Friday, 29 March 2013

Vote for Me - Best Australian Blogs 2013 - People's Choice Awards

A few weeks ago I entered the Best Australian Blogs 2013 Competition and you will have noticed the "nominee" button which appeared in the right-hand margin of my Blog.  I was also, anonymously nominated by someone else out there - thank you.

This competition is an initiative of the Australian Writers' Centre and is sponsored by Random House Australia.
Although entries for the competition have closed, the People's Choice Award is now open, which means that readers, followers, friends and family can now vote in the competition until 5pm on Tuesday 30 April 2013 - even though all entrants to the competition had to be Australian, international fans are more than welcome to vote in this leg of the competition.
While I have always been an avid and eclectic reader (who is also extremely anal about spelling and grammar), I also aspire to "someday" be a writer of some sort (whether in the publishing/editing world or as an author).  Unfortunately the opportunity has not yet arisen, so, instead, I have created this little place in cyberspace where I am able to unleash my more creative side and share my thoughts and opinions on books that I have read, hoping that my reviews will encourage more people out there to pick up a book ... and read.  At the same time, it allows me to promote some wonderful Australian authors whom we have in our midst.
The competition is tough - last year, the national competition received some 1024 entries and over 17,000 votes were cast in the People's Choice Award - this year, some 1122 blog entries have been received.

Whilst I in no way have any great expectations, if you would like to show your support for my blog, please follow this link People’s Choice Award or use the "Vote for Me Now" button below to cast your vote.
I have met some wonderful blogging/bookish friends since I started my little adventure in October last year and would also just like to wish all my fellow bloggers the best of luck - may the best blog win!

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Aussie Non-Fiction Review: Bush Nurses by Annabelle Brayley

Bush Nurses: Inspiring true stories of nursing bravery and ingenuity in rural and remote Australia
My Rating:                   4 / 5
Format:                        eARC courtesy of Penguin Australia
Publication Date:         20 March 2013
Extent:                         304 Pages
ISBN:                           9781921901393
Imprint:                        Michael Joseph
RRP:                           AU$29.99

Summary and Thoughts

These stories are dedicated to our remote area nurses and medical professionals who, as a breed, are almost always taken for granted with people not realising the magnitude of what they actually do and the lengths to which they will go to ensure a positive outcome. First response and preparation is vital and with so few doctors in remote areas, by virtue of their isolation, most remote nurses are highly-experienced, innovative, resourceful and multi-skilled.

In her own experience, an elective in Papua New Guinea saw Annabelle, herself, resuscitating newborns, cross-matching blood under paraffin lamp light in a “see one, do one, teach one” school of medicine – a life-changing experience! With no room for professional hierarchies and egos, sharing knowledge and skill across professional boundaries was essential to working in Third World conditions.

With input from a volunteer Ambo known as “the guardian of the Great Northern Highway in WA” who is a resident at the Sandfire Roadhouse nestled between the last two monster sand dunes of the Great Sandy Desert, numerous Aboriginal health practitioners and a number of nurses including midwives, this collection of stories spans a century of nursing in rural and remote areas and covers a broad range of experiences.

Offering great insight into remote nursing, these dedicated professionals who are often on call twenty-four-seven for three months at a time, share little known facts with us, for instance the policy relating to pregnant women in remote Australia, the general compromised health of many women in remote areas and the misunderstandings that can take place when English is not your first language - such as the woman who refused to believe she was pregnant, insisting that she had gallstones!

Having birthed her own miracle in a remote part of Australia, Judi Bain is more than qualified to speak about her experience. Then there’s the survival of our own Toowoomba miracle; the driver of the overturned road train who, when questioned, responded that he’d been “checking out the inside of his eyelids”; a violent encounter with an inebriated accident victim; the amazing healing power of “Ant Bed”; and the doleful sound of keening mourners.

From horse-drawn wagons to the Flying Doctor, cyclone and bushfire season to “seducing” a woman into labour, suturing shot-gun wounds to treating animals, rough frontier mining towns and the days before triple-zero and refrigerated morgues as well as the re-structuring of Queensland Health in 2012, all whilst facing huge challenges in harsh conditions from Alice Springs to Papua New Guinea and the offshore oil platforms in the Indian Ocean, these stories put together by Annabelle Brayley will sometimes raise the hairs on the back of your neck, some will have you howling with laughter and others will make you cry but the one thing that is almost certain is that they will make you wonder at the dedication shown by these people who choose to work “out there”.

