Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Book Review: Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

Dance of Shadows (Dance of Shadows, #1)
My Rating:                   3 / 5
Format:                        Paperback, courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia
Publication Date:      12 February 2013
Extent:                         384
ISBN:                           9781408829974
Imprint:                        Bloomsbury Childrens
RRP:                           AU$15.99




The Blurb


“Dancing with someone is an act of trust. Elegant and intimate; you’re close enough to kiss, close enough to feel your partner’s heartbeat. But for Vanessa, dance is deadly – and she must be very careful who she trusts …


Vanessa Adler attends an elite ballet school – the same one her older sister, Margaret, attended before she disappeared. Vanessa feels she can never live up to her sister’s shining reputation. But Vanessa, with her glorious red hair and fair skin, has a kind of power when she dances – she loses herself in the music, breathes different air, and the world around her turns to flames …

Soon she attracts the attention of three men: gorgeous Zep, mysterious Justin, and the great, enigmatic choreographer Josef Zhalkovsky. When Josef asks Vanessa to dance the lead in the Firebird, she has little idea of the danger that lies ahead – and the burning forces about to be unleashed …”


Overview and Thoughts

I was originally drawn to this novel because of the beautiful cover art (oh yes, I’m a sucker for gorgeous covers!) but, just before picking it up, a fellow blogger and good friend of mine revealed that there were paranormal themes throughout, which made me a bit hesitant to read it. The last paranormal series I read was Twilight, after which I was all “vampired” and “werewolfed” out, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that this novel contained neither of those creatures, and in fact followed a more magical and slightly demonic theme.

With her family devastated by her disappearance, Vanessa decides to attend the same ballet school where Margaret disappeared from, not because of her aspirations to be a prima ballerina, but because she just isn’t prepared to believe that her sister could disappear without a trace.

Unbeknownst to Vanessa, she has a rare talent and effortlessly lands the same lead female part her sister would have played, had she not disappeared - that of the Firebird in the production, La Dance du Feu.

She becomes enchanted by the mysterious lead male, Zeppelin Gray, who eventually breaks up with his girlfriend in his pursuit of Vanessa’s attentions and manages to spend a little time with him in-between gruelling practices and trying to locate the elusive journal her sister kept. But Zeppelin doesn’t act the way a boyfriend should … and then there’s Justin who seems to appear out of the ether when she’s least expecting it!

While the head choreographer Josef Zhalkovsky ’s arrogance and bitterness, along with the strange, limping Hilda’s ability to almost read her thoughts raise more questions than answers in Vanessa’s mind, there are also the mysterious ash dancers on the wall of the practice room and the fact that, just as she masters the steps to her dances, it feels like an outside force is assisting her with the complicated ones, making sounds muddle and colours melt away – almost as if time is slowing down!

Could there be something sinister about this production? Could the ballet be cursed? And, what of the twenty other girls originally cast as the Firebird, who have mysteriously disappeared over the last two decades?

I’ve read some pretty mixed reviews on this novel (with some of the overseas ones quite scathing), and whilst Yelena Black’s adeptness at creating well-developed characters appears to be lacking and the plot is pretty much fantastical, with creativity and imagination, she managed to advance the story at a steady pace, thus maintaining my interest and transporting me into the world of ballet where I found myself chanting along with the choreographers during practice.

Mystery, danger and sinister forces reign supreme in this novel which is reminiscent of both the Swan Lake production as well as the movie, The Black Swan, and will appeal to both aspiring prima ballerinas as well as those of you who enjoy the darker ballet productions.

About the Author

Yelena Black is a recent MFA graduate of Columbia University. She currently resides in New York City and is a full-time writer. She has a keen interest in dance and all things dark and spooky.

I wish to thank both the publisher, Bloomsbury Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy for review, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Aussie Book Review : The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

The Sunburnt Country
My Rating:               4 / 5
Format:                   Paperback, courtesy of Penguin Australia
Publication Date27/02/2013
Category:                Rural Romance
ISBN:                       9781921901294
Imprint:                    Michael Joseph
Extent:                     301 pages
RRP:                       AU$29.99


The Blurb


“Jonelle Baxter is a young woman in a man's world – a tough, hardworking motor mechanic from an idyllic country family. But lately things in her perfect life have been changing, and her workshop isn't the only local business that's struggling.


