Thursday, 25 February 2016

Aussie Author Round-Up: TM Clark


Today I’m super excited to welcome Australian contemporary novelist, T.M. Clark to my blog.

Tina and I have been talking about an interview for a number of months now and I finally got around to drafting up her questions and sending them off to her publicist, so be prepared for a slightly longer interview as we have a lot of ground to cover!

Born in Zimbabwe, Tina completed her primary school years at boarding school in Bulawayo, but on weekends and holidays, her time was spent exploring their family ranch in Nyamandhlovu, normally on the back of her horse.  Her teenage years were totally different to her idyllic childhood.  After her father died, the family of five women moved to Kokstad, a rural town at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, where home was the boarding school hostel. In winter she walked to school in the snow and could never get warm, and in summer she sweated having to wear an impractical, but smart, blazer on the same trail.

She began writing fiction when she moved to the UK while being a stay at home mum to her two sons, following a suggestion from her husband Shaun during a trip to Paris, and she hasn’t looked back.

Now living on a small island near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, Tina combines her passion for story telling with her love for Africa. When not running around after the men in her life, she gets to enjoy her hobbies, which include boating, reading, sewing, travel, gardening, and lunching with her friends. (Not necessarily in that order!)

Passionate about Africa, different cultures and wildlife, most of Tina Marie’s books are set somewhere on that ancient continent. My Brother-But-One, first published in 2013 by Harlequin, Mira, was nominated for a Queensland Literary People Choice Award in 2014. Shooting Butterflies was published in 2014 and Tears of the Cheetah in November 2015.

Tina also runs the CYA Conference in Brisbane, helping others on their journey towards publication.

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

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Morey Media, for making this interview possible.

Tina, it’s great to finally have you here. Congratulations on the recent release of Tears of the Cheetah.

Thanks Marcia – so glad we got this together at last and are chatting in a Q & A! Awesome!

Tell us about your childhood.

In one word - Idyllic. 

Although I grew up during a bush war, I had immense freedom as a child, to explore my world around me, to befriend both the owners and the workers on our farm and next door farms as well, and to make many of my own decisions. Although boarding school consumed too much time, and I was in the city during the week, weekends always began when my dad would fetch us in the milk truck, and we would stop for coke and hot bread at the petrol station. Nothing better than hollowing out the bread loaf!

My senior years were a little different, and took a bit of adjusting to learn how to do everything, like the washing, ironing and cooking (which we had never done ourselves… except pancakes where we would try and stick them to the roof!) But I guess you could say in the holidays we had the largest house in town when it was only us girls and my mum in the hostel.  

What made you want to become an author? Could you tell us about your motivations as well as the journey?

I think being an author chose me, not the other way around. Apparently I was full of stories as a child, we had a cast of characters for Easter in our home, and there is this horrible man called Mr Suck-a-thumb who was going to cut of my baby sisters thumb that she sucked (and I think she still does…) that came out of my imagination, so changing from telling stories to writing them down, took a few years! Ultimately, I think that it’s the fact that there are characters and stories running through my brain all the time, and by writing them down, giving them a voice, they are happier than just all being jumbled inside my brain…. (Now I sound like a loony!)

I’m sure you’ve been asked this question many times before, but why cultural novels about South Africa? Is it because you’re writing what you know? Or is there a deeper connection?

Why not? In a way it is writing what I know, but I still do a heap of research into the traditions of the cultural mix that is southern Africa. Many of the myths I know from living in both Ndebele, Xhosa and Zulu dominant places are mixed in with modern influence, so I often need to decipher what is myth, legend or just part of local custom of living in that area.  

But there is also a deep connection to the land, the animals, the people. One that even though I have lived away for nearly 18 years, I still feel strongly. I’m an African, my parents were both born there, as were their parents. My father’s family has pioneering certificates, showing our ancestry back to the time of ox-drawn wagons and explorers in Southern Rhodesia, and my mothers side arrived on the Haidee in 1850. I’m proud of my heritage, and want to share that love of Africa with others.

Like My Brother-But-One (my review here) and Shooting Butterflies (my review here), I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tears of the Cheetah (my review here). Can you please share your version of the story with us?

In my words – not the official blurb: A race against the annihilation of the African cheetah through the eyes of those who love them, and will do anything to save these majestic cats, and who will use their resources at their disposal for the good of the African Cheetah. Mackenzie comes to South Africa and is trying to escape her past, and she falls in love with Cole, who is the owner of the Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre. There is an unscrupulous villain in maNtuli who is part of the plot to remove live cheetahs from Africa. What prevails is a thriller ride that goes from the Drakensberg mountains, through Kruger, into Mozambique and touches on the fabulous Reed Festival in Swaziland. But most important in this book, is that the guardians of the cheetahs are devoted and they will do anything to save their beloved cats.  

You’re now a thrice published author so could you give us a bit of insight into the research you’re required to carry out for your novels? What did this research entail for Tears of the Cheetah?

Each novel is different. I started Tears of The Cheetah back in 2008, then in 2010/11 I put more resources and time into a better plot with more research, more details. I actually spent a week visiting Emdoneni Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre and lodge (check out the photo of Shaun and I with one of their cheetahs), and the cheetah handlers there were really helpful and so knowledgeable.


I also was in contact with Vincent van de Merwe, the Cheetah Metropolitan Coordinator, Carnivore Conservation Program, Endangered Wildlife Trust ( www.egt.org.za) for the more technical side of the numbers of cheetahs, where the releases and breeding centres are and who was successful etc. I also trawled through hours of Youtube videos that people had taken, from zoo’s and private collections, making sure I had small details right. 

Something I’m constantly fascinated about is your choice of Titles for your novels. How do you come up with these imaginative appellations?