In fact, Annabelle sums it up quite perfectly - “Bush Nurses is a celebration of all those who “nurse” those of us who live in the inland of Australia”.

I wish to thank both Penguin Australia and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.

This is also my first Non-Fiction contribution towards the 2013 Aussie Author Challenge:

and another one to add to my long list for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge:

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Book Review: Don't Let Me Go by Susan Lewis

Don't Let Me Go
My Rating:                    4 / 5
Format:                        Paperback courtesy of Random House
Publication Date:          1 February 2013
Extent:                          464
ISBN:                            9781846059544
Imprint:                         Century
RRP:                            AU$32.95

The Blurb

“Charlotte Nicholls has made a new life for herself and little Chloe. They have left everything behind, determined to forget a past which has cast a shadow over both their lives.

Charlotte would do anything for Chloe. But just when she feels they might have a chance of happiness at last, Charlotte is forced to confront the consequences of the heart-breaking decision she took only a few months earlier.

And it seems as if her greatest fear is about to be realised – that the little girl she promised to love and protect will be lost to her for ever…”

Summary and Thoughts

What do you do when your good intentions are not seen as such in the eyes of the legal system?

From the beautiful countryside of Te Puna in New Zealand to the inclement weather of the United Kingdom, child abuse to child kidnapping, this story takes us on a compelling journey in which we get to see first hand the guilt suffered by one woman and the pain and abject fear suffered by a young child who has no control over her own destiny.

Charlotte Nicholls, still trying to come to grips with her own family history after reuniting with her biological mother, has now settled in New Zealand in an attempt to build a positive family life for herself and Chloe. Constantly fearful that her unlawful actions will be discovered, she does everything in her power to protect Chloe, but when one perfectly innocent friendship stirs up a hornets’ nest, the unthinkable happens and both Charlotte and Chloe are swept up into a seemingly awful nightmare – one where Charlotte’s greatest fear is realised and the well-being of Chloe’s mental health is at risk with her trying to understand why her mother has allowed this to happen.

With a court-room drama looming before her and the prospect of true love in the offing, will Charlotte be able to convince a jury that whilst her actions were unlawful, they were always in the best interests of the child?

While this is the sequel to No Child of Mine: A Novel and not having read anything by this author before, besides adding a whole lot of graphic content and a bit more depth to the reasons behind them fleeing England, Susan Lewis has done a great job of fleshing her characters out that in no way did I feel I had missed anything from the first novel. Needless to say, much like Jodi Picoult, Ms Lewis tackles subjects that are extremely controversial and pulls no punches with the subject matter which, at times, can be confronting - in this case, child abuse, and the ramifications of one woman’s actions to try and protect a child in the only way she knows how.

Being a mother myself, child abuse is a reality I have always feared and I take my hat off to all child protection agents out there who bear witness to these despicable acts perpetrated against children on a daily basis but who somehow find the strength to fight to the bitter end for justice on behalf of those young victims.

Although I did initially struggle with Ms Lewis’ style of writing, I’m glad that I persevered with the novel since, having spent the majority of my working life as personal assistant to a variety of Barristers in South Africa (Senior Counsel being the closest I got to a Queen’s Counsel (QC)), I could understand the legal procedures behind the courtroom battle and relate so well to the hard work that goes into consulting, drafting papers and calling witnesses, and the author is to be commended for so skilfully drawing me in to Charlotte and Chloe’s world where I was able to experience both heart-wrenching and warm moments, some of which had me reaching for the tissues.

Unsettling and suspenseful with a steely core of gritty reality beneath it, Don’t Let Me Go is a story which places emphasis on the fragility of trust as well as the strength of love and one which will leaving you questioning what you would have done in a similar situation!

I wish to thank the publisher, Random House Australia, for providing me with an ARC of this fine novel.

A Little About the Author

Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of more than thirty novels with Just One More Day and One Day at a Time being moving memoirs of her childhood in Bristol.  Having resided in France for many years, she now lives in Gloucestershire.

