Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Aussie Book Review - Blog Tour: The Enchanted Island by Ellie O'Neill

“When Maeve O’Brien’s boss sends her to a dreary old island to finalise some paperwork, she couldn’t be happier. It’s the big career boost she needs – and besides, life isn’t so great on the home front in Dublin.

Maeve’s reception on Hy Brasil, a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, couldn’t be any more hostile. It’s as if the place itself wants her gone.

But nothing’s going to scare Maeve off, even if she does miss her credit card and her one-night stands. She’s determined to track down Sean Fitzpatrick, whose signature on the paperwork is going to transform the island.

And yet, somehow, life begins to change. It might be miserable and treacherous on Hy Brasil but it’s also beautiful and strangely seductive. Maeve’s never felt better. And there’s also Killian, the dreamy islander with green eyes, who’s stirring up all kinds of feelings in Maeve.

But something’s brewing, and Maeve’s going to discover just how far people will go to protect the ones they love.”

In this, her second contribution to the literary world, Ellie O’Neill once again brings us a light-hearted, fun and imaginative novel about a woman finding her true self. 

When Maeve O’Brien totally messes up the friendship between her and her bestie, she ends up moving back home to her mother. This mother/daughter relationship has always been tenuous at best so, it is with relief that Maeve accepts a task from her boss – go to the island of Hy Brasil to get a signature from a chap by the name of Sean Fitzpatrick. It won’t take long, a few days at the most!

Shucking off her busy city life for this claustrophobic little town proves to be easier said than done when it becomes apparent that Sean is a (little) elusive, the townsfolk are more than just a bit strange and then there are those awfully chilling wails emanating from a mysterious source and which almost always precede a death!

Thankfully it's not too much of a lonely journey and, as she continues her pursuit of Fitzpatrick, she makes some friends and also meets the gorgeous Killian - although she misses Dublin, her friends and her maxed-out credit cards, she (very) slowly begins to look at life from a different perspective, even if she is trying to uncover the many skeletons hiding in this town's closet!

I don’t know what it is, but I have always been attracted to the Irish, from their accent (yes Ellie, you could read to me every night and I’d never get sick of it) right through to their mystical folklore. This is only Ellie’s second novel but already she can be counted on for bewitching us with stories about old Irish lore featuring whimsical characters and an enchanting storyline that, like magic, pulls you right in.

It did take a bit for Maeve to grow on me because at first she came across as a bit superficial and up herself but this could possible be one of the greatest character developments I have read before because by the end I hardly recognised her myself. By the end of the novel, Maeve had begun to see the error of her ways, accepted that her mother was also a person with feelings, finally noticed the beauty in the world surrounding her and discovered that there definitely are things in life worth fighting for, thus letting go of all the artificiality in which she had become so enwrapped.

Ellie’s engaging style will keep you turning the pages while her warmth and wit illuminate every chapter as she weaves a rich tapestry of Irish folklore, myths, the people and their beliefs and traditions into a story where everything else pales into insignificance as her protagonist starts to see what is necessary and important. While there is some romance, Ellie keeps this light so that it doesn’t detract from the significance of Maeve’s journey.

Steeped in mysticism and legend, this is a fun, Irishly (is that even a word?) magical read that will sweep you away as you fall under Ellie’s spell.

For some added interest, why not listen to the lilting resonances of Enya or some modern goth sounds by the Eighties band, Shakespears Sister!

I wish to thank the publishers, Simon & Schuster, for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour and providing me with an ARC hard copy for review.

About the Author

Ellie O’Neill is the best selling author of Reluctantly Charmed.

Writing wasn't Ellie's first career, she  sold spider catchers in Sydney, flipped burgers in Dublin and worked in advertising in both Dublin and London. All the while, she had that niggling feeling that she had stories to tell. So, at thirty-something, she made the brave leap and moved back in with her parents to get the job done. Swapping the dizzy disco lights of London for their suburban Dublin house, she scribbled away hoping and praying that there was an ending to the story that had been hatching in her head for a number of years. Her first novel Reluctantly Charmed was born.