Finding the right name for my stories is one of the hardest parts of writing for me! My stories always start with a title, and it gets changed along the way, as I write the book, as I’m editing, something will pop and them I know that it’s the right title…. My Brother-But-One, that was a single line in the book, and when Fiona Brand read it, (during a mentorship) she went – that is the essence of this book… the sort of Brother-from-another-mother angle, and Singita, which was its working title at that time changed. Shooting Butterflies went through a few too, and finally when Shaun and I were talking about splitting it up into the stages of the butterflies, that title popped. Tears, well that one was easy – although my publisher did change it from A cheetah to THE cheetah… and it was better… Titles are important to me, so I’m constantly on the lookout for lyrical words that have meaning within my books.

Like you, I am a former South African, which makes it easy for me to relate to your novels and I think I’ve read more novels set on the Continent of Africa since I arrived in Australia than I did in our former homeland but, in saying that, what would you most like your readers to take away from your stories?

That although Africa as a continent is a violent place, there is still such beauty there, and so many hopeful, honest, hardworking and beautiful people still call Africa "home". Visit – spread your wings, it will amaze you. 

What challenges did you have to overcome in getting your first novel published? 

The fact that I had been targeting the wrong genre for years, was a hard thing to accept, but once I knew that I wasn’t a category writer, and expanded my books, wrote the whole story, I was actually really lucky to find a publisher quite fast. I had pitched it to publishers and agents before, when it was still too green, and not ready to see the world, and I had many rejections from that time, but on the day I pitched to Haylee Nash (then acquiring editor at Harlequin, Mira), I had also pitched to a different publisher who wasn’t interested but Mira pretty much accepted it straight away. I know that being in this business so long helped me with getting this book in front of the right editor at the right time.  

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write the story of your heart.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Put your bum in your chair and write the story of your heart.

What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

Nothing typical in my life… some days I can write 7k, other times I can go for weeks, even months and write nothing, if there is something else happening. (CYA Conference time I generally write nothing for 3 months). But depending where I am in a book as to how fast the story is flowing out of my head and through my fingers, a book typically takes me about 3 months to draft and then editing take me about the same time...I need lots of edit time for Shaun to make my sentences into words that people will understand… I am still inclined to put in double negatives (like you do in Afrikaans) and sometimes have awkward sentence structure.

Have you already started working on your next manuscript? Am I allowed to ask for a hint of what to expect?

I’m working on my next one, which I’m hoping to have finished by the end of this month... . It's different again (no use writing the same thing over and over…). Working title is Child Of Africa, but that is sure to change again… as it doesn’t pop 100% - so still looking for its final title… 

The brief synopsis is:

Joss and Peta need to uncover what is happening in their district, to protect not only the animals, but the people too, in a hostile environment where the political situation is volatile and war vets are aligned to whomever pays them the most to make trouble. Their lives are about to be changed forever. 

Now that the proverbial formalities are over, it’s time for the fun part of the interview!

Wahoo – fun stuff! 

Pizza or Pasta?

Both.

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

Mmm ….  Under the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair (released this month). Before its publication, Alli and I chatted so much about it on messenger that I couldn't wait to introduce it to others! The joys of having author friends - you talk about their characters like they are real, and you can’t wait to meet them! 

Give us three good to know facts about yourself – be creative.

I haven’t killed my family with my cooking – yet.

I haven’t burnt my house down with my bad/forgotten cooking  - yet!

I hate, loathe and detest that I have to watch what I eat now, because as a youngster I could eat anything and not get fat! So not like that today…

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that?

How do I decide who to kill in a book?

If someone is bad, or does something I don’t agree with, or they are mean to my kids, generally they will land up dead in one of my books. It’s really therapeutic killing off someone in fantasy world that you can’t kill in real life!

Although I killed my first fan in a book in Tears Of The Cheetah, she never did anything wrong to me, except take my son's side! But she really loved the idea of being killed off and even provided her final words in the book.

If you could ask your readers a question, what would it be?

Who would like to die next in one of my books? 

Tina, it’s been an absolute delight having you drop in. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join me but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Child Of Africa?

Its been awesome coming on your Q & A Marcia – thank you for having me. And it would be my pleasure to share a bit of Child of Africa with you. Please remember that this is unedited, so yes, there probably are mistakes in my punctuation, and sentence structure. This is the beginning of chapter 1.

"Zimbabwe – South Africa Beit Bridge Border Area, December 2012

The deluge came in waves.
Peta pushed on the lever for the wipers again, but they couldn't go any faster.
    ‘Oh for the mother of God, why now!’ She cursed. ‘Get out of the way moron!’ She yelled, breaking for the person walking across the bridge, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her with her windows up. She wiped the condensation off the inside of the windscreen as the ventilation was totally inadequate for the summer storm that raged outside her bakkie.
The person walked slowly.
She hit the hooter, but all that sounded was a pathetic blurp… then that died.
    ‘Come on Nguni, just get us home,’ she patted the dashboard. ‘Just get me over this godforsaken Beit Bridge, through the Zim side of customs and then we are on the home stretch. I promise you, I’ll have Tsessebe look at you when we get home to the reserve…’
She laughed aloud that she was once again talking to her sisters bakkie, okay technically speaking it belonged to Joss, but he hadn’t claimed it, and eighteen months had passed, so she had gone and fetched it from Cape Town. Bringing it home. 
He might have given up everything to do with her sister, but she hadn’t. 
She never would.
Courtney would have been reminding her that she was stark raving mad, that one day when the car spoke back, then what was she going to do.
Tears filled her eyes.
Eighteen months and still the anger boiled like a pot of sadza deep inside her. 
She missed her.
Despite their ten-year age differences, growing up in the Zimbabwe bush together, they were the best of friends, not even men and distance could sever the closeness. Only death had ultimately managed to separate them.
    ‘Dammit Court,’ Peta wiped her nose with the back of her hand, and dug for a tissue in her open brief case. She glanced back towards the road, just in time to swerve to avoid the person who had his suitcase on his head as a raincoat, and who’s walking across the bridge was getting slower and slower.
If she decreased speed anymore she might stall, and then she knew she would be in trouble. She wound down the window.
    ‘Suka pangisa!’ she shouted, and hit the side of her door as if herding cattle, move your ass.
The figure turned around and she instantly saw her mistake.
    ‘Zama uku xolisa,’ the man threw back at her, his Ndebele as perfect as hers, despite his white face previously hidden under the case.
Try saying please… Oh boy, she had put her foot in it this time. 
    ‘I’m so sorry,’ she called out in English. ‘Do you want a lift?
    ‘I’d rather walk, it's a beautiful storm,’ he called as he continued on his way. Something about him was familiar.
Just then a huge bolt of lightning struck close by, and the street lights on the bridge went off.
    ‘Oh dandy,’ she said, ‘now to get through customs in the dark, this is going to be interesting.’ She wound her window down again. ‘Well if you are not going to have a lift, the least you can do is to please use the foot path, and get out of the middle of the road, I need to pass.’
The man stopped, he put his case down by his feet.
    ‘Lady, you –’ he never got further. ‘Peta is that you?’ 
In the dark she could see even less of him, and if she hadn’t already known he was white, she wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference now as they had stopped in the middle of the bridge.
    ‘My apologies,’ he began, ‘I though you were someone I once knew-’
    ‘Yes it’s me. But who the hell are you?’"