For further information on this novelist, please visit either Random House Australia or the author's website, Susan Lewis.

View all my reviews

Monday, 25 March 2013

Aussie Book Review: House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

House for all SeasonsMy rating:             4 / 5
Format:                Paperback courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Publication date:  1 March 2013
Extent:                  496
ISBN:                    9781922052049

The Blurb

"House for all Seasons is about coming home and discovering country roots can run deep.

Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to Calingarry Crossing where each must stay for a season at the Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy:

Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;
Poppy, a tough, ambitious journo still craving her father's approval;
Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures;
Caitlin, a doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.

But coming home to the country stirs shameful memories of the past, including the tragic end-of-school muck up day accident twenty years earlier.  And at the Dandelion House, the women will discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house - forever."

Summary and Thoughts

Four women! And a tale that lays bare the dark secret of a NSW country town!!

Former friends Sara, Amber, Poppy and Caitlin, are introduced to us as they sit in a solicitor’s office, having just received news of an unexpected inheritance. Gypsy, an old friend, has bequeathed The Dandelion House to them in four equal shares, her terms – to each spend one season at the house! After the tragic events which took place twenty years before, they find it curious that they have inherited the house and don’t appear over-eager to return to a place which holds so many haunting memories.

Broken up into four parts, each character is seemingly at a crossroads and has her own story to tell. With the narrative flitting between past and present, we are given insight into how each of them must come to terms with the circumstances and events surrounding both that fateful day twenty years before and the dark secret which needs to be uncovered.

Although Caitlin describes Sara as “whiny”, she is a woman who has faced many challenges in her life, her breast cancer and broken marriage only two contributions to her character as a whole. Childless for most of their marriage, she was born to her parents late in their lives with her mother having been placed in a home before her sixteenth birthday and her father suffering from dementia. Afraid to fall in love thanks to the mental scars inflicted by the pain of her marriage breakup and the physical scars left by her breast cancer, Sara is in need of more than just physical healing. It comes as no surprise then (or does it) that Summer is the season chosen to fulfil Gypsy’s wishes – after all, Summer is a time of growth, a time to take inventory and learn how to heal. Will Sara finally be able to add love to the never-ending items on her list, thereby learning to accept the fact that life is to be lived?

Poppy feels she has a lot to prove. Having always felt responsible for the deaths of her grandmother, mother and brother, she believes that this is the reason why her father has never been able to accept and love her. Constantly striving to prove herself to him, she is a tough and ambitious journo who has been out on the frontline and is currently up for a journalism award. Used to retreating and, after attending the awards ceremony where, all too painfully, her father’s absence has been noted, she decides to take some time off work and spend her season at The Dandelion House. With thoughts of her father’s ultimate rejection battering her mind, uppers and downers lying on the dining-room table, and her journalistic instinct sniffing out a story, she befriends Elias who, through his own experiences in Vietnam, forces her to realise that her father came home mentally damaged after which she concludes that not all stories need to contain the guts and glory of war. Left holding a Dandelion puffball after a mysterious visit from her father, will she finally be able to forgive him and allow herself to be open to a power greater than ourselves?

Amber is a character who raised my hackles with her supercilious and conciliatory attitude from the beginning, when Sara likened her to “a cat in looks and temperament” but as I got to know her, I realised that there were a lot of issues which ran much deeper and shaped her into what she had become and felt that she was the character who had the most to learn in her season at Calingarry Crossing. Having been brought up with an alcoholic mother and a controlling father who were always feuding, she was rather rebellious and impetuous with the result that she fell pregnant at the age of seventeen and was whisked away by her father, thereby deserting her mother. Now, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures, Amber arrives at a deserted Dandelion House during Autumn, discovering that her bedroom, like the late autumn trees, are bereft of all decoration and colour, and some disturbing revelations are about to be uncovered! Is Amber’s season a reflection of the place she has arrived in her life and will she be able to revisit her past, re-connect with someone she has always spoken of as “dead” thus becoming the woman she was meant to be?

