popular Australian author, Anne Gracie.

After rescuing her younger sister from a London brothel, Abigail Chantry finds herself the sole charge of Jane, Damaris and Daisy. Though the girls pool their skills and resources, when Jane falls ill they cannot afford the services of a doctor, and in desperation Abigail climbs through the window of a mansion hoping to find a trinket she can exchange to pay for one. Instead Abby finds Lady Beatrice Davenham, a frail, elderly woman at the mercy of her neglectful staff. Incensed by the dowager’s condition, Abby and her ‘sisters’ with the approval of Lady Bea, claim kinship and evict the servants, restoring order to the house. It is an ideal situation for them all until Lady Bea’s nephew, Lord Max Davenham returns from overseas and is immediately suspicious of the ‘Chance’ sisters and their motives.

It has been a long time time since I have read a historical romance so I admit to approaching The Autumn Bride with some degree of trepidation. I was glad to discover a storyline that, while featuring the development of a romance between Abigail and Max, was built primarily around the dynamics of the Chance ‘sisters’. I also enjoyed the touch of mystery surrounding Jane’s abduction, though the link between the brothel and the orphanage is obvious from the first.

I found my self quickly charmed by Abigail, her ‘sisters’ and the indomitable Lady Bea. I much prefer resourceful protagonists with a bit of fire in them to simpering heroines so I liked Abby immediately. Lady’s Bea’s bright spirit and disregard for convention also quickly earned my affection as did Max, who’s sense of honour is admirable. I even developed a soft spot for Featherby and William who do little but lurk in the background.

The humour in The Autumn Bride was unexpected and I was surprised to find myself smiling widely at the witty dialogue. The pacing is appropriate, though traditional romance fans may find the relationship between Abby and Max a little slow to begin.

I enjoyed The Autumn Bride, it is a engaging book that is funny, romantic and charming. The first in a quartet of novels featuring Abigail, Damaris, Jane and Daisy in turn, I will be happy to pick up the next on it’s release.

I was fortunate to ask Anne Gracie a few questions about The Autumn Bride, please CLICK HERE to learn more…

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AWW Feature: Q & A with Anne Gracie

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Welcome Anne Gracie!

I’m happy to welcome Anne Gracie to Book’d Out today. Anne started her first novel while backpacking solo around the world. Originally published by Harlequin Books, she has written more than 15 Regency-era historical romances for Berkley, USA and Penguin Australia, but instead of her new career taking her back to exotic overseas locations, she turned into a cave-bound writer-hermit. Anne’s books are published in sixteen languages, have been shortlisted three times for the prestigious RITA award (USA), have twice won the Romantic Book of the Year (Australia) and the National Reader’s Choice Award (USA), and have been listed in Library Journal (USA) best books of the year.  Anne is a former president of Romance Writers of Australia and though she lives in Melbourne in a small and very elderly wooden house, she’s too busy writing to renovate.

The Autumn Bride is her latest novel, (published by Penguin in Australia and Berkley in the US) and I had the opportunity to ask Anne Gracie a few questions. Read on to learn more about The Autumn Bride and check out MY REVIEW of this charming novel.

Q & A with Anne Gracie

Q. Please tell us about The Autumn Bride

Anne: This is the first book in a series about four young women, all orphans, who come together and form a kind of family. When their situation goes from bad to worse, Abby, my heroine, climbs through the window of a nearby mansion hoping to find something to steal. Instead she finds a bedridden aristocratic old lady at the mercy of her neglectful, rapacious servants. The four girls move in with Lady Beatrice, pretending to be her nieces and sacking the servants. All goes well until Lady Beatrice’s nephew Max returns after nine years in the Far East. He’s not impressed to find his aunt under the sway of these impostors.

It’s a rags-to-riches, feel-good, fun story with a dark undertow. But mostly it’s about the joy of friendship, second chances, sisterhood — and love.

Q. What defines Regency romance as a subgenre?

Anne: The Regency period is the real definer — 1811 to 1820, when King George III was “mad” and his son, the Prince Regent ruled in his stead. It’s a subgenre that in fiction was shaped by writers like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Austen, of course was writing contemporaries, whereas Heyer was writing in the 1940’s and 50’s, but they each brought their versions of that era alive to new generations of readers. And hundreds of writers since have followed them there. . .