Friday, 19 February 2016

Aussie Book Review: All That is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster


“Seventeen-year-old Georgia has a secret – one that is isolating her from everyone she loves. She is desperate to tell her best friend, but Sophia is ignoring her, and she doesn’t know why. And before she can find out, Sophia is left fighting for her life after a hit and run, with Georgia a traumatised witness.

As a school psychologist, Georgia’s mother Anya should be used to dealing with scared adolescents. However, it’s very different when the girl who needs help is your own child. Meanwhile, Georgia’s father is wracked with a guilt he can’t share; and when Zac, Georgia’s younger brother, stumbles on an unlikely truth, the family relationships really begin to unravel.

Georgia’s secret is about to go viral. And yet, it will be the stranger heading for the family home who will leave her running through the countryside into terrible danger. Can the Turner family rise above the lies they have told to betray or protect one another, in order to fight for what matters most of all?

Set against the stark, rugged beauty of England’s Lake District, All That is Lost Between Us is a timeless thriller with a modern twist.”

Georgia has a secret that she’s desperate to share with her cousin and best friend, Sophia. Before she gets the opportunity though, the two girls and a friend are involved in a hit and run accident which leaves Sophia in a coma and Georgia in a state of turmoil, wondering if her secret is the reason why the unknown driver was on the road that night.

As she continues her preparations for the new school year and the annual Fell Running Championships and, possibly because of the typical self-absorption of adolescence, she doesn’t realise that the remainder of her family are being shadowed by problems of their own

Her mother, Anya, is not only trying to figure out why a chasm has developed between herself and Georgia but is also preoccupied with the fact that her marriage to Callum seems to be falling apart; Callum is wracked with his own guilt as he harbours a secret that could tear his family apart forever; and Zac, Georgia’s younger brother has stumbled across a photograph that is going to cause him no end of worry as he struggles to decide if he should confide in someone or not.

Sara Foster writes taut psychological thrillers which tend to ask big questions and that's one of the things I love about her writing. Having had the opportunity to read all of her books, it's no secret that I'm a fan.

In All That is Lost Between Us, Sara’s Lake District is alive with fell running, explosive secrets, teenage angst, parental anguish, marital disharmony, emotional turmoil and fracturing family dynamics.

While plot development, pacing and projecting an evocative sense of place assist in generating plenty of suspense, it is Sara’s innate talent for exploring the vast palette of human emotional states that is outstanding.

In particular, I found myself relating to and sympathising with Anya’s struggles as both a mother and a wife, not only stumbling through the miasma that most of us with children will undoubtedly sooner or later have to traverse, but also having to cope with the fact that her marriage is flailing. Her first person narrative is full to the brim with introspection – wondering why Georgia has distanced herself from her and when she began to have difficulty talking to her; the lack of communication that exists between her and Callum; the longing for someone to snuggle up to in the evenings, perhaps making her dinner and asking how her day has gone; and her loneliness and fears that once her children leave home she will be the one sitting waiting for Callum to get home from work.

Georgia’s character too is so astutely written that readers won’t be able to help but feel a close connection to her as she stumbles through the quagmire of late adolescence - her first romantic relationship, the last year of school, the build-up to the Fell Running Championships and for the position she finds herself in - and my heart absolutely tore.

Going back and forth in time and alternately shifting points of view between Georgia, Anya, Zac and Callum, we see her characters struggling to maintain the familial bonds that are fast unravelling as she slowly peels back the layers to reveal their pain, confusion, inter-personal isolation and the insecurity of youth, at the same time laying bare the hopes of a parent, the frustrations of a husband and wife, the fears of their children and the destructive nature of secrets on the family unit.

A well-written, multi-faceted and engaging psychological suspense novel that will captivate readers on multiple levels, this is an intriguing exploration of contemporary family relationships, motherhood and human frailties that  is propelled by one question: What is Georgia running from?

I wish to thank Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a hard copy ARC for review.

About the Author

Sara Foster was born and raised in England but she's always had family connections to Australia and they visited the East Coast a few times during her childhood. Her introduction to Australian literature was reading All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato. After that, she wanted to be Delie Gordon for quite a while and, in 1999 made sure that she stood next to the wheel of the Philadelphia paddle steamer when they visited the Murray River region.

Her first pop concert at age 12 was a Stock Aitken and Waterman event featuring her first love, Jason Donovan. She was on a high for weeks afterwards but little did she know that twenty years later, she would end up editing his autobiography.