Daniel Tyler is new in town, posted from the city to manage the community bank. As he tries to rein in the spiralling debts of Bundara, he uncovers all sorts of personal dramas and challenges. The last thing Jonny and Dan need is an unwanted attraction to each other.

It's going to take more than a good drop of rain to break the drought and to keep this small but very colourful community thriving.”


Overview and Thoughts

From Fiona Palmer comes this story of life in a drought-stricken rural town, Bundara, where even the town mechanic hasn’t managed to escape the extreme pressures of financial hardship.

Jonelle “Jonny” Baxter, Bundara’s town mechanic and a racing car fanatic, has grown up in a close-knit family whilst being surrounded by wonderful friends, whose relationships have endured from childhood.

Ryan is one of those friends. Still trying to come to terms with the desertion (and monetary demands) of his wife in these drought-stricken times of hardship, which have affected his capacity to make repayments to the bank, he feels almost hopeless in his quest to make it on his own.

When Daniel Tyler arrives in Bundara from Perth to take up his two-month assignment as temporary bank manager, tragedy strikes as he begins the arduous task of making arrangements to recall defaulted bank loans. A big city banker, who’s used to dealing with faceless people, he’s about to realise that small towns operate differently and that love can be found in the most unexpected places.

With no hidden mystery to be uncovered and drawing on her own experience, Fiona managed to keep me engaged with her dynamic main characters. Jonny drew me in from the beginning with her warm personality and sweet nature and while she struggles financially to keep her mechanical shop open, she also has to deal with the trauma of a tragic accident and try to decipher her growing feelings for Daniel.

I felt that Daniel was the character I most connected with because he had the most to learn. Captivated by both the sense of community he experiences in Bundara as well as the local female mechanic, as the friendship between him and Jonny grows, he begins to see first-hand what it means to be part of a family, which only brings his own family’s shortcomings to the fore. In searching for his own identity he seemingly takes the biggest risk of his life but, in facing his father, doesn’t allow the fear to stop him from reaching out for what he wants and discovers that a mother's love transcends all time.

While this is my first Fiona Palmer novel (and won’t be my last), it is not the first I have read where our small rural communities are often almost defeated by the effects of prolonged drought. In touching on the more serious issues such as financial hardship and suicide, Fiona has offered us an unflinching glimpse into some of the challenges which face our farmers on a daily basis.

With a narrative that is moderately-paced, heart-warming and fraught with emotion, this story is a reminder of the power of true Aussie grit emphasising the fact that there is durability to be found in a community who stick together in times of adversity, with nothing but the bonds of hope binding them together.

About the Author

Fiona Palmer lives in the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia, three and a half hours south-east of Perth. She discovered Danielle Steel at the age of eleven, and has now written her own brand of rural romance.

She has attended romance writers’ groups and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her first novel, The Family Farm.

Fiona has extensive farming experience, does the local mail run, and was a speedway-racing driver for seven years. She currently writes while looking after her two children.

My thanks goes to the Publisher, Penguin Group Australia (Michael Joseph) for providing me with a hard copy for review.



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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Book Review: The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata

The Rainbow Troops

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review copy courtesy of Random House Books Australia and The Reading Room




The Blurb

“Originally written in Bahasa, The Rainbow Troops was first published in 2005 and sold a record-breaking five million copies in Indonesia. The novel tells the inspiring and closely autobiographical tale of the trials and tribulations that the ten motley students (nicknamed the Rainbow Troops) and two teachers from Muhammadiyah Elementary School on Belitong Island, Indonesia, undergo to ensure the continuation of the children’ s education. The poverty-stricken school suffers the constant threat of closure by government officials, greedy corporations, natural disasters and the students’ own lack of self-confidence. The story is written from the perspective of Ikal, who is six years old when the novel opens. Just as the author himself did as a young man, Ikal goes to college and eventually wins a scholarship to go abroad, beating incredible odds to become a writer.

This delightful, inspiring book has a fable-like quality that reminds us why we love stories— heartwarming stories, funny stories, stories that remind us of the precious things in life. Ikal and his band of plucky cohorts face obstacles large and small, and the reader can’ t help but root for them to beat the odds and get the education— and life— they deserve. The setting is as compelling and memorable as the characters, and a rare window into a world we know little about.