It’s a vibrant, varied and exciting period for writers — this is the age of Napoleon, the industrial revolution, the growth of the British Empire, and so much more. There is the glamour of balls and fabulous fashions, and incredible wealth side by side with desperate poverty. It gives me, as a writer, plenty of plot choices.

Q.  What, if any, research did you do specifically for The Autumn Bride?

Anne: Having set sixteen books in the Regency period, I’m pretty well primed in the historical background, and this story is more about characters than particular historical events so I didn’t need a lot of specific research.  Mostly I investigated the district Lady Beatrice and the girls lived in, which centuries before had been a rich area filled with mansions, but in the Regency era was in decline, and starting to be redeveloped.

Q. I’m intrigued by author’s picture boards . Can you share what types of things you add to yours? 

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Anne: I make a collage for each of my books, using all kinds of pictures — contemporary paintings, photos of people, settings. I do it in the early writing stages, before the book has formed fully in my head. Partly it’s  a form of inspiration, and when it’s finished it helps plunge me into the world of the book. The process is largely instinctual; I select some images without quite knowing why, and eventually my subconscious throws up a reason, often when I’m well into the book. Writing is sometimes like archaeology, a process of uncovering what’s already there, buried deep.

Q. The Australian cover (Penguin) differs from the US cover (Berkley) – do you prefer one over the other?

Anne: I don’t. I love each of them for different reasons.

Q. The Autumn Bride is to be the first in a series featuring the Chance sisters, whose story can we expect next?

Anne: Damaris’s. She’s the most contained of the sisters, and lived most of her life abroad living in difficult  and unusual circumstances. She’s an interesting character, I think.

Q. Name three of your favourite novels by Australian women writers

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Untameable Rogue by Kelly Hunter

Rhiannon’s Ride (series) by Kate Forsyth

Q. What is your preference?

  •             Coffee/Tea or other?  — Coffee
  •             Beach/Pool or River?  — Beach
  •             Slacks/Jeans or Leggings?  — Jeans
  •             Butterfly/Tiger or Giraffe?  — Tiger
  •             Swing/Slide or Roundabout?  — Swing

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Review: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Title: Love with a Chance of Drowning

Author: Torre DeRoche

Published: Penguin Viking February 2013

Status: Read on February 19, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Penguin Australia}

Read an excerpt

My Thoughts:

“Some people die of old age without ever having lived their dreams. Some people die without ever having loved. That’s tragic. We’ll both die someday, that’s a guarantee. If something happens on the ocean, we’ll die as two people in love who are living a remarkable adventure…”

Torre DeRoche planned to spend a year in the US working and then return home to Australia. Instead she fell in love with an Argentinian and despite a fear of the sea, agreed to sail with him across the Pacific. Love With a Chance of Drowning tells of Torre’s adventures aboard the Amazing Grace during her journey to conquer the ocean, and her fears.

Torre wasn’t looking for a relationship when she met Ivan in a San Francisco bar but charmed by his Latin good looks and kind, considerate nature she fell head over in heels in love. Yet their separation seemed inevitable, Torre had promised to return to Australia at the end of the year and Ivan planned to throw in his IT job and sail solo across the ocean. As the end began to draw near, Ivan suggested Torre join him and she was faced with a difficult choice, sail away with her lover or say goodbye. Despite her fear of deep water, disaster and ““anything that would fall out if you turned the ocean upside down and shook it” Torre’s decides to surrender her comfortable city lifestyle for a love on a 32ft wooden boat in the middle of nowhere.

Though I have little interest in sailing (and my own fearful respect for the sea), I really enjoyed this entertaining memoir of (mis)adventure. The humour is engaging, Torre has no problem poking fun at her own obsession with safety equipment, her horrendous bouts of sea sickness and Ivan’s innate clumsiness. She is boldly honest about the journey’s practical and emotional hardships – broken equipment, rough weather, the lack of fresh food and inescapable intimacy. Yet as Torre describes the joy of watching dolphins frolic in the boat’s wake, the stunning white sands and blue water of tropical waters and the convivial welcome of islanders, you can’t help but wish you could join her.

Love with a Chance of Drowning is wonderfully written. Part travelogue, part romance, it is a tale of an amazing journey that will sweep you away.

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