Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Aussie Book Review: Ronan's Echo by Joanne van Os

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia
Publication Date:    1 April 2014
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781743516560
Publisher:               Pan Macmillan Australia
Imprint:                   Macmillan Australia
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

In 1916, twin brothers Denny and Connor Ronan are eager to get to the war before it's all over; Bridie O'Malley, their childhood friend and the woman they both love, watches them leave, understanding too late that war is about more than heroes and handsome boys in uniform.

Nearly a century on from the disastrous battle of Fromelles, forensic anthropologist Kat Kelso, Bridie's great granddaughter, is in France identifying the recovered bodies of lost Australian soldiers. The discovery of her own relative amongst the dead men begins the unravelling of a hundred years of family history, lies and secrets.

Summary and Thoughts

Bridie O'Malley is 8 years old when her father, Eamonn, decides that there is no future in Ireland for him and his children.  With unemployment rates at an all-time high and farmers struggling with their latest failures, he sells his drapery business and departs with his four children to seek a new life in Australia.

Her mother having died at her birth, Bridie has been been brought up by her adoring father and three brothers.  Two years after arriving in Australia, Eamonn's business is a thriving success when he decides to buy a property for them in Manly.  Naming it Connemarra after their home town, Bridie thrives in her new home and, at the age of nine, befriends identical twins Denny and Connor Ronan.

Denny and Connor live a stone's throw away from Connemarra.  Orphaned at the age of three when their parents died in a ferry accident, they have been brought up solely by their aunt, Nelly.  Denny is the more outgoing of the two and displays much self-confidence and charm, while Connor, the more introverted and sensible twin, loves his brother unconditionally.  Together, the twins and Bridie grow up and become inseparable until at the age of fifteen Eamonn arranges for Bridie to complete her education at a boarding school in Sydney, then offering the twins jobs in his business.

By the time the three are reunited on Bridie's return from the end of her schooling and a six month visit to Ireland with Eamonn, she already knows that she will marry one of them, but as the war looms before their eyes, the casualties grow in numbers, and Gallipolli is still fresh in everyone's minds, she is faced with a difficult choice.

Almost a century later we are introduced to Kat Kelso, great-granddaughter of Bridie.  Kat was born in Scotland and, like Bridie, was the apple of her father's eye until she was eight years old, when he was killed in a car accident.  Never having been close to her mother, she was sent away to boarding school, but when the costs became too much for Fiona to bear on her own, she decided to pack them both up and move back to Australia - to their family home, Connemarra.

Now, Kat is a renowned forensic anthropologist and currently in-between jobs which take her all over the world but, while Connemarra and the arms of her great-aunt Hettie welcome her before she takes off again, Fiona is still as distant as ever.  Much to Fiona's disapproval, Kat mentions to Hattie that her next stint is in Fromelles, France, where she has been contracted to exhume and examine the remains of people once loved but now lost, but gets a lot more than she bargained for when she discovers, through a variety of old family photographs and stories told by Hattie, that the chance of her finding one of her ancestors in Fromelles could become a reality.

However, the many lies, and a secret far larger than she could ever have imagined, are about to be uncovered, with the echoes reverberating through the centuries.

Joanne's choice of dual narrative is not unusual in this type of story and certainly adds another dimension to this novel.  While it not only transported this reader effortlessly between the past and present, it allowed me a glimpse into a war where a number of Australians fought and lost their lives.  As Denny and Connor stand side-by-side in a battle that they were all too eager to participate in, Kat, in the present, gives us a glimpse into her life and the broken relationship between her and Fiona, thus giving us clarity on the circumstances surrounding each character's motivations.

A fine descriptive writer with a strong eye for detail, Joanne's vivid descriptions of life on the frontline are compelling, right from the brilliant prologue through to the poignant epilogue and her words are brought to life in the construction of authentic war scenes, from the deep bloody trenches and broken bodies to the courage that is always under fire - not  to mention her geographical descriptions and the intricacies involved in the exhumation of old bones - which all pays homage to the amount of research that must have gone into this novel.