Summary and Thoughts

Isn’t it amazing how we, living in first world countries, take education for granted, when all over the world there are still others who sacrifice so much to gain an education which should, in actual fact, be a right and not a privilege?

The island of Pulau Belitong in Indonesia is one such island and we follow the story of ten children (who become known as “the Rainbow Troops”) from extremely poor families attending a school which is nothing more than a shack, the only foundations: two extremely dedicated teachers who receive no monetary gain in return, but who give these children hope for a future which will enable them to rise above their circumstances, thereby allowing them to realise a life beyond those of their uneducated parents, who are largely store helpers, labourers (“coolies”) or fishermen working for a pittance.

Without many of the every day conveniences we take for granted, these children love learning and, with hopes and dreams of a better future firmly in place, albeit with limited learning materials, beat-up bicycles for transport, clothing without buttons, great distances to travel to attend school - sometimes encountering dangerous situations along the way - and a greedy government official who consistently tries to eradicate their little school thereby obliterating their only chance at education, it is ultimately these children and their faithful teachers that bind this little school together.

We see Ikal experiencing his first taste of love and whose greatest aspiration is to become a writer, failing which he’ll be a badminton player; Lintang encounters many dangerous situations on the eighty kilometre round-trip he travels by bicycle to attend school, but he is determined to defend his father’s dignity and also become Belitong’s first Mathematician; and dear Harun, afflicted with Downs Syndrome but who constantly has a smile on his face wants to be just like Trapani, a perfectionist whose clothes are always spotless.

Told in the first person narrative, inspired by his own life and written as a tribute to his teacher, Andrea Hirata recounts a life of abject poverty, compounded by educational and work limitations, despite the fact that the island was rich in natural resources (some of the biggest tin mines being located there) but which, unfortunately and along with its inhabitants, had been exploited by the larger companies in their pursuit of wealth.

Simply written and articulated with warmth and charm, this is an inspiring novel about ten children who fly in the face of adversity by fighting against the injustices they encounter with humour and good spirit, to claim an education which, by rights, they are entitled to, while proving that faith, courage and hope, can overcome many things.

I would like to thank both the publisher, Random House Books Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with an Uncorrected Bound Proof of a novel which is likely to become a classic.

About the Author and Laskar Pelangi

Andrea Hirata, born in Gantong, Belitong, East Sumatra, Indonesia, received a scholarship to study a master’s degree at Sheffield Hallam University, UK, majoring in economic theory and graduated with honours.

After finishing his studies, he returned to Indonesia and worked for Indonesia’s biggest telecommunication company, TELKOM but then in 2004, volunteered for tsunami disaster relief in Aceh. Whilst there, he saw ruined schools that reminded him of his old promise to his elementary school teacher, Muslimah. Back then, when Hirata was in the fifth grade, he made a promise that one day he would write a book for his teacher. Thus his first novel was born.

The novel is called Laskar Pelangi: The Rainbow Troops and, whilst never intended for mainstream publication , is now the biggest selling Indonesian novel ever. Having sold over five million copies, it has now been adapted for a feature film, television series and musical theatre.

Hirata has contributed significantly to the development of modern Indonesian literature and, by sharing his story, has had a great impact on tourism, with special tours enabling you to retrace the steps of this novel, now in place. Scholarships, too, are more easily obtainable.

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Aussie Book Review : Shallow Breath by Sara Foster

Shallow BreathShallow Breath by Sara Foster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My thanks goes to the publisher, Random House Books Australia, for providing me with a hard copy of this novel for review




Best-selling psychological suspense writer Sara Foster took months to work up the courage to watch The Cove, an infamous documentary exposing Japan’s dolphin hunting culture, and when she finally did she wept for much of the film. A long-time animal lover, Sara couldn’t turn away from what she had seen. A year later, she visited “the cove” for herself, determined to write about it.

Shallow Breath is Sara’s “love letter to the ocean”. A deeply touching novel highlighting both the atrocious acts of animal cruelty and the breath-taking efforts of conservation in Australia and worldwide.

