28 September 2015

Review: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

* Copy courtesy of JAM PR and Harlequin MIRA *

Pretty Baby is an engrossing psychological thriller that begins when Heidi brings a young homeless woman and her 4 month old baby home from the city.

Heidi's husband and teenage daughter are both horrified, but Heidi plays down their concerns about the mysterious Willow; her charitable nature winning over any concern for the safety of her own family unit.

We slowly begin to learn more about Willow and her shady past and just how she came to be living on the streets with her baby. I kept wondering if I'd have to the courage to do what Heidi did, take in a complete stranger, but as Heidi's random act of kindness begins to have repercussions, I stopped admiring her and began to worry for her instead.

The novel builds to a great climax, although it doesn't end how you'd expect it to, earning it an additional star for me.

Pretty Baby is an intelligent thriller as well as being chock-full of suspense and I actually enjoyed it more than Gone Girl and The Girl On A Train.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
25 September 2015

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Good Money by J.M. Green

Available in October 2015
RRP $29.99
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Introducing Stella Hardy, a wisecracking social worker with a thirst for social justice, good laksa, and alcohol.

Stella's phone rings. A young African boy, the son of one of her clients, has been murdered in a dingy back alley. Stella, in her forties and running low on empathy, heads into the night to comfort the grieving mother. But when she gets there, she makes a discovery that has the potential to uncover something terrible from her past -- something she thought she'd gotten away with.

Then Stella's neighbour Tania mysteriously vanishes. When Stella learns that Tania is the heir to a billion-dollar mining empire, Stella realises her glamorous young friend might have had more up her sleeve than just a perfectly toned arm. Who is behind her disappearance?

Enlisting the help of her friend Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen, Stella's investigation draws her further and further into a dark world of drug dealers, sociopaths, and killers, such as the enigmatic Mr Funsail, whose name makes even hardened criminals run for cover.

One thing is clear: Stella needs to find answers fast -- before the people she's looking for find her instead. Set in the bustling, multicultural inner west of Melbourne, Good Money reveals a daring and exciting new voice in Australian crime fiction.

Author Bio
J.M. Green studied professional writing at RMIT. Good Money, her first novel, was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She lives in Melbourne's western suburbs.

This giveaway has now closed.
22 September 2015

Review and Blog Tour: Sweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie

* Copy courtesy of JAM PR and Harlequin Australia *

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 1930 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?

My Review:
I'm a sucker for dual narrative historical fiction and Australian author Kaye Dobbie has created a wonderful tale of mystery for readers to unravel in Sweet Wattle Creek.

With two strong female protagonists (Belle in 1930s and Sophie in 1980s) both women end up leaving their troubles behind and moving to Sweet Wattle Creek, a small town in Victoria.

Belle inherits a hotel in town and Sophie works at the local newspaper while both women are trying to understand the past. Small town relationships and family secrets abound in this novel, and the author offers a solid commentary of post-war conditions in rural Australia which include grief and unemployment.

There's a real sense of the city and the country in both narratives, and being from Melbourne, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes set in St. Kilda. I loved the small town touches throughout the novel, although I could have done without the romance between Sophie and Ian if I'm honest. Their investigative work together on the wedding dress was enough to keep me entertained.

If you enjoy novels by bestselling Australian author Kate Morton, then Sweet Wattle Creek is the book for you. Buy your own copy of Sweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie from Boomerang Books.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Author bio
Author Kaye Dobbie
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. For more information visit http://www.kayedobbie.com
12 September 2015

Winner of Fever of Animals is announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's Friday Freebie to win a copy of Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Friday 11th September, and the winner was drawn today:
Congratulations Jaz!!

Congratulations Jaz, you'll receive an email shortly letting you know about your win and requesting your postal details, after which you'll have 5 days to provide a valid postal address.

I'd like to thank Scribe Publications for providing the giveaway, and all of you who entered, shared and tweeted. Keep an eye out for my next giveaway, coming soon.

Update - 22 September
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get in touch with Jaz and her prize has been forfeited. Good news for the rest of the entrants though, as I have selected a new winner:

Congratulations Carmel Corry!
I'll send you an email with the details of your win shortly.
10 September 2015

Review: The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia

The Chosen Queen of the title is Edyth and the year is 1055, a decade before the Norman invasion of England in 1066, and yes, William the Conqueror.

Edyth is the granddaughter of Lady Godiva and dreams of marrying for love, but times were different 950 years ago and more often than not, women were married for political and monetary gain.

Edyth's father is close to King Edward (now known as Edward the Confessor), but after an angry outburst the family is exiled to Wales and the novel really takes off.

I read The Chosen Queen quite soon after the latest Philippa Gregory novel and I was a little worried this might pale in comparison, but I'm pleased to say it wasn't the case. Joanna Courtney manages to guide the reader through a turbulent time in the history of Wales and England with a tight, fast-paced plot and a hint of romance throughout.

Similar to Gregory, Courtney has chosen (see what I did there?) a strong female character from history in Edyth as her protagonist, and we are privy to her inner thoughts during her rise in power and influence. Lady Svana is Edyth's closest friend however their friendship is complicated and at one point they even find themselves on opposing sides. The loss of human life in battle after battle is deeply felt by the two women and Courtney has captured the times very well.

The Chosen Queen is a standalone but also the first in The Queens of the Conquest trilogy, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction by Philippa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick or Jean Plaidy.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. If you're a fan of the TV show The Vikings, then you'll enjoy some aspects of The Chosen Queen that include attacks and raids by Harald Hardrada, the Viking King.

P.P.S. Click here to have Chapter One emailed to you for FREE.
08 September 2015

Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma has a captivating premise: four brothers are given a prophecy from a local madman that the eldest will die at the hands of one of his brothers.