Caitlyn is described as the clever one. A doctor frustrated by her controlling family and drawing the line at their expectations of babies and marriage for her, she arrives at the house after suffering hurt at the hands of her ex-husband and his philandering ways. The bedroom that greets her is filled with all sorts of animals, a reflection of what she once longed to be … and then there’s Alex, and the decisions she needs to make when she discovers a secret that will either destroy all four women as they attempt to repair their broken lives, or forever bind them together. Does meeting Alex represent a second chance for Caitlin to finally follow her own dreams?

With mystical insight and deep love, Gypsy is both the axis around which each of the four narratives spin themselves with her back-story shining through, as well as the vessel through which each woman will experience great emotional and spiritual development on their personal journeys, ultimately changing their perceptions of themselves. Just like the liquidambar trees are a steadfast presence throughout this novel, so, too, is Gypsy who constantly makes her presence known through the letters she has written to the four women, the truths locked away behind each door and the memories they hold of her.

Debut author, Jenn J McLeod, has produced a well-written novel with strong characterisation in both her main and supporting characters, giving us a remarkable insight into the human psyche. A novel which contains deeper themes of alcoholism, domestic violence and terminal illness interspersed with the more intricate themes of family ties and friendship which all lend themselves to sub-plots that cascade perfectly into the final crescendo of a long-kept secret which this reader never even saw coming, it will appeal to a wide range of readers.

So, if you’re looking for a whimsical read steeped in atmosphere, laced with spiritual resonance and interspersed with idyllic descriptions of the beautiful countryside of New South Wales whilst all being perfectly wrapped up in wisps of gypsy magick, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this great book while we await the release of The Simmering Season.

I wish to thank both Simon and Schuster and The Reading Room for providing me with a copy of this engaging novel.

A Little About the Author (taken from her website)

No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small café in the seaside town of Sawtell.

Moving to the country was like coming home and she now spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction – life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.

Securing a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster, House for all Seasons is her debut novel with Book 2 in the Seasons Collection, The Simmering Season, due to follow in 2014.

And another one bites the dust for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Book Review: Cora's Heart by Rachael Herron

Cora's Heart
My Rating:                    4 / 5
Format:                        e-Book, courtesy Random House & NetGalley
Publication Date:          01/03/2013
Category:                     Rural Romance (set in California)
ISBN:                            9781742753195
Imprint:                         Bantam Australia
Extent:                          336 Pages
RRP:                           AU$32.95

The Blurb

"From bestselling author, Rachael Herron, comes another playfully seductive romantic comedy set in the sleepy town of Cypress Hollow. Cora has been hurt too many times. And by one man in particular . . .

Abandoned by her mother and widowed in her mid-twenties, Cora Sylvan has learnt the hard way that you should take nothing in life for granted. So everything is planned out to the nth degree - from how to run her farm on a shoestring, to how to survive a major earthquake. Unfortunately there's nothing in those notes to cover the return of the infuriatingly handsome Mac Wildwood. Her husband's cousin. The man she loved and lost. And Mac, it seems, has a shattering plan of his own up his sleeve. Dammit. Cora Sylvan safeguarded everything - but she didn't protect her heart . . .

Cora, a farm-girl who's been hurt too much in the past, safeguards everything--except her heart. Mac is a large-animal veterinarian who has already risked it all and lost everything that mattered. When a secret is revealed, Cora has to decide whether Mac is a safe bet . . . or the worst gamble of her life.

Overview & Thoughts

Once again Rachael Herron takes us on a journey to the sleepy town of Cypress Hollow where the legend that is Eliza Carpenter lives on and we discover a bit about the girl whom Eliza took in, Cora Sylvan.

Cora values her independence more than anything else. Having grown up in and out of orphanages and then at the age of sixteen being taken in by Eliza Carpenter, she’s only really had herself to depend upon.

Now a young widow herself, she takes nothing in life for granted and is rather pragmatic in that approach, preferring to plan her whole life using the never-ending list of “what if’s” she journalises.

When Mac, her deceased husband’s cousin arrives back in town after being away for quite some time, he threatens to disrupt the quiet life she has managed to build for herself when he finally reveals the real reason for his reappearance.

Long-held feelings of anger and desertion threaten to boil to the surface of her carefully maintained life and home. Along with the very real prospect of financial ruin after unintentionally setting fire to her shed cum workshop, thereby obliterating all the hard work she has put into her canned goods and knitting yarn, she will need to ultimately confront Mac and learn the real reasons behind him leaving Cypress Hollow.