The Blurb

“Two years ago, Desi Priest made a horrific mistake and destroyed her family.

Now, she is coming home to make amends: to her daughter, Maya, who’s nurturing her own dangerous plan; to her brother, Jackson, who blames himself; and to her close friend, Pete, who has spent years shielding her from a devastating truth.

But as Desi returns to her beloved house by the ocean, there is a stranger waiting for her. Someone who needs her help. Someone whose arrival will reveal a chain of secrets hidden for over twenty years.

And one by one the family will be forced to confront the possibility that they have somehow got things terribly, tragically wrong …

Set across five continents, Shallow Breath, is a compelling novel of dashed dreams and second chances. But most of all it is a story about love, and what it really means to be free.”

Overview

A fractured family … secrets … lost chances … but mostly, the power of fighting for what you believe in, consequences be damned!

Just as the Joeys’ life-giving threads are severed from their mothers in this haunting tale, so, too, is the thread that once bound a mother and daughter, but unlike that of the Joey, which can never be healed, will these two damaged souls manage to cross the chasm that separates them?

In this awesome tale of psychological suspense, we see Desi Priest arriving home to her beloved ocean after spending 15 months in prison for committing an impulsive act after being driven into a rage, the reasons for which had smouldered beneath her calm veneer for many years – the final igniting factor, a conversation with her brother Jackson. Unfortunately the actual memory of carrying it out is forever lost to her, but the reasons are not!

But if Desi is feeling desolate, her daughter, Maya, who has grown up in the months since she was imprisoned, is even more so. Having been taken in by her somewhat bitter and distant grandfather after her mother was incarcerated, she still harbours a lot of anger towards Desi for the repercussions of her actions and doesn’t know whether she will ever be able to forgive her.

While Pete, Desi’s long-time friend and the only father-figure Maya has ever known, still holds a torch for Maya, he is apprehensive about Desi’s release, knowing that he needs to grasp this opportunity to finally purge the secrets he has been keeping from her for the last twenty years.

And then there’s the stranger, Kate, who arrives in town, with her own secrets and dangerous agenda.

With Desi trying to repair her relationship with Maya whilst still emotionally battered by painful memories and unanswered questions of her own, Pete seeking the right time to purge his long-kept secrets, Kate finally revealing the real reason for her visit, Jackson trying to come to terms with his past guilt and present feelings and Maya becoming entangled in dangerous activities, they are all brought together by a common passion, which is bound to have far-reaching consequences, ultimately bringing them all together or, once again, tearing them apart.

My Thoughts

It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act! His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Whilst this novel is largely about conservation and based on fact, the meaning of it all runs deeper as the story is told over a twenty year span from the perspectives of eight fictional characters. Alternating between past and present, Sara Foster has created this love letter to the ocean with her emotions and passions shining through the characters she has created and being put on display for all to see.

I must admit that I found the animal abuse in this novel to be quite confronting, and during one particular scene, I found myself considering putting the book aside. However, I trundled on and thankfully so, because this is a story which needs to be told in order to get people talking, thereby making us more aware that animal conservation is absolutely imperative for the survival of our world – one part of the food chain disappearing can cause unprecedented damage to those parts left behind!

Although the novel explores many avenues of conservation and animal abuse, from the plight of the Orang-utans in Sumatra to the cruelty to animals such as the poaching of the African Elephant in Zambia, as well as the Kangaroos who reside on our own doorstep, Dolphins have always held a special place in my heart and one of the scenes in this novel which touched me the most was where Marie experiences Dolphin contact for the first time.

Whilst I have always been drawn to the dolphin attractions at theme parks (both here and in South Africa) and my love for these graceful creatures stems from having lived all my life within 10 minutes drive of the beaches in my suburb on the East coast of South Africa, with the Indian Ocean being home to the Bottlenose Dolphin, I had honestly never given a second-thought to how these mammals could have been captured in order to provide a few hours’ entertainment to scores of human beings. Sara Foster, through writing this novel, has provided me with some insight into the cruelty behind the capturing of these very intelligent, gentle and sensitive creatures and prompted me to do my own research into the cruel practice that is Taiji.