Before Sara was a writer, she worked as a book editor, at first in-house at HarperCollins UK and then freelance. She has edited and proofread well over 100 books, fiction and non-fiction, including novels by Paullina Simons, Kathryn Fox and Liane Moriarty. She was also one of the original editors of the Kids' Night in Book series, which has been raising money for War Child since 2003.

Sara is a huge fan of dystopian fiction and is currently studying the genre for her PhD at Curtin University.

She also loves marine animals and, in the past (before children!), she's been a keen scuba diver. She's played with baby sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas in the Galapagos, scuba dived with Galapagos reef sharks and hammerhead sharks, glided with manta rays in Coral Bay (WA) and the Similan Islands in Thailand, encountered huge potato cod and graceful mink whales on the Great Barrier Reef and swum with the mighty whale sharks of Ningaloo. She has experienced the absolute joy of being surrounded by wild dolphins in New Zealand and WA waters and had a very special experience of a dolphin "buzzing" her while she was pregnant (using concentrated echolocation to 'see' the baby).

In 2011, Sara went to Japan while researching Shallow Breath (my review here) and visited Taiji, the town famous for its horrific dolphin drives. She was only there for two days and didn't have to witness the brutal hunt up close, although she watched the banger boats drive the dolphins in from a distance. She did, however, encounter the dolphins in captivity in the sea pens, being broken and starved while trained for human entertainment. They are images that will stay with her forever.

She is also the author of Come Back to Me, Beneath the Shadows and Shallow Breath.

Sara lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and two young daughters.



Friday, 12 February 2016

Aussie Book Review: Summer Harvest by Georgina Penney


“English dog trainer Beth Poole is having trouble getting her life back together after beating a life-threatening illness and divorcing her husband. When her Aussie-soap-obsessed grandma sends her to Australia to recover, it seems a great opportunity for some rest and relaxation while she figures out what's next.

But when Beth arrives in Australia things get off to a rocky start. To begin with, she's on the wrong coast and there are deadly creatures everywhere. And if that weren't enough, her neighbours are driving her crazy. She's staying in the beautiful Margaret River wine region, right next door to a family-owned vineyard. It should be perfect, but the boisterous Hardy clan just don't seem able to leave her alone. The usually reserved Beth is soon reluctantly embroiled in their family disputes and romantic entanglements. And eldest son Clayton Hardy is proving surprisingly persistent.

The more Beth gets to know Clayton and the Hardys, the more she sees what she wants for her future. But as the end of summer approaches, her past comes back to haunt her and will test her newfound relationships to the limit.”

In Summer Harvest (which is loosely linked to both the author's prior books Irrepressible You and Fly in Fly Out), Georgina Penney takes her readers into the life of Beth Poole, a dog trainer who lives in England. Beth recently lost her sister to the Big C and has herself been in recovery after discovering that she too had breast cancer – and then there was the fact that her ex-husband couldn’t handle her diagnosis. After all her grief, loss, pain and suffering, she has become a shadow of her former self and lives for working with her various four-legged clients and spending time with her own furry friend.

Living with her inimitable grandmother Violet (who I absolutely loved!) and grandfather Louis eases her pain somewhat as they make her comfortable and shower her with lots of love … and some pretty quirky gifts too!

Their latest gift to her? A ticket to the land down under, a place that the Aussie-soap-addicted Violet is fascinated with … and Beth is terrified of – after all, Australia is home to the most dangerous animals in the world!

It soon becomes apparent however that the Margaret River wine region, even with its host of scary creatures, is also salve for Beth’s soul and she begins to relax, socialise, make friends her own age – and somehow manage to get two men to vie for her attention.

Enter Clayton Hardy who is the turning point in Beth’s life when their tentative friendship turns into something more. She slowly begins to reawaken as her and Clayton get closer but as her holiday draws to an end, all her negative body-image issues and old doubts about herself as a woman and person re-surface – was Clayton just enjoying a no-strings attached holiday fling and will any man ever be able to accept her for the woman she has become?

After reading Georgina Penney’s second novel, Fly in Fly Out (my review here), I just knew that she was going to be an author to watch and one that I would seek out when I needed a comfort read. I’m happy to say that she has lived up to this expectation and her latest didn’t fail to draw me in and keep me entertained throughout.

I think what I enjoy most about Georgina’s novels are that her subject choices are almost always close to real life and her characters so three-dimensional that they appear to be plucked right out of our own world. I related to Beth on so many levels, but one of the things that really got me going was her fear of Australia’s “dangerous animals” because I, myself, had the same fears before we immigrated to Australia and I couldn’t help giggling each time she encountered one of our lethal creatures and I became privy to the confusion in Clayton’s mind.

Georgina also captivates her audience early on by creating some fantastic secondary characters to help Beth along her way – of course, there’s Beth’s eccentric grandmother Violet who thrives on gossip, no matter where you are in the world; Louis, her lovable and always-willing-to-please grandfather; Laura, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey; Jeff, who may or may not be competing for Beth’s attentions; and who could forget Fred the stoner who may just have had something to do with a sheep driving a tractor!

All of these characters (and more) help to bring the novel full-circle and, by adding a further sub-plot involving Clayton’s father, Rob, and Gwen who comes to work for the winery, Georgina makes the story that more interesting - but I’ll leave this exciting little tid-bit for you to discover.

Narrated in a light-hearted voice, Summer Harvest does take on a heavy theme and, whilst Beth’s emotional well-being is despairing, Georgina’s novel is not because ultimately it is a story of hope, self-discovery, self-acceptance and moving on. Yes, there are poignant moments scattered throughout (one scene in which Clayton studies Beth’s facial features comes to mind – Say. No. More.) but with Georgina’s apt descriptions, steamy sex scenes and hilarious dialogue, it takes this novel to new heights and will have you turning the pages long into the night to see if they do or if they don’t.