Cora's Heart is the fourth story in the Cypress Hollow series and, after reading Eliza's Gift towards the beginning of last year, I was really looking forward to this instalment of life in the somewhat sleepy town, and Rachael Herron didn’t disappoint.

With her extensive knowledge of knitting along with her creative flair and keen eye for detail, intertwined with her lyrical writing style and beautiful words of knitting wisdom heading each chapter, Rachael has created a story with likeable characters, a touch of comedy and lots of knitting with a satisfying, albeit somewhat formulaic, plot.

A recommended read for those ardent knitters out there who enjoy their craft with a side of romance and humour.

I wish to thank Random House Australia and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Rachael Herron lives in Oakland, California with her family and has way more animals than she ever planned to, though no sheep or alpaca (yet). She learned to knit at the age of five, and generally only puts the needles down to eat, write or sleep, and sometimes not even then.

Cora's Heart is her fourth novel, following Eliza's Gift, Lucy's Kiss and Naomi's Wish. All the novels are set in the sleepy town of Cypress Hollow, which reminds Rachael of the sheep-raising community in New Zealand where her mother was raised. Look out too for a collection of Eliza Carpenter’s wise words in The little book of knitting wisdoms.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Aussie Book Review: Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

In association with Random House Australia, I am delighted to form part of the Hope’s Road Blog tour and in particular, wish to thank their publicity department for the invitation to participate.

There have been some great reviews published so far on this book tour, so please be sure to visit Reading in the Bath where BryOak published her wonderful review yesterday and do go along to Mrs Michelles tomorrow, for the next stop on the tour, where I have no doubt you’ll be treated to another great review of Hope’s Road.

My rating:                   4 / 5
Format:                      Paperback, courtesy of Random House
Publication date:       1st March 2013
Extent:                       416
ISBN:                         9781864713169
Imprint:                      Bantam Australia
RRP:                         AU$32.95

The Blurb

"From the author of the bestselling Bella's Run comes another captivating rural romance set in the the rugged, beautiful Australian bush.

Hope's Road connects three very different properties, and three very different lives …

Sixty years ago, heartbroken and betrayed, old Joe McCauley turned his back on his family and their fifth-generation farm, Montmorency Downs. He now spends his days as a recluse, spying upon the land - and the granddaughter – that should by rights have been his.

For Tammy McCauley, Montmorency Downs is the last remaining tie to her family. But land can make or break you - and, with her husband's latest treachery, how long can she hold on to it?

Wild-dog trapper, Travis Hunter, is struggling as a single dad, unable to give his son, Billy, the thing he craves most. A complete family.

Then, out of the blue, a terrible event forces the three neighbours to confront each other - and the mistakes of their past …"

Thoughts and Summary

“Forever is a long time to live with regret …”

A decades old family feud, a stubborn old man, a determined young woman and a man trying to come to grips with raising his son!

Having not read Margareta’s first novel, Bella’s Run, I was quite intrigued to discover this new to me author and so, when I was invited to be part of the Blog Tour, I jumped at the opportunity to read this Australian romance which borders on a family saga.  Being a fifth-generation farmer herself, Margareta Osborn writes about what she knows, blending life and love on the land, thus creating a novel with characters who have depth and the added bonus of a slow building romance.

Tammy McCauley is strong-willed, determined and confident in her skin as a farmer, and she’s not about to allow her husband’s indiscretions and philandering to get her down, tenaciously confronting life on the land with a hands-on approach whilst trying to pluck up the courage to tell him to leave, after a sudden bout of physical abuse.  Thankfully he’s about to save her the trouble by announcing that he’s leaving … but not without a financial battle looming of which the one hundred and fifty year old Montmorency Downs is going to be the victim!  To make matters worse, she still has to break the news to her estranged uncle.