Thankfully, the theme parks which I have had the pleasure of visiting, both here in Australia and in South Africa, adhere to strict Codes of Ethics and in no way support the Taiji fisherman nor any other program where gross abuse of animals for human gain is promoted. I was pleased to learn that uShaka Marine World (in South Africa) belongs to the Pan-African Association of Zoological Gardens, Aquaria and Botanic Gardens (PAAZAB) with Perth Zoo being a PAAZAB Member Sponsor to Munda Wanga Environmental Park, Zambia. PAAZAB is the only African regional zoo association recognised by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).

Inspired by her own amazing encounters during her many travels around the world, as well as a 2009 documentary film entitled The Cove which analyses and questions the dolphin hunting culture in Japan, Sara has created a fabulous novel of suspense with substantial research and, in blending fact with fiction, has indeed created a complex plot and characters with extremely strong voices capable of leading us to ask the question - how far would we go in order to stand up and fight for what we believe in?

Compelling, emotional and graphic, each character has their own story to share, seamlessly combining to create an authentic plot that will make you question the true meaning of freedom and hopefully inspire you to stand up and allow your voice to be heard.

A Little Extra Info

In doing my own research on the Taiji Dolphins after reading this novel, I came across an Infographic which can be imbedded on your website. And, whilst you may think this is a very minor thing which could possibly never muster the impact and change we wish to see, in the spirit of Mother Teresa, bear in mind that “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”

Should you be interested, please don’t hesitate to visit http://www.takepart.com/cove, copy the code and do your bit, however small, towards conservation – I have!

For further information on The Cove’s Ric O’Barry and his fight to save the Taiji Dolphins, please visit http://savejapandolphins.org


Q & A with Sara Foster



The lovely Sara Foster lives in Western Australia with her husband and young daughter.  She divides her time between writing, book editing and being a mum.  Her passions include the natural world, photography, travel and animal conservation.  She is the bestselling author of two psychological suspense novels, Come Back to Me and Beneath the Shadows.

Born and raised in the UK, she worked for a time in the HarperCollins fiction department in London, before turning her hand to freelance editing, and writing in her spare time.

It wasn't until 2007 that Sara decided to take seriously her aim of getting published, and she took time out from editing to finish her first book.  Come Back to Me was published in Australia in 2010 and reached the Sydney Morning Herald top ten Australian bestsellers list.  Her second book, Beneath the Shadows, reached No. 4 on the Australian Sunday Telegraph bestsellers list, and has been published in the USA and Germany.

Her latest novel, and the topic of today's Q & A, Shallow Breath, was published in December 2012.

You can find out more about Sara and her writing at www.sarafoster.com.au but today, she has kindly agreed to answer some questions with regard to the environmental issues raised in Shallow Breath, more particularly in relation to the Taiji Dolphins, and how she got past the emotions to write this wonderful story.

Sara, welcome to my Blog and thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions.

With regard to Shallow Breath, Sara, how much research did you undertake for this book?

Research formed a major part of this book – in fact, I had trouble concluding the research and beginning to write.  I really wanted the characters’ voices and issues to sound authentic.  I spent a lot of time in various local libraries.  I watched clips of the whaling protests in the seventies, I went to Monkey Mia and viewed everything I could in their research centre.  I looked through reams of old newspapers, listened to audio clips, found pieces on YouTube, and I read books by animal experts in each of the fields I was writing about and more.  I learned about octopuses, chimps and parrots as well, and found various themes that applied across the board – particularly relating to new discoveries of animal ‘intelligence’ and teamwork.  I interviewed Leif Cocks, who is one of the leaders of orang-utan conservation, and spent a number of hours at Perth Zoo.  I looked into how you can go and hunt elephants in Africa, and saw photos I never want to see again.  I read forums on kangaroo shooting and visited various kangaroo carers.  And I also travelled to Taiji in Japan and watched the fishermen set off at dawn in search of dolphins.  I stood on a hotel roof and watched the banger boats belching black smoke as they returned in formation, which meant a pod of dolphins was trapped between them.  I spoke to all the different conservation groups there and saw the dolphins who were being trained or held in captivity.  One protestor put a hydrophone into the water, and we listened to them calling to one another.  That was the experience that changed me forever.  I will never forget it.