The impact of this prophecy on each of the brothers and their family is the essence of the novel, and it held me spellbound the entire time.

Set in Nigeria in the 1990s, Obioma creates such a strong sense of place, and such a feeling of impending doom that you just have to keep on reading. The youngest of the brothers Ben is the narrator, and while I could sense a tragedy was imminent, it does raise the question about whether the madman can see the future or whether the brothers will bring about the prophecy themselves by believing it to be true.

The backdrop to the story of the brothers and their family is the political environment of Nigeria, and can be read as an allegory of what the British did to Nigeria.

The boys are raised on a concoction of Christianity and superstition and I loved the character of Ben's mother immensely. A fierce matriach, Ben sees her as a falconer: "the one who stood on the hills and watched, trying to stave off whatever ill she perceived was coming to her children." Page 95

The writing is terribly moving and the relationships between the brothers made my heart ache with joy and sorrow at different times in the book. Ben and his three older brothers are characters who will stay with me for a long time to come.

I want to include part of a description of the madman that appears on Page 222, just to demonstrate the power of the writing in The Fishermen:
"He reeked of sweat accumulated inside the dense growth of hair around his pubic regions and armpits. He smelt of rotten food, and unhealed wounds and pus, and of bodily fluids and wastes. He was redolent of rusting metals, putrefying matter, old clothes, ditched underwear he sometimes wore. He smelt, too, of leaves, creepers, decaying mangoes by the Omi-Ala, the sand of the riverbank, and even of the water itself. He had the smell of banana trees and guava trees, of the Harmattan dust, of trashed clothes in the large bin behind the tailor's shop, of leftover meat at the open abattoir in the town, of leftover things devoured by vultures, of used condoms from the La Room motel, of sewage water and filth, of semen from the ejaculations he'd spilled on himself every time he'd masturbated, of vaginal fluids, of dried mucus. But these were not all; he smelt of immaterial things. He smelt of the broken lives of others, and of the stillness in their souls. He smelt of unknown things, of strange elements, and of fearsome and forgotten things. He smelt of death."
This description gave me shivers, and I was completely transported by this literary novel with touches of magical realism. (Having been to Kenya a few years ago, the descriptions of their small town in Nigeria seemed so real to me, I just wanted to go there and hug Ben).

The Fishermen has been longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and I really hope it wins. It's definitely one of my Top 5 books for 2015, and I think I might have an author crush on Chigozie Obioma.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

Click here to read a FREE Extract, courtesy of BBC.
06 September 2015

Winner of the Devastation Road giveaway announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's Friday Freebie to win a copy of Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt.

The giveaway was popular with 22 individual entrants, most of which qualified for multiple entries after subscribing by email, following on Google Connect or sharing on Twitter and Facebook etc. With these additional entries the total number of competition entries was 60.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Friday 4th September, and the winner was drawn today:
Congratulations Michael Swensson!!

Congratulations Michael, you'll receive an email shortly letting you know about your win and requesting your postal details, after which you'll have 5 days to provide a valid postal address.

I'd like to thank Simon & Schuster for providing the giveaway, and all of you who entered, shared and tweeted. If you missed out this time, please enter my current giveaway and try your luck again.

04 September 2015

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson

Available in August 2015
RRP $29.99
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Background / Blurb
For nearly five years I have wanted to write something about the surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu: about his paintings, one of which hangs in a little restaurant in Melbourne, and about his disappearance, which is still a mystery. But this is probably not going to be the book I imagined. Nothing has quite worked out the way I planned.

With the small inheritance he received upon his father's death, Miles has come to Europe on the trail of the Romanian surrealist, who disappeared into a forest in 1967. But in trying to unravel the mystery of Bafdescu's secret life, Miles must also reckon with his own.

Faced with a language and a landscape that remain stubbornly out of reach, and condemned to wait for someone who may never arrive, Miles is haunted by thoughts of his ex-girlfriend, Alice, and the trip they took to Venice that ended their relationship.

Uncanny, occasionally absurd, and utterly original, Fever of Animals is a beautifully written meditation on art and grief.

Click here to read a FREE EXTRACT of Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson.

Author Bio
Miles Allinson is a writer and an artist. He was born in Melbourne in 1981, and has a Bachelor of Creative Arts and a Postgraduate Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne, as well as a Masters of Fine Arts (Art in Public Space) from RMIT. 

Fever of Animals is his first novel, and won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2014.

This giveaway has now closed.
03 September 2015

Review: Children Who Have Lived Before - Reincarnation Today by Trutz Hardo

The title of this book is self explanatory, Children Who Have Lived Before is about reincarnation and in particular about children who remember their past lives. 

Cases where children say things like "you're not my real mum" or "why am I a girl this time?" and "I have a husband and 3 children in the town of XYZ, take me there." In some cultures this is acceptable and their cases are verified by testing the children's knowledge of the previous life (as with the Dalai Lama). 

However in other cultures their behaviour is ignored, often discouraged and sometimes even punished.

This is a topic I'm very interested in, and one that gives me goosebumps when I hear a good story. A Facebook friend recently posted that her son walked past her dancing with her husband in the kitchen, rolled his eyes and said: "I really hated that dancing back in 1896." Creepy huh?

Many of the cases in Children Who Have Lived Before were interesting, and it certainly seemed as though the children in question were tested. They were asked to identify the house they once lived in, their parents and loved ones by name, even down to objects they owned and the things that had changed in the environment around them. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about birthmarks often relating to injuries from their previous incarnation.

The main gripe I have with this book though (and why I won't be rating it highly) is that it quoted so heavily from the investigative work done by Dr. Ian Stevenson, and the majority of cases used were more than 30 years old. For a book published in 2005 I expected the content to be a little more current.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!