Seamlessly weaving fact and fiction together in this, her debut adult fiction novel, this is a story that is sure to delight a larger readership who enjoy both contemporary and historical reading as well as become a source of discussion for many reading groups.

I wish to thank Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a hard copy of this memorable novel.

A Little About the Author

Joanne van Os ws born in Sydney and raised in Melbourne, the eldest of six children.  After working as a laboratory technician she moved to the Northern Territory in 1976 to be the radio operator at a remote Aboriginal community.

Since then, her jobs have included bull catcher, buffalo station owner, home school teacher, electorate officer for an independent MP, boat hire business owner/operator, cartoonist and mother of three children.

Her first book, Outback Heart, was published in 2005 and is a memoir of a way of life in Australia that has pretty much disappeared.  It also tells the story behind the ‘Real Crocodile Dundee’ and his sad demise.

Following on from Outback Heart was her first children's novel, Brumby Plains, then Castaway in 2007, which are both yarns about kids living a very adventurous life in the bush.  The Secret of the Lonely Isles is a sailing story set in the north of Australia - still a children's mystery/adventure although it changed direction slightly from the bush theme - and was published in 2011.

She lives in Darwin with her husband Lex Silvester on their boat "Tramontana".

Some Further Information on the Missing Australian Soldiers at Fromelles

“Until recent years, 1,335 Australian soldiers remained ‘missing’ from the Fromelles battle, having no known grave. Then in 2007, following persistent research by retired Melbourne teacher, Lambis Englezos, archaeological investigations began to uncover the remains of some 200 Australian and 50 British soldiers who were buried in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood by German troops in 1916. Between 30 January and 19 February 2010, the remains of 249 soldiers were reinterred with full military honours in Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, newly constructed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Over 90 Australian soldiers were identified by name and more may still be identified.

On 19 July 2010, the 94th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, the last of 203 Australian soldiers recovered from the excavation were buried in a solemn ceremony with full military honours. Later that day, a private ceremony was held for families of identified soldiers to dedicate the named headstones within the cemetery.” – Australian War Memorial website

For a heart-warming, true story on an Australian Soldier lost in the Battle of Fromelles, please follow the link to an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald on the 24th April 2014 - http://www.smh.com.au/national/phone-call-raises-goosebumps-for-family-of-identified-fromelles-digger-20140424-zqygl.html

Friday, 25 April 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Cathryn Hein, Rocking Horse Hill

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Australian Rural Romance Author Cathryn Hein to my blog, to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Rocking Horse Hill.

Born in South Australia’s rural south-east and with three generations of jockeys in the family, it was little wonder that Cathryn grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10.  Armed with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture), Cathryn moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry, but when her partner’s posting to France took them to Provence, she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write.  Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests and published in Woman’s Day and her first three novels, Promises, Heart of the Valley and Heartland were all finalists in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a bit more.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Australia, especially Anna from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

So now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty!

Wow Cathryn, it’s been a while since you visited, but welcome back and congratulations on the release of Rocking Horse Hill.  

Thanks! And thanks for having me here. It has been a while... a year to be exact, and I’m delighted to be able to chat again with you and your readers about my new book.

Would you mind telling us a bit about your latest novel?

Besides being a strong family drama, Rocking Horse Hill is also a wonderful lovers reunited romance. I so adore these stories, with all their history and baggage. And in the case of Emily and Josh, they have a LOT of both.

If that isn’t enough, there are problems with both their families that they’re trying to deal with, and aren’t helping the relationship. Josh’s mum is seriously ill, Emily’s brother has just announced he’s engaged to a girl who not everyone is warming to, Em’s best friends both have troubles, and her naughty donkeys are causing havoc. Then there’s Rocking Horse Hill…

The hill almost has a personality of its own, and I just loved writing about it. The setting was inspired by Mount Schank, a crater south of my home town of Mount Gambier in South Australia, and which I have fond memories of sliding on my bum down when I was a kid!

I sure can't wait to meet these "naughty donkeys", but please share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a rural romance author?