With vivid memories of a life once lived, a love lost, another found and a bird’s eye view from McCauley’s Hill, Joe McCauley is quite capable of keeping an eye on his once loved Montmorency Downs through the eye of his rifle!  Lonely by choice and stubbornness after the death of his loving wife, he’s never quite let go of the fact that his brother, Tammy’s grandfather, stole his girl right out from under his nose.  Preferring to indulge in bitterness for the hand that life has dealt him, Joe never leaves McCauley’s Hill, instead, relying on both his land and the kindness of others to sustain him.  With no children of his own and preferring the company of his dogs, he’s not prepared for the feelings which are going to surface when a young boy enters his life threatening to tame this cynical, crass old man whose use of profanity when finding himself in situations which had me laughing out loud, just added to his dynamic character – a genuine bushie!!  Whilst I found him to be rather unlikeable at the beginning, once I warmed up to him, he managed to wrap me around his little finger.

Travis Hunter a wild dog tracker is new in town after recently relocating to be near his mother who is now in a local nursing home.  Overwhelmed with angst and desperately in need of healing, thanks to years-old divide between him and his brother as well as his ex-wife’s abandonment which still gnaws at him, he tends to keep to himself and is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is now solely responsible for raising his son, Billy.  While he’s not looking for a relationship, a few interactions with Tammy sees him becoming quite taken with her resilience, determination and caring attitude, all of which soon threaten to topple the barriers he’s built up around himself.

While the three properties are all adjoined to Hope’s Road, Tammy has never met her great-uncle (her closest encounter being a bullet whizzing past her head at about the age of seven) but with the arrival of the new neighbours, that is about to change, with a needless accident, a massive flood and little Billy and Montmorency Downs being the ties that will bind these once whole people together.

With uniquely fleshed out characters, such as Joe, who kept me thoroughly entertained with his antics, Margareta brings us a story about loss, courage and second chances proving that no matter what life throws at you, there is always hope.

Margareta has penned a warm and satisfying read in which she manages to convey her deep love of the bush – a novel I thoroughly enjoyed, although the unexpected ending had me reaching for the tissues.

Click here for an extract of Hope's Road.

About the Author

Gippsland author Margareta Osborn has penned Hope’s Road, inspired largely by her own life living on family property sourcing back over 150 years, which is still owned and farmed on by herself and her family.  Facing plenty of adversity in both her personal and professional lives, she’s encountered numerous floods, marriage break-up and lived with a hearing impairment since the age of seven.

Margareta’s love of the bush, and the people who live there, is evident in her writing.  The resilience they show, their sense of togetherness and the spirit of community is strong, and she truly manages to give an insight into life on the land.

Home is the beautiful Macalister Valley of East Gippsland where with her husband and three children she spends many hours in the mountains in which her stories are set.

Bella’s Run is her first novel and she is also the author of the bestselling e-novella, A Bush Christmas.

Contact the Author

Visit Margareta's website
Tweet with her on Twitter
Like her on Facebook

This book also forms part of my ever-expanding list for the 2013 Australian Women Writers' Challenge.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Aussie Book Review: Run to Me by Diane Hester

Run to Me
My Rating:                    4 / 5
Format:                        e-Book, courtesy Random House & NetGalley
Publication Date:        01/03/2013
Extent:                          384
ISBN:                            9781742756424
Imprint:                         Bantam Australia
RRP:                             AU32.95

The Blurb

“It’s been two years since Shyler O’Neil’s beloved son Jesse was killed – but his final moments are as vivid to her now as they were that dreadful day. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, and convinced she did not do enough to protect him, she retreats to an isolated cabin in the woods of northern Maine.

Meanwhile, Zack Ballinger – a ten-year-old boy who has never known a mother’s love – finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s seen too much and is now running for his life.

Fleeing into the woods, Zack soon finds himself at Shyler’s cabin. He’ll take whatever help she can give – even though, for some reason, she keeps calling him Jesse …

With the pursuers hot on their heels, “mother” and “son” go on the run. Protecting Zack may well be Shyler’s one chance at redemption.

Either that, or she is the child’s greatest threat …

Run to Me is a suspenseful, impossible-to-put-down thriller with riveting twists and turns …

‘A tight, taut page-turner that romps along from the opening page’ – Jaye Ford, author of Beyond Fear”

Overview and Thoughts

Did she or didn’t she? This novel keeps you guessing from the very first page!

Still reeling from the tragic death of her son two years before and after the accusations levelled at her by both her husband and town, Shyler O’Neil became a recluse, preferring the solitude of her cabin in the forest where she is able to wrestle her inner demons.