Then most unexpectedly Ellie fell madly in love. The only catch, he lived in Australia. True to form she couldn’t ignore the magic and followed her heart to Oz for what was supposed to be a long holiday. Six years later Australia is home to Ellie, her Joe, their fabulous toddler (with an Irish name no one can pronounce) and a newborn. They live in Geelong and Ellie is most thrilled that she recently became an Australian Citizen.  

The Enchanted Island is due for release on the 1st November.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Aussie Book Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

“Some family secrets are best set free.

When Lucy Hunter stumbles upon her grandfather Harry's World War II memorabilia, she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as 'George' and a series of heartfelt letters. They are clues about the secret years, a period of Lucy's family history that has been kept a mystery . . . until now.

How did a cattleman from north Queensland find forbidden love with the Honourable Georgina Lenton of London and persuade her to move to his isolated outback property? And why are the effects of this encounter still reverberating in the lives of Lucy and her mother, Rose, now?

As the passions of the past trickle down the years, three generations of one family pull together. Each must learn in their own way how true love can conquer the greatest challenges of all.

From the wild beauty of the Australian bush to England's rugged south coast, this is a deeply moving story of heartbreak, heroism and homecoming by a beloved, multi-award-winning author.”

In the current day timeline we meet Lucy. Recently returned from Afghanistan she finds that things are not quite the same at home – her beloved grandfather has been ill, her mother Ro has moved in with a new man and then she has a fall-out with her boyfriend. Having taken leave from the army, she suddenly finds herself at a crossroads, trying to decipher exactly what it is that keeps her grandfather so tight-lipped about his time in the army and her mother so reluctant to speak about the past. When she discovers an old biscuit tin with a photograph of a young woman known only as “George”, hinting of her grandfather’s past and the war, her curiosity gets the better of her and results in her taking a trip to Cornwall to see what she can learn.

In the timeline which takes us to the past, we are introduced to the lovable “George” and Harry, Lucy’s grandparents, giving us a vivid glimpse into their history, the war through their eyes and the reasons behind Harry’s reticence to dredge up the past.

When I picked up this latest by Barbara Hannay, it had been some time since I had read a dual timeline novel, so it was an absolute delight to read the blurb and discover that The Secret Years was going to give me what I love – secrets, old photographs and family history. I always find these kinds of stories fascinating because, as a reader, I get to see how past events and actions can cause ripple effects down the generations, thereby unknowingly altering another person’s life but at the same time seeing how these lives are affected and how the afflicted generation deals with them. 

The dual timeline is balanced extremely well and Barbara ensures that all her scenes move the plot forward in interesting and important ways, so much so that I would be hard-pressed to say which one I preferred.

Skilfully capturing the differences between the gentility of London’s debutante scene with that of the Blitz when air raids were everyday occurrences; the terror experienced by those who were caught in the midst of the Japanese invasion of New Guinea during 1942 with the beauty and isolation of its jungles; the Gothic atmosphere and lush panoramas of Cornwall with the dry, dusty conditions of life on the land in Northern Queensland, Barbara offers us a moving picture of life both pre- and post-war.

Her characters and their stories are unforgettable, reaching out to the reader from the pages while she seamlessly segues her chapters one into the other, giving the story a good sense of continuity with no repetition of information that has already been imparted.

Inspired by her uncle’s World War II experiences as a Rat of Tobruk and in Kokoda, this is far more than mere romantic fiction and Barbara has given us a great emotional read about love, loss, heroism and bravery.

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

About the Author

A former English teacher, Barbara Hannay is a city-bred girl with a yen for country life.

Many of her forty-plus books are set in rural and outback Australia and have been enjoyed by readers around the world.

She has won the RITA, awarded by Romance Writers of America, and has twice won the Romantic Book of the Year award in Australia.