If you’re in the mood for a great rom-com with an issue at its heart that this accomplished author has delicately and sensitively dealt with, then Georgina Penney is definitely an author you need to seek out. Her books are guaranteed to give you lots of reading fun and leave you with hope in your heart and a smile on your face.

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

About the Author

Georgina Penney first discovered romance novels when she was eleven and has been a fan of the genre ever since. It took her another eighteen years to finally sit in front of a keyboard and get something down on the page but that's alright, she was busy doing other things until then.

Some of those things included living in a ridiculous number of towns and cities in Australia before relocating overseas to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Brunei Darussalam.

In between all these travelsl, Georgina managed to learn to paint, get herself a Communication and Cultural Studies degree, study Psychotherapy and learn all about Hypnotherapy. In the early days she even managed to get on the IT roller coaster during the early noughties boom, inexplicably ending the ride by becoming the registrar of a massage and naturopathy college. There was also PhD in the mix there somewhere but moving to Saudi Arabia and rediscovering the bodice ripper fixed all that.

Today she lives with her wonderful husband, Tony, in a cozy steading in the Scottish countryside. When she's not swearing at her characters and trying to cram them into her plot, she can be found traipsing over fields, gazing at hairy coos and imagining buff medieval Scotsmen in kilts (who have access to shower facilities and deodorant) living behind every bramble hedge.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Aussie Book Review: Room 46 by Helen McKenna



“As far as nursing homes go Rosehill Gardens is a decent enough place. But both Grace and Edith are desperate to escape its confines. Regardless of the word ‘Volunteer’ featured prominently on her official name badge, Grace doesn’t want to be there. The twenty-year-old’s life is enough of a mess without being obliged to front up every week and read to an elderly stranger.

And Edith might have the most colourful room in the whole facility but her bright and bold surrounds mask a tragic past with which she is still coming to terms. Her trademark positivity is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, particularly when she knows she will never truly belong at Rosehill.

Everyone has a different story to tell and some of those stories are painful and difficult to communicate. But can the simple act of storytelling begin the process of healing for Grace and for Edith?”

I was somewhat intrigued by the description of this book when I received it in the mail a few weeks ago and I couldn’t wait for it to reach the top of my pile.

Needless to say, on finishing it, I was thoroughly satisfied.

I first came across Helen McKenna a few years back when she published her novel, The Beach House (my review here) which I enjoyed immensely and was blown away by how seamlessly she wrote five stories in one.

In Room 46, Helen once again delivers giving us the stories of Grace and Edith – Grace, a young woman who is mentally unstable; and Edith, a resident at the Rosehill Gardens nursing home.

Grace is very broken by her past and suffers debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. These bouts are so serious that she is unable to hold down paid employment and therefore has to exist on disability payments. It is in one of her meetings with her social worker that she is told about a government initiative in which volunteers are sent out to read stories to residents of nursing homes. And so it is that she meets Edith.

I love the way Helen establishes the basics of Grace’s character in the beginning, slowly building her up, layer by layer, using the stories she tells Edith and the information she imparts along the way so that by the end of the novel, the reader has gotten to know Grace so well that it feels as if she’s sitting in the room with you.

Room 46 is a lovely story with two leading ladies whom readers will instantly connect with and relate to and I derived extreme pleasure from reading it. She develops her characters well, endearing them to the reader who is also captured by all the twists and turns that Grace’s life begins to take.

It’s a quiet, contemplative and heart-warming read that isn’t overly sentimental but will nonetheless still pull at the strings of your heart.

I wish to thank Helen McKenna for providing me with a hard copy of this lovely little novel.

About the Author

Helen McKenna grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Throughout her childhood she loved to read and write stories, but after school took the sensible option of a 'real' job at the Commonwealth Bank instead of chasing her literary dreams.

Fast forward a couple of years and she had a good job with great conditions, but no passion for what she was doing. A major restructure of the bank seemed like a great opportunity to go back to study.

Helen completed her BA at the University of Queensland and a few years after graduating (after some overseas travel and another non-literary job in local government) she started a business assisting people to write their life stories.

While she loved it and it fulfilled her dream of writing for a living she still couldn't quell her desire to write creatively as well and revisited a manuscript of a novel she had begun a few years before.

She has always loved the beach and, during her childhood, visited a couple of old timber, Queenslander holiday houses. She never forgot the ambience of those classic old houses and really wanted to write a story based on such a house. That story was The Beach House, which was published in 2011.

Helen's second novel Room 46 was published in 2015 and she is currently working on her third.


Aussie Book Review: Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton


“In the ancient lands of Kakadu, it's not just the crocodiles you should be afraid of...

Helicopter pilot Ellie Porter loves her job. Soaring above the glorious Kakadu National Park, she feels freed from the heavy losses of her beloved family farm and the questions around her father's suicide. But when a search-and-rescue mission on the boundary of the older property reveals unusual excavation works, Ellie vows to investigate.

The last thing she needs is her bad-tempered co-pilot, Kane McLaren, interfering. The son of the current owners of the farm, her attraction to him is a distraction she can't afford, especially when someone threatens to put a stop to her inquiries - by any means necessary.

Ellie will have to trust Kane if she is to have any hope of uncovering the truth of what is really going on. Between Ellie's damage and Kane's secrets, can they find a way to open up to each other before the shadowy forces shut her up... for good?”

The Northern Territory is one of those places I’ve longed to visit for some time now so I was very excited to pick up Annie Seaton’s first romantic suspense novel and discover that she had placed her characters within this terrifyingly beautiful landscape with not only the crocodiles to contend with.

Ellie is still trying to come to terms with the death of her father as well as the loss of her much-loved family farm – the only home she’d ever really known. Trying to put the past behind her, she puts her everything into her work as a helicopter pilot at Makowa Lodge, taking resort guests on flights over the breathtaking expanse of Kakadu National Park.