Haunted by visions of the faces of those she believes to be the perpetrators of the vile act committed against her son and suffering with a debilitating panic disorder, she escapes reality by carving wooden sculptures and bird feeders which she uses to barter for supplies at the town store, keeps contact with people to a minimum and becomes spooked when there are children around.

Ten-year-old Zachary Ballinger, along with his two foster brothers and their kidnappers are about to be thrown into a journey fraught with danger. Having been abducted from their neglectful foster parents, Zack, who’s never known a mother’s love and who’s always been left to his own devices, soon becomes aware that the two “social workers” who removed them from the care of their foster parents are not who they purport to be, but are in fact interested in him only because they believe he witnessed certain criminal activity and is therefore privy to information they require.

Whilst in town one day collecting supplies, Shyler literally stumbles over Zack after he barely escapes recapture by his pursuers and crawls into the back of her vehicle which leaves her trying to decipher whether he was just a figment of her imagination! What Zack thinks is going to be a place of safety soon becomes his worst nightmare! If only she would stop calling him “Jesse”.

From dodging bullets to escaping the charge of a male moose, Shyler and Zack are on the run, but trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together is Dr Chase Hadley who, after tending to Shyler twice at his medical surgery, becomes somewhat obsessed by her mysterious façade and feels that whilst there is something untoward wrong with her, there is an underlying pull to discover more of this strange woman who has no address nor telephone details on the medical file. And why does nobody in town know anything about her? After trying to glean information from the previous retired town doctor, he finally goes through his patient records in an attempt to extract information – which leads him to Shyler’s estranged mother, Patricia.

What he discovers when he finally locates Shyler’s remote cabin leaves him both disturbed and bewildered and sees him fleeing to his practice to call for help only to end up staring straight down the barrel of a shotgun being held by a terrified woman with a white-knuckled grip.

Now with a desperate woman, an ill and somewhat hostile child and some seriously wicked pursuers who will stop at nothing, Chase will need to determine whether his telephone conversation with Shyler’s ex-husband has any merit! And Shyler? While Zack may think she has more than a few marbles missing, she realises that she has no choice but to place some kind of trust in Chase if her and “Jesse” are to emerge unscathed!

With multiple shifts in perspective alternating between protagonists and antagonists, along with short, sharp sentences and paragraphs, Diane Hester’s debut novel is a taut psychological thriller with a well thought out plot.

All in all, a highly enjoyable, compelling and suspenseful read with all the elements of a page turner, from an author who will certainly be added to my favourites list.

My thanks goes to Random House Australia for providing me with an eARC.

About the Author

Before commencing her career in writing, Diane was a professional violinist. Born in New York, she attended the Eastman School of Music and went on to play in the Rochester Philharmonic. In 1978 she secured a position in the Adelaide Symphony and has lived in Australia ever since.

Diane has performed in Carnegie Hall, the NY Metropolitan Opera House, Eastman Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Town Hall, Adelaide Festival Theatre and accompanied artists as diverse as Isaac Stern, Itzak Perlman, Chuck Mangioni and Australia’s Little River Band.

In 1989 Diane realised her childhood dream to live in the country when she and her family moved to a small farm outside Port Lincoln, South Australia. There she switched from performing to teaching violin and explored other creative outlets including gardening, spinning, knitting and carpentry. An animal lover, she also ran a donkey sanctuary for several years and dabbled in harness driving and riding.

But since discovering writing, Diane has done little else. When she isn’t hard at work at her latest novel she’s planning her critique group’s next retreat or a workshop for her local writing club.

Run To Me, her debut novel, combines a love of Hitchcock-style suspense with memories of summer vacations in New England, her favorite place on earth.

These days Diane’s hobbies include juggling, movies and the study of creativity, learning and achievement.

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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

The Storyteller
My Rating:                  5 / 5
Format:                       Paperback, provided by The Reading Room
Publication Date:     1 March 2013
Extent:                        480
ISBN:                          9781743315187
Imprint:                       Allen & Unwin
RRP:                          AU$29.99

The Blurb

"Sage Singer is a young woman who has been damaged by her past. Her solitary night work as a baker allows her to hide from the world and focus her creative energies on the beautiful bread she bakes.