In her own version of life imitating art, Barbara and her husband currently live on a misty hillside in beautiful Far North Queensland where they keep heritage pigs and chickens and an untidy but productive garden.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Aussie Book Review - Blog Tour: Sweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie

“The chance discovery of an antique wedding dress weaves together the fascinating stories of three women from different eras: Sophie, in hiding from a troubled past; Belle, who must lose everything to learn what really matters; and Martha, forced to give up those she loves in order to avoid exposure.

It’s 1931 and Belle Bartholomew has arrived in rural Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a run-down grand hotel formerly owned by Martha Ambrose. Determined to solve the mystery of her birth and the reason why she was bequeathed the hotel Belle runs into difficulties with the townsfolk and their desire to keep their secrets safe.

Sixty years later Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering the wedding dress. The Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary brings more challenges when her past catches up and she must fight for all that matters to her. Who were Belle and Martha and what links their lives together?”

When an old wedding dress mistakenly lands on the steps of the newspaper where she works as a journalist, Sophie Matheson is intrigued by both the beauty of it as well as the two names written on the inside of the box. With the Centenary celebrations of Sweet Wattle Creek imminent, she determines that if she can figure out its provenance and the tale held within its lace, velvet and pearls, this could prove to be a worthy story to accompany the dress at its display.

Approaching Ian, the historian and co-ordinator of the event, together they begin to delve into the past to uncover the secrets that the dress keeps within its folds. But Sophie has her own secret, one which is fed to the reader piecemeal, heightening the mystery surrounding her presence in the small town. Being thrust into the limelight however, is one thing she never bargained on and, as a consequence, her carefully held secret is soon uncovered, bringing danger to the door that she has tried to keep shut so that her and her son remain safe.

In our historical timeline, we are introduced to Belle whose story is set during the Great Depression. A somewhat wealthy and sheltered young woman, she soon finds out that things may not be as they seem when her father suddenly dies and she is left to fit together the pieces of the puzzle around her heritage. It’s a journey of self-discovery and one that will take her from her gentrified upbringing to the dusty streets of Sweet Wattle Creek and the property she has mysteriously inherited. Met with the secretive veneer of the town residents who are averse to welcoming strangers into their midst, even in times of hardship, Belle, with her innocence, warmth and gentle nature will need to dig deep to figure out what it is she really wants.

Dual timelines are one of my favourite styles of writing because, basically, you’re getting two stories in one but it’s not often that an author manages to pull both off to perfection. Ultimately, most dual timelines will have one storyline which is stronger than the other – not in this case! Kaye Dobbie has done a brilliant job in weaving an aura of mystery around her two strong heroines – Belle in the historical timeline and Sophie in the contemporary – along with a fantastic sense of place which dragged me back in time to the Depression era (and back to the 1980’s) as I became equally invested in both these women’s stories. In her own words, Kaye describes Belle as a woman who “goes into emotional retreat but finds herself learning to live again” whilst Sophie “has to navigate a life she never expected to lead”.

Kaye writes with an authenticity that makes it obvious she has researched her subjects well and I cannot believe that I have not yet read anything by her before. In taking this wedding dress and weaving two different tales around it, she has layered it with history, family, grief, fear, second chances and love with plenty of mystery to keep the story moving forward.

In doing so, Kaye has sewn together the threads that tie the common problems of past eras to our very own. Domestic violence is just one of them and, given the fact that it has recently been highlighted in Australia as an urgent issue which needs to be addressed, I have no doubt that Sweet Wattle Creek will resonate with many.

From its stunning cover artwork to its great pacing and, despite the reason behind Sophie's presence in the town, this is a light and gentle read that will appeal to your imagination while it touches both your heart and your sentimental mind.

I wish to thank JAM PR and the publisher, Harlequin Books Australia, for inviting me to take part in the Sweet Wattle Creek Blog Tour and for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Kaye Dobbie is an Australian author living on the central Victorian goldfields.

She has been writing professionally ever since she won the Grafton Big River short story contest at the age of 18.

Her career has undergone many changes, including writing Australian historical fiction under the name Lilly Sommers and penning romance novels as Sara Bennett.

Kaye has written about, and been published in, many countries, but her passion for Australia shows in her current Harlequin Mira novels.