Kane has arrived in town to not only try and overcome the anxiety he suffers as a consequence of a horrific incident that took place whilst he was in the military, but also be nearer to his ill mother who is living on the old mango farm that Ellie’s family once owned. Hired by the lodge to service and maintain their helicopters, he’s not expecting to come face-to-face with the tiny but sassy and determined Ellie and even more unprepared for the way she makes him feel.

Then of course, there’s the fact that Ellie has discovered that something sinister appears to be afoot at the property bordering the park and has taken it upon herself to investigate why the landscape has changed in such an unnatural way. As the sun sets on Kakadu, Ellie finds herself in rocky waters with her only saving grace being a man who can hopefully put aside his fears!

This is the first I have read by Annie Seaton and I was quite stunned to discover that it is also her first in the sub-genre because her writing is so impressive. Her descriptions of the landscape and life in Kakadu National Park and its surrounds are vivid, her characters practically leap off the page, emotional scenes are intense and her love scenes are just a little bit (read *a lot*) sexy - and all this while she ratchets up the suspense aspect to pulse-pounding perfection!

On the surface, this is a story about love but at the heart of that romance is an even deeper desire to protect our natural environment for generations to come and Annie has woven a truly suspenseful tale touching on contemporary issues which seem to increasingly be plaguing Australia and its people on a daily basis. Some of those issues include coal-seam gas mining, PTSD, suicide, corruption and greed whilst also touching on Indigenous land rights.

It’s quite clear that Annie is passionate about our environment and conservation and, while the conservation message in this novel is strong, it merely adds an extra layer to this well-written novel, never detracting from the romance that is playing out before the reader’s eyes, as Ellie seeks answers and Kane tries to overcome his fears.

With a well-crafted plot, a backdrop that shines in its intensity, believable characters, a passionate romance and great suspense, Annie Seaton will have you eating out of her hands as you devour this novel. Balancing out each aspect perfectly, she keeps her reader engaged, thus making it easy to become invested in Ellie, Kane and Kakadu’s story.

If you’re a fan of romance and its sub-genres then Kakadu Sunset should definitely be on top of your list as this is a promising beginning to, what looks like it could be, a successful series.

I wish to thank Pan Macmillan for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author


Annie Seaton lives near the beach on the mid-north coast of New South Wales.

She is fulfilling her lifelong dream of writing and has been delighted to discover that readers love reading her stories as much as she loves writing them.

Her career and studies have spanned the education sector for most of her working life, with the completion of a Masters Degree in Education, and working as an academic research librarian, a high school principal and a university tutor until she took up a full-time writing career.

She is now published internationally in e-books across the romance genre, and in 2014 was voted Australian Author of the Year by romance readers in the AusRomToday.com Readers' Choice Awards.

Each winter, Annie and her husband leave the beach to roam the remote areas of Australia for story ideas and research.


Monday, 8 February 2016

Winner Announcement: Complete Set of Books by Sara Foster


A huge thank you to all of you who entered this fabulous giveaway hosted in conjunction with Simon & Schuster Australia and Sara Foster.

Both Sara and I were extremely happy with the response that was received both in the comments and by email and, after a lot of serious consideration, have decided on the winner.

Our decision wasn't made easily, thanks to all the thoughtful responses that were received, and it was one that we agonised over somewhat. Thankfully once we'd whittled it down a bit it became more clear but still saw me having to revert to my trusty little online friend, randomorg.

So, without further ado (I think Sara and I have kept you in suspense long enough), it's time to announce that winner:
You have been selected as the winner of this incredible collection. Please could you contact me at bookmusterdownunder@gmail.com with your postal address details.

Once again I thank each and every one of you for entering and supporting this giveaway.

Last but by no means least, I wish to thank the sponsors, Simon & Schuster Australia and Sara Foster for their generosity because, without them, it really wouldn't have been possible to offer such a fabulous prize.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Challenge Sign-Up: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

I've signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 - woohoo!

And doesn't she just look so pretty in purple!


As most of you know, I'm a huge supporter of Australian Fiction and what better way than to promote our wonderful authors than by joining the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Being an Australian book blogger has opened my eyes up to just how much talent we have in our country and allowed me to explore the great work that our authors have to offer and appreciate the hard yards that they all put in just to get their books published.

Like last year (which I admit was almost a write-off), I'll once again be taking part in the Franklin Challenge which requires me to read 10 books and review at least 6!

The Challenge is now open, running from the 1st January 2016 to 31st December 2016 and you may sign up at any time during 2016 until the end of November here.

There's absolutely no need for you to have a blog in order to take part - all you need to do is nominate the number of books you plan on reading throughout the year and share that reading on social media (Facebook or Twitter). You can also publish your reviews on Goodreads or at The Reading Room, where you'll be able to keep track of your reading as well as share it with others. Don't forget, however, that you'll need to link your reviews back to the Australian Women Writer's website here.

For more information on this fantastic initiative, please visit the Australian Women Writers home page.

You'll also find them on Facebook and you can follow them on Twitter (don't forget to use the hashtag #aww2016 in your Tweets).

I've already got plenty of great reading scheduled (with a number of my old favourites publishing new novels) and hope you too have a wonderful year of reading planned.

Here's to you discovering and enjoying the great authors that our Land Down Under has to offer!

Happy reading everyone.

Challenge Wrap-Up: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015



I've been a rather naughty girl in that I never did get around to uploading a lot of my reviews to the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015 and, for this, I apologise.

The majority of 2015 was super-hectic for me (relieving in various roles at work as well as making preparations for my Mom and Aunt's visit from South Africa during late December/January) - but I'll be better this year, I promise.

During 2015 I had the opportunity to read so many great new novels that I was faced with the problem of how I was not only going to fit them into my schedule but how I was going to write reviews for all of them. Alas, while some didn't make it to my review pile, a lot of them did.