In late 2005 I was living in the south of France, not working and generally having a rather fine time of it (yeah, I know... poor me!). For YEARS I’d been trying to write - a Jilly Cooper-esque bonkbuster was my goal - but I could never seem to get past 10,000 words. Given around ten times that word count is needed for a commercial genre fiction title, I was falling badly short. There was so much about the craft of writing that I didn’t understand, plus work, study and play had a bad habit of interfering with my dream.

This time I had no excuses. We’d been in France almost 3 years and in three or so months we’d be heading back to Australia. If I didn’t write a book then, I’d never get one done. And I was becoming increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t find the sort of Australian-set romances that I wanted to read. The solution was obvious: I needed to write my own.

So I did. And this time I wrote until the end. The book was 130,000 words in total and pretty ordinary craft-wise (oh, the mistakes!) but there is nothing that beats that “I’ve just finished a book” feeling. Except having one hit the shelves. That’s pretty cool. Story-wise though, even I could recognise it had strong bones. 

After that, there was no stopping me. We returned to Australia and I kept writing, and then I joined the Romance Writers of Australia. What a difference that made! I met people, listened and learned, and gained invaluable feedback from contests and my new-found critique partners. Over time, with each manuscript, I just got better. Then I started submitting to publishers and Penguin picked up Promises. And now here I am.

Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim?  What is it?

Umm... Bum In Chair, Hands On Keyboard? 

Seriously, the main thing is to get the book done. I’m really good at polishing, so if I can finish the first draft then the rest should fall into place. 

"Should" being the operative word!

So, if you don't really have a motto, what’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

To put your manuscripts away and leave them for as long as you can before going back to reassess. The longer the better. Unfortunately, due to contract deadlines I don’t really have that luxury any more, but even a few days away can make a difference to how I view things.

I think that kind of returns me to your question above about mottos. Get the book written. By the end of 100,000 words and however many weeks that took to reach, there’s a good chance you’ll be able see plot and characterisation problems more clearly, and be able to go back and fix them.

As is so often said, I think originally by Nora Roberts, you can’t edit a blank page.

Oh, hang on. I have a motto after all!

Cathryn, thank you so much for joining me today and once again, a huge congratulations, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Rocking Horse Hill?

I’d love to, Marcia. And thank you for hosting me. I had fun with these questions!

This is a taste of Em’s and Josh’s first meeting...

"With a welcoming smile on her face, she rattled apart the bead curtain and stepped back into the shop. A man stood with his back to her at the front shelves, flicking through a sky-blue B5-sized hard- cover notebook. His hair was light brown and slightly too long, curling over the edge of his collar. A navy fleece jumper fitted snugly across his wide shoulders, before tapering to hug narrow hips. He wore light khaki cotton-drill trousers, the sort favoured by tradies, and though loose they couldn’t hide the muscularity of his legs. His boots were brown suede and thick-soled. Framed against the artificially bright wall of stationary, he appeared earthy, solid and very, very familiar.

She checked his left hand. Three fingers, from the little to the middle, were missing, severed at the second knuckle.

Em placed her mug down behind the counter, her nerves sizzling. She knew that agonising boyhood injury. She knew those legs, those shoulders, that hair. She knew everything about this man and more.

Joshua Sinclair turned and smiled the same smile that had pierced her cool as a teenager. The smile that had made her first give him her heart, then her body, and let him preciously tend both until the day she’d snatched them back and broken two people in the process."

If you’d like to read more about Cathryn’s books, please click the book covers below and you will be directed to their pages on Penguin’s website:

Cathryn also loves to connect with her readers, so if you would like to keep up to date with her news and book releases, you can do so via the following web links:

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Aussie Book Review: Monkey Business by Kathryn Ledson

My Rating:              3 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Penguin Books Australia
Publication Date:    January 2014
Category:               Modern & Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781742537702
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

Erica Jewell reckons being a part-time vigilante is stressful enough, without the added pressures of a demanding day job, annoying family and bossy cat. Now her mysterious lover has vanished on some clandestine mission, without leaving a forwarding address. Erica thinks that's pretty typical of hired gun Jack Jones – he'd rather risk his life than his heart.