Sara, I am very emotional when it comes to things like animal cruelty and I shed a few tears whilst reading Shallow Breath, but one thing I’d like to know is, how did you get past the emotions enough to watch “The Cove” and to actually visit the site?

That’s a really good question, Marcia.  I’ve had to grit my teeth a lot and I shed plenty of tears while writing and researching this book, but the novel meant I was able to turn all those feelings into something purposeful, and that really helped.

What advice do you have for the average person out there to make a difference in terms of nature conservation?

1)            Everything, no matter how small, makes a difference.  Whether you sign a petition, donate some money, host a fundraiser or spread the word, it all helps.

2)            Be informed – some of the issues surrounding conservation can be complex.  You hear stories about well-meaning but naïve people trying to help but causing more problems, or spreading myths and opinions rather than facts.  If you read some of Ric O’Barry’s online articles, you’ll see he talks quite a bit about this in relation to the dolphins. (I’ve added a few of these onto www.shallowbreath.com)

3)            I also believe it’s important to channel your anger and anguish constructively, rather than let it overwhelm you.  Doing something positive to help really counteracts those feelings of helplessness.  I didn’t want to write the story and leave people with nowhere to go afterwards, which is why I put together www.shallowbreath.com – to give people some specific starting points on how they might help or where to learn more.

Sara, thank you so much for stopping by today.

For those of you interested in finding out more about Sara’s conservation efforts, please visit her website.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Aussie Book Review : One Little White Lie by Loretta Hill

One Little White LieMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC provided by publisher

Format - e-book




The Blurb

“A hilarious romantic novella from Loretta Hill (author of bestselling The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots). When one little white lie turns into a red-blooded reality!

What do you do when your best friend is the serial match maker from Hell?

Single girl Kate Dreson knows that her friend, Lisa, is not going to leave her alone unless she tells her that she is happily dating someone. Who knew that one little white lie could so blatantly backfire?

The imaginary boyfriend she described to her friend so lovingly suddenly walks into her life and starts making himself comfortable in it.

Trapped by her lie, poor Kate is powerless to stop him. But the real question is, does she really want to?”


Overview

Lisa, Kate’s best friend, is on a mission – to find her the perfect man. But Kate’s not interested in Lisa’s attempts to hook her up with someone that she thinks would be the ideal partner.

So, after yet another failed attempt on Lisa’s behalf, trying to get an inebriated man to show an interest in her best friend, Kate has had enough!

While trying not to hurt her best friend’s feelings, she finds herself telling a lie – that she has, in fact, already met someone, but they’ve been keeping it quiet until they’re sure they’re meant for one another.

Imagine her surprise when she arrives at Lisa’s engagement party announcing that her boyfriend is unable to make it due to them having called it quits, only to discover that “he” is in fact at the party and just happens to be the image of the man she described to Lisa.

With Kate firmly in his sights after one encounter, there’s no way that Henry’s about to let her go, no matter how much she prevaricates, and firmly attempts to ensconce himself in her life.

Unfortunately, for any love story to have a happy ending, there’s bound to be a bit of conflict, so when Henry’s brother Tom has Kate investigated, and he meets her ex-fiancé, sparks are bound to fly.

My Thoughts

This was a sweet, light-hearted, quick read with a comical look at the situations our well-meaning friends can get us into, which I thoroughly enjoyed as I escaped for a little while from the reality that is my life!

Whilst this is .Loretta Hill’s first novella and is typically one of those romances with a “happy ever after”, she has firmly placed herself on the market as an author who is gifted in her story-telling with her two previous contemporary novels, The Girl in Steel Capped Boots and The Girl in the Hard Hat.

One Little White Lie is also one of the launch titles for Random House Australia's new digital imprint, Random Romance and I wish to thank both Random House and NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to request this title.

A Little About the Author

Loretta was born in Perth, Western Australia, the eldest of four girls. She enjoyed writing from a very early age, spinning stories almost as soon as she could read them.

She was first published in the West Australian Newspaper with a short story about a circus horse when she was eleven years old. They paid her ten dollars for it and she knew she’d found her calling.

She put her dream on hold however, to pursue a less risky career in engineering. Blessed with her fathers knack for science, she graduated from the University of Western Australia and began working as a structural engineer. She continued to create stories in her free time.