Here's a list of my 2015 reviews from newest to oldest (if you click on the book title it'll take you directly to the review of that book):

- Tears of the Cheetah by TM Clark
- The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns
- The Perfumer's Secret by Fiona McIntosh
- An Empty Coast by Tony Park
- The Saddler Boys by Fiona Palmer
- The Enchanted Island by Ellie O'Neill
- The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay
- Sweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie
- In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones
- Seduced by the Baron by Amy Andrews
- Making Ends Meet by Anna Clifton
- The Maxwell Sisters by Loretta Hill
- Close to Home by Pamela Cook
- Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp
- The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
- A Time to Run by JM Peace
- The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur
- Six Degrees by Honey Brown
- Secrets of Whitewater Creek by Sarah Barrie
- The Pirate Lord by Vanda Vadas
- Crystal Creek by Charlotte Nash
- Northern Heat by Helene Young
- Limbo by Amy Andrews
- Rose River by Margareta Osborn
- Burnt by Karly Lane
- Common Ground by Cheryl Adnams
- The Road to Hope by Rachael Johns
- Season of Shadow & Light by Jenn J McLeod
- Missing You by Kylie Kaden (uploaded)
- Love at First Flight by Tess Woods (uploaded)
- Runaway Lies by Shannon Curtis (uploaded)
- Lost & Found by Brooke Davis (uploaded)
- Akarnae by Lynette Noni (uploaded)
- Nest by Inga Simpson (uploaded)
- Hindsight by Melanie Casey (uploaded)
- Fly In Fly Out by Georgina Penney (uploaded)
- Shooting Butterflies by TM Clark (uploaded)
- The House at the Bottom of the Hill by Jennie Jones (uploaded)
- Bad Romeo by Leisa Rayven (uploaded)
- Unsuitable by Ainslie Paton (uploaded)
- The Enemy Inside by Vanessa Skye (uploaded)
- New Year's Promise by Anna Clifton (uploaded)

Yep, that's 42 Aussie books and, although they should have ALL been uploaded, I still managed to get 14 in, at least making good on my promise to complete the Franklin Challenge by reading 10 and reviewing at least 6.

Here's hoping that this year I'll get them all in.

Keep an eye out for my 2016 Challenge Sign-Up!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Guest Post: Kelly Country by Kim Kelly


Published in January this year, Wild Chicory is Kim Kelly's first novella.

I haven't yet had a chance to crack the cover but once I'd read the blurb I was sold, possibly due to the fact that as an immigrant myself, I tend to relate to stories about people's journeys to Australia.

Turns out I was just a bit more curious so I asked Kim to contribute a post on one of her passions and she's come up with a fabulous one explaining her fascination with Australia, its history, culture and contradictions - surely just a taste of what you can expect from her little novella. 

Kim is the author of four novels, all lorikeet-coloured tales about Australia, its heritage and its people. An editor and literary consultant by trade, stories fill her everyday – and most nights, too. 

Love is the fuel that fires her intellectual engine. In fact, she takes love so seriously, she once donated a kidney to her husband to prove it, and also to save his life. 

Originally from Sydney, Kim now lives in Millthorpe, a tiny gold-rush village in the wide, rolling hills of central western New South Wales, where the ghosts are mostly friendly and her grown sons regularly come home to graze.

Wild Chicory is available for purchase at the following links:


___________________________________________________

Australian stories are my thing. I write them and I help other writers write them as an editor or mentor, and I’ve been doing this now for twenty years. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a contemporary or historical fiction, a fantastical love affair set in Paris or the reflections of a returned soldier simply wanting to get his thoughts straight on the page, if it’s told by an Australian, to me, it’s important.

We’re a small country in terms of population, and we’re often told that, apart from our First Nations Indigenous Australians, we have no culture of our own. And at a glance, sometimes that can seem true. Our storytelling markets – be they books, tv or film – are dominated by American and British tales.

I’m not American, though, and I’m not very British, either. My ancestry is a mix of mainly County Kerry Irish and German. Yet my forebears came to Australia, at the latest, more than a century ago. I have no other home but Australia, and I have a lot of history here – history that could have happened in no other land.

I was also raised in a marvellously multicultural area of Sydney – the La Perouse peninsular, on the northern tip of Botany Bay. There, my best friends were Koori, Greek, Italian and Serbian. So I’ve always had a sense that the broader canvas of Australian story is rich in diversity and colour. 

It’s no surprise then that my own storytelling is steeped in a quest to explore the many faces that make up who we are. I am endlessly fascinated by our contradictions, too, from our legendary droughts and floods, to our generosity and energy that can be as vast as the continent itself, as well as our sometimes startling small-mindedness. All of my novels are joyful, romantic explorations of what makes us tick and how elements of the past can shine a light on who we are today.

My latest story, though, Wild Chicory, is a little bit different – and a lot more personal. It was inspired by stories my Irish grandmother, Lillian Kelly, told me when I was small. Stories of coming to Australia in the early twentieth century, of Irish boys then going off to war to fight for this new land; stories of being poor and Catholic in inner city Sydney when times were tough and prejudice was high; stories about enduring love and laughter. Stories that make up a very strong and bright cultural thread in me and, in so many ways, inspired my love of storytelling in the first place.  

We’re calling Wild Chicory a novella, because she’s quite a tiny thing in comparison to the chunky novels that have come before her, but I think she’s probably better described as a love song. A love song to my grandmother, and to all of us who have somehow come across the seas to call Australia home. 

About the Book

Wild Chicory is the story of a journey from Ireland to Australia in the early 1900s, along threads of love, family, war and peace. It’s a slice of ordinary life rich in history, folklore and fairy tale, and a portrait of the precious bond between a granddaughter, Brigid, and her grandmother, Nell.