Then Erica discovers with a shock that Jack is M.I.A. on the jungle-infested island of Saint Sebastian. When no one seems willing to help find Jack or even acknowledge his existence, Erica knows she's his only chance. But negotiating her way around lawless and sweltering Sebastian, where monkey business abounds, proves far more dangerous than she expected.
Fast-paced, funny and totally engaging, Monkey Business blends adventure and romance in an irresistible summer read.

Summary and Thoughts

Monkey Business is the second novel by Kathryn Ledson continuing the story of her accidental heroine Erica Jewell and picks up a few months after Rough Diamond ended.

Erica is now Jack’s girlfriend and, while he doesn’t seem to be aware of this fact, she is herself trying to work out exactly what their relationship is!  Unfortunately with him being an undercover operative, often away from home, it seems like seriously hard work, but even more so when she drunkenly confesses her “luff” for him after which he disappears.  When she receives a garbled called from Joe (another member of The Team) informing her that Jack has gone MIA on the island of St Sebastian and it becomes clear that no-one wishes to help her find him, she doesn't hesitate to intervene.

Setting out for St Sebastian via Darwin, she befriends people like Duane, a rather enigmatic but gorgeous Brad Pitt look-alike with something to hide and “Bruce Willis”, a rip-off taxi driver who always appears to be in the wrong place at the right time - or is that the right place at the wrong time!

St Sebastian is a dangerous place where lawlessness and corruption rule the day, but when the Australian Embassy refuses to help her locate Jack, she almost aimlessly wanders  around the island, frequenting places like the Bum Crack Bar, asking a multitude of questions (and not really getting any answers), whilst unwittingly uncovering a ring of Tupperware thieves and unintentionally implicating her mother’s limited edition lettuce crisper into the bargain!  It’s in a moment of sheer desperation when it dawns on her that a little piece of retro plastic could well be the only hope she has of getting Jack out alive but it’s the series of events that follow which will have you both biting your nails in anticipation and laughing out loud at the sheer folly of the world she has become entangled in!

As most of you are aware, I’ve had a bit of a book review hiatus while I’ve been doing some studying, but this didn’t stop me getting some much needed reading in - call me a bookworm through and through.  In any event, when this novel found its way to me via the wonderful publicity department at Penguin Australia, I couldn’t wait to read it, knowing that Kathryn Ledson was going to lead me on another hilariously quirky adventure with Erica. 

Erica’s adventures are written from her POV, which works very well as, in doing so, Kathryn gives us a view into the mind of this accidental heroine and how her life experiences have affected both her emotions and actions.  She still has a few insecurities, not the least of which is her self-worth, thanks to her adulterous ex-husband Dan, and of course, she’s as ditzy as ever but it becomes obvious that there has been some growth in her character since Rough Diamond because she’s not merely taking people at face-value anymore and has begun trying to assert herself in the face of bossy behaviour! 

By no means "deep" reading, the Erica Jewell series does require some suspension of disbelief (which is not a bad thing) as the situations that the inexperienced Erica gets herself into can be somewhat unbelievable. Monkey Business is an easy to read book with Ms Ledson writing well and using simple language and the reader is easily drawn into the story as Kathryn takes the time to briefly reintroduce her main characters, thus creating a necessary backstory.  Her characters are easy to get to know, the romantic tension between Erica and Jack adds a bit of depth and the short and snappy dialogue in the action scenes move the story forward.

Kathryn writes true escapism and I’ve no doubt that she will continue to grow Erica’s idiosyncratic character in future stories, so if you have a great sense of humour, enjoy a bit of simmering romance and an eccentric cast of characters with heaps of fast-paced adventure, Monkey Business is sure to delight you.  Hang on to your seats for another wacky ride with Erica Jewell!

I wish to thank Penguin Australia for providing me with a hard copy for review.

A Little About the Author

Melbourne-based Kathryn Ledson has worked as a PA in the corporate world, for Hayman Island's PR team, and as Peter Ustinov's PA during his Australian tour. She has also been on the road with rock bands Dire Straits and AC/DC. She now works as a freelance editor, but her passion is writing popular fiction.

Monkey Business is her second novel.