She now writes contemporary romances for Avalon Books under the name .Loretta Brabant and mainstream commerical women’s fiction for Random House Australia under the name Loretta Hill. She is happily married with three young children. When Loretta isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, good food and travelling

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Aussie Book Review : Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty

Paper ChainsMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC provided by publisher

Format - e-book




The Blurb

“India smiled. ‘Everything is fixable, Hannah …’

Hannah and India are new best friends. Although true friendship means always telling each other the truth, doesn’t it?

Hannah, you see, is running from her life back in Sydney. Now in London, she’s trying to put the past behind her, and finding this amazing new friend is a positive step forward. If only she could stop punishing herself for what she did.

India knows Hannah is hiding something big, and she’s determined to figure it out. Fast.

Because India has a secret of her own … One that is currently sealed in a love letter that’s making its journey across Europe in the most unconventional way.

Before it reaches its destination, can India help Hannah learn to forgive herself? And will Hannah wake up and realise that India needs rescuing too?”


Overview

Having fled from her home in Australia, and placed herself in self-imposed exile in London, Hannah finds herself working in a museum gift shop, going home every night to a lonely flat to eat microwave dinners – her punishment.

At work one day, a toddler throws a tantrum in the middle of the shop and she sees a young woman approach and deal with it in the most unlikely manner. Whilst Hannah’s reaction to the toddler’s tantrum is extreme and she attempts to hide it, she finds it bizarre that the very next day she crosses paths with the same young woman from the shop – India - and wonders if this friendship is fated, even though she doesn’t deserve to have any friends after what she has done.

India, highly intuitive, decides to insert herself into Hannah’s life, having noticed her reaction to the tantrum. Her first thoughts on noticing Hannah’s peculiar reaction were of opportunity, “a new project - someone to fix, someone to save” and of course, she turns out to be everything that Hannah feels she is not – charming, confident and free-spirited.

Having not had a close friend since the end of year Nine when her parents had split up, Hannah finds herself embarking on a friendship built on lies and secrets, and whilst India attempts to draw Hannah into confiding in her, towards the end of Part One we see Hannah contemplating the unthinkable. The novel then segues into Part Two and Hannah’s true story begins to unfold with the real reason behind her strange reaction to the tantrum-throwing child in the store becoming clearer. My sympathies and emotions were stirred and, without giving too much away, I could relate to her in so many ways, because I, myself, have been there! Part Three will rock your world, as India, with good reason, launches an emotional tirade against Hannah who finally begins to reveal her secrets.

But Hannah’s is not the only story to be told here. India, too, has a secret, but refuses to reveal it in words, instead, placing the unthinkable in writing, addressed only to “Simon – The Aella”, and relying on the kindness of travelling strangers - and fate - to safely deliver it.

My Thoughts

Having never read a book by Nicola Moriarty before, when I picked up this novel and started reading, I had to double-check the genre on Goodreads and ensure it was in fact Contemporary and not Young Adult, and whilst you may experience this too, please persevere, because as the story progresses, the content is definitely adult.

Told in third person from multiple points of view, it is broken up into six parts with many threads skilfully tied up in this beautifully written novel and some elements of the unique plot calling to mind two of my favourite movies, Sweet November and Pay It Forward.

Nicola Moriarty has a strong character voice which is compassionate throughout, and totally necessary in dealing with the issues within, which are both delicate and heart-breaking and lend themselves to the final unselfishness and extraordinariness of India - and the relationship between all the characters will bowl you over.

Powerful and evocative, Ms Moriarty has created a heart-warming tale of unlikely friendship, hope and divine providence with characters that are so well drawn that the ending left me reflecting on a very true saying, “people come into your life for a reason, a season, a lifetime”.

This novel has earned 5/5 stars from me and I highly recommend it.

While I have yet to read her first novel Free-Falling, after reading Paper Chains, I have placed this on my TBR as I firmly believe that Nicola is a writer who is going to go places and I will most certainly be on the look out for further novels from her.

I wish to thank both the publisher, Random House Australia and NetGalley for providing me with an uncorrected proof of this novel.