From the windswept, emerald coast of County Kerry, to the slums of Sydney’s Surry Hills; and from the bitter sectarian violence of Ulster, to tranquillity of rural New South Wales, Brigid weaves her grandmother’s tales into a small but beautiful epic of romance and tragedy, of laughter and the cold reality of loss. It’s Nell’s tales, tall and true, that spur Brigid to write her own, too.

Ultimately, it’s a story of finding your feet in a new land – be that a new country, or a new emotional space – and the wonderful trove of narrative we carry with us wherever we might go.

In many ways Brigid and Nell are Kim and her grandmother Lillian Kelly, and many snippets of story in this work belong especially to them. It is primarily a work of fiction, but while the Kennedys and the O’Halligans in Wild Chicory are not the Kellys and O’Reillys of Kim’s own family history, they have sprung direct from her heart, and show readers just how it is she came to be a writer of stories herself.

If you would like further information on Kim and her book, please visit the following links:

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Aussie Book Review: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth


"A novel of love undaunted by obstacles, from the bestselling author of The Secrets of Midwives.

Rosalind House might not be the first place you'd expect to find new love and renewal, but within the walls of this assisted living facility two women have their lives changed forever.

Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease at only thirty-eight years of age, knows that her twin, Jack, has chosen Rosalind House because another young resident, Luke, lives there. As if, Anna muses, a little companionship will soften the unfairness of her fate.

Eve Bennett also comes to Rosalind house reluctantly. Once a pampered, wealthy wife, she is now cooking and cleaning to make ends meet.

Both women are facing futures they didn't expect. With only unreliable memories to guide them, they have no choice but to lean on and trust something more powerful. Something closer to the heart."


“A few months ago, presented with the knowledge that life wasn’t going to be what I’d planned, I wanted to check out, close the book. But now, it’s like suddenly I’ve found a few more pages. And it feels like, against all likelihood, the last chapter might be the best one of all. The last chapter, in fact, might be something great.” – Anna

The advert on both the telly and the radio featuring National Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Australia, Ita Buttrose, is the first thing that came to mind while reading this book. When I first heard that advert I was absolutely shocked (and quite obviously totally uneducated as far as Alzheimer’s disease went) that not all sufferers are of the older generations.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia:

“Dementia is the term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses which cause a progressive decline in a person’s mind. It is a broad term which describes a loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and normal emotional reactions, as well as speech and behaviour change. The term younger onset dementia is usually used to describe any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65. Dementia has been diagnosed in people in their 50’s, 40’s and even in their 30’s.

Dementia in younger people is much less common than dementia occurring after the age of 65. For this reason it can be difficult to diagnose, however, the latest figures show that younger onset dementia affects approximately 25,100 Australians”.

And so it is, under the auspices of Younger Onset Alzheimers, that Sally Hepworth frames her novel, The Things We Keep, introducing us to her main character, thirty-nine year old Anna who has been placed into residential care after being diagnosed and leaving her husband.

Not only do we journey along with Anna through her swift descent from mild to severe Alzheimer’s, we also share in a beautiful story about a woman who, although her brain is rapidly deteriorating, teaches us that people who suffer from this terminal illness are still capable of having emotional connections and knowing exactly where “home” is.

Told from three different perspectives – those of Anna, both in the past and present; Eve, who has experienced some low blows in the past few months and been employed at Rosalind House as a cook cum cleaner; and Eve’s loveable, if somewhat precocious daughter, Clementine ("Clem”) - Sally enriches the story by allowing her characters to react to the challenges they face in their everyday lives.

While Anna is broken in one way, Eve and seven year old Clem (or is it Beatrice, Laila or Sophie-Anne?) are broken in another, after Richard, Eve’s husband, does the unthinkable and she is left behind to pick up the pieces of her life as a single mother.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Sally Hepworth has done an immeasurable amount of research into her subject and she expertly uses Anna and the people around her to show us the progression of this degenerative disease.

It’s a story that woke me up to what goes on in the lives of Alzheimer’s sufferers on a daily basis – the struggles, the fears, the pain and the once long-held dreams of those struck down by this debilitating disease. Ultimately though, it’s a story that offers hope – hope to family members of sufferers that their loved ones, although damaged in one way, are in fact still very much alive deep inside and hope that scientific study will one day come up with a cure so that these afflicted people will be able to live the lives they were meant to – and I just loved the little tale about Rodney and Betty.

Sally also touches on themes of bullying, friendship, grief, forgiveness, romantic love and the love a parent has for their child and, while much of the novel is quite touching, she is very insightful, humorous and not without sensitivity. Eve’s perspective as an outsider teaches us to never contradict a person with Dementia but instead allow them to live contentedly in their own world thereby easing their anxiety and making the remainder of their lives as comfortable as possible.

She is a skilful writer who writes about a weighty subject but never allows it to slip into the teary category, instead lacing the goings on at Rosalind House with bursts of humour, and there were moments I found myself chuckling unexpectedly - Anna may suffer from Alzheimer's but she certainly hasn’t lost her sense of humour and neither, for that matter, have the older residents!

A remarkably uplifting, satisfying and memorable read, I thoroughly appreciated the way Sally portrayed the human face of this terrible disease, allowing me to live in Anna’s world for a while and see her as a whole person rather than someone with cognitive disabilities.

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

About the Author

Sally Hepworth has lived around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the U.K. and Canada, where she worked in event management and Human Resources.

While on maternity leave, Sally finally fulfilled a lifelong dream to write, the result of which was Love Like the French, published in Germany in 2014. While pregnant with her second child, Sally wrote The Secrets of Midwives, published worldwide in English, as well as in France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2015. A novel about three generations of midwives, The Secrets of Midwives asks readers what makes a mother and what role biology plays in the making and binding of a family. 

The Secrets of Midwives has been labelled "enchanting" by The Herald Sun and "smart and engaging" by Publisher's Weekly and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally's debut English language novel as "women's fiction at its finest" and "totally absorbing".

Sally lives in Melbourne with her husband and two children and is currently working on her next novel.