Yet she finds herself striking up an unlikely friendship. Josef Weber is a quiet, grandfatherly man, well respected in the community; everyone’s favourite retired teacher and Little League coach.

One day he asks Sage for a favour: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses.

Then Josef tells her that he deserves to die – and why.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed horrendous acts ever truly redeem themselves? IS forgiveness yours to offer if you aren’t the person who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – would it be murder, or justice?

Overview and Thoughts

The Holocaust was the genocide of millions of Jews led by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party throughout German-occupied territory during World War II. Ultimately a systematic state-sponsored murder in Hitler’s pursuit of his dream to create the perfect Aryan Race, Jewish children did not escape this persecution and approximately one million became statistics along with two million Jewish women and three million Jewish men.

A huge fan of this prolific author, I was quite enthralled when an Advance Reading Copy of this book arrived on my doorstep and couldn’t wait to sink my proverbial teeth into it. Through her extensive research and in blending fact with fiction, Jodi Picoult has done it again and brings us a powerful story of one woman’s survival, one man’s search for redemption of his guilt at the atrocities he helped commit and the moral dilemma evoked by a young woman merely because of her heritage.

Sage Singer is a loner. Born into a Jewish family and a baker by profession, she has a scar on her face as a result of a car accident and prefers to hide away in the bakery kitchen of a friend where she bakes delicious bread. She befriends Josef Weber, a ninety-five-year-old widower and former schoolteacher through a grief group they both attend and they soon strike up an unlikely friendship when he begins to frequent the little café attached to the bakery.

When Josef asks Sage to kill him, along with the reasons for his request, she is caught up in her own moral dilemma, consequently enlisting the help of Leo Stein, an FBI Agent with a special interest in tracing former Nazi SS Officers guilty of war crimes, specifically those who carried out the heinous massacres against the Jews in the concentration camps.

Together, Leo and Sage embark on a journey which sees Josef relating his story to Sage, and Leo finally persuading Sage’s grandmother, Minka, a modern-day Scheherazade, to recount her own tragic story in the hopes that a testimony from her will assist in having Josef deported and tried in a court of law for his unspeakable crimes against humanity.

From the depths of the Polish ghetto in Lodz to the terrifying visuals of the gas chambers used for the purpose of systematic mass extermination contained in Auschwitz, Jodi, through Minka’s character, has found the perfect pace for the subject matter at hand and I found myself in a time warp, visually transported by her storytelling ability.

Told in three parts, both in retrospect and present day, with a Gothic fairytale seamlessly weaving its way through each character’s tale, Jodi has written a compelling novel which is at times both gut-wrenching and graphic and took me a while to finish as I had to keep putting it down to try and wrap my head around the atrocities I was reading about, all the while thinking that my high school history lessons on the Second World War didn’t even puncture the surface of the true facts.

Vivid and disturbing, with a brilliantly executed plot, multifaceted characters and some added psychological twists, this is a morally complex tale, rich with authenticity and one which will leave you trying to rationalise the fluctuating line between good and evil!

I would like to extend my thanks to both the publisher, Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for providing me with an advance reading copy.

A Little About the Author

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty novels. Her most recent, Lone Wolf, Sing You Home and House Rules, have all been number one on the Australian and New Zealand fiction bestseller lists.

She studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Before entering Harvard to pursue a master’s in education, her sense of realism and profound desire to be able to pay the rent led her to a series of different jobs following her graduation, some of which included being a technical writer for a Wall Street brokerage firm, a copywriter at an ad agency and an 8th grade English teacher.

In 2003 she was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction. She has also been the recipient of an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, sponsored by the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust and Booklist, one of ten books written for adults that have special appeal for young adults; Waterstone's Author of the Year in the UK, a Vermont Green Mountain Book Award and a Virginia Reader's Choice Award, the Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, to name a few. Her books are translated into thirty four languages in thirty five countries and three of them, The Pact, Plain Truth, and The Tenth Circle, have been made into television movies. My Sister's Keeper was a big-screen release from New Line Cinema, starring Cameron Diaz, with Nick Cassavetes directing.

She married Tim Van Leer whom she met at Princeton and, along with their three children, they live in Hanover, New Hampshire with three Springer spaniels, two donkeys, two geese, eight ducks, five chickens, and the occasional Holstein.

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