A Little About the Author (taken from the Author’s website)

Nicola Moriarty lives in Sydney's north west with her husband and two small (but remarkably strong willed) daughters. She is the younger sister of bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and studying at Macquarie University, she began to write. Now, she can't seem to stop.

Paper Chains is her second novel.


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AND



Friday, 1 February 2013

Book Review: Hooked by Liz Fichera

Hooked

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC provided by Harlequin Teen and The Reading Room

Format - Paperback



The Blurb
“When Native American Fredericka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred.

But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...

GET HOOKED ON A GIRL NAMED FRED.”


Overview
Fred is an ordinary, every day kind of girl but there’s just one thing wrong (according to her “white” peers) – she’s a Native American.

So, when the coach at her high school approaches her to join the all boys' Golf team, because of her fantastic golfing abilities, she is somewhat sceptical about where exactly she will fit in - after all, these are all rich, white boys! And, to make matters worse, one of the team members is kicked off to make place for her.

With her decades old plaid golf bag, second-hand clubs and tennis shoes, she still manages to hold her head up high and be the best player she can, as well as catch the eye of the most popular boy at school.

Ryan Berenger is not your typical rich boy – on the outside perhaps – but on the inside, he’s quite a nice guy who’s actually in a bit of emotional turmoil with the state of affairs at home - a father who never has the time to watch him play any golf tournaments and a mother who’s frequently away due to work commitments.

So, rich boy aside, it’s no wonder that Fred has managed to capture his attention – only problem is, he has an equally rich girlfriend who’s in the way and an almost demented best friend who shows extreme hatred for Native Americans and tries to intimidate Fred every chance he gets. Whilst Ryan wrestles with his growing feelings for his golf partner he can’t help but feel allegiance to a boy who’s been his best friend forever.

With not a lot of communication happening between Fred and Ryan and therefore their feelings for one another not being voiced, it comes as no surprise that a multitude of misunderstandings will be created.

My Thoughts
It’s been a while since I read a Young Adult novel and I’m so glad that this one found its way to my doorstep.

I love a story which touches on social issues that plague our society today, and this one sure has it fair share - from racial prejudice and gender equality (or inequality) to bullying and alcohol abuse.
With chapters told alternately from the point of view of both Fred and Ryan, we are privy to the inner turmoil felt by these characters and I could quite easily relate to both.

As I’m sure you’ll recall from previous reviews I have written where alcohol abuse has been touched on, it also played a role in my teenage years so I could therefore sympathise with the fact that Fred did not want anyone knowing where she lived as I, like her, was embarrassed to have friends around. Thankfully though, it was not my mother afflicted by the disease and I never had occasion to be embarrassed about the state of our living quarters with her always keeping a beautiful home.

I could also empathise with Ryan’s inability to embrace individuality –it’s hard being a teenager and, from this book we learn that peer pressure is all too real. Even though we have our own opinions about things, individuality is often times not yet mastered, and it can become extremely difficult to get beyond that pressure and strike out by saying “this is what I want”, for fear of being rejected.

Although Golf has never been one of my favourite sports I found that whilst I now know what a “tee box” and “under par” means, Liz Fichera has skilfully found a balance between the sport and the underlying issues at hand.

I’ve given this book a 5 star rating and I wish to thank both the publisher, Harlequin Teen, an imprint of Harlequin Books, as well as The Reading Room for providing a hard copy and affording me the opportunity to write a review.

A Little About the Author (adapted from the Author’s website)
Liz Fichera is an American author living in the American Southwest by way of Chicago.

Born and raised in Park Ridge, Illinois, she moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after college, never expecting to live more than one year among cactus and people who’d never seen snow. She was wrong and it certainly didn’t hurt that she met her future husband in Phoenix too.

Most of Liz’s stories are set in the American Southwest because she thinks the desert is a cool place. Living in Phoenix, she’s surrounded by Native American culture and influences, not to mention intriguing Hohokam petroglyphs and centuries-old canals. With 20 tribes in Arizona, she’s lucky to be neighbours to the Gila River and Salt River Indian Communities.

When Liz is not busy writing her next novel, Played, which is the sequel to Hooked, and due for release in 2014, she likes to travel, visit museums and support local theatre productions, hike and pretend that she’s training for a triathlon.

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