Saturday 28 April 2018

Spotlight on other books I've read this month - April

    The Gaslight Stalker (Esther & Jack Enright Mysteries #1)
     by David Field

     Published by Sapere Books

My thoughts
  The Gaslight Stalker is author David Field’s take on the Jack the Ripper case, crossing fact and fiction to give the reader an eerie tale set in the back alleys and dingy pubs of 1880’s London.
The Gaslight Stalker is the first in a series featuring Esther Jacobs and Jack Enright.
In book one the Ripper is on the loose and a friend of Esther’s is murdered. Constable Jack Enright arrives to interview Esther. Esther considers herself a bit of a sleuth and her keen observation skills are a welcome help with the case. Jack becomes smitten with Esther and a romance ensues.

I’m not well versed on the Jack the Ripper case so cannot comment on any authenticity of the murder element, although it has the feel of a well researched story with excellent characterization and sense of place.

At times the story jumped from one scene to another without a break and I found this confusing.

The mystery was good and although predictable it didn’t spoil my reading pleasure.

Jack and Esther’s romance was sweet and had plenty of ups and downs which elicited sympathy from this reader.

The Gaslight Stalker is a superb start to a new series.

With thanks to Sapere Books for my copy.

Content: coarse language, sexual references, descriptive murder scenes.


A Place to Remember (Contemporary Fiction)                                                                                                                             by Jenn J Mcleod                                                                                              
Published by Head of Zeus

 My thoughts

A Place to Remember is told in two time frames. Ava in her late 50’s and with failing health looks back 30 years to her 20’s and a love that ended abruptly sending her around the world on a quest in her late father’s honour. Present day Ava is a highly successful business woman who has brought up two children and run a large bakery franchise on her own. Her only regret is leaving the B & B Ivy-May, where she worked as a kitchen-hand, and the owners’ son, John, behind 30 years previously.

The books main theme is one of lost love but the story runs through many themes that are relevant and important to life on the land. Issues such as keeping rural towns alive and ensuring the townsfolk have access to doctors and schools, diversification of properties such as incorporating a B & B or retreats into a cattle farm, recycling and responsible land and cattle management, the burden of debt on farmers and their families, have been scattered throughout the story.

The story captures the fervour of love and the despair of a love lost, but never forgotten.

McLeod writes women that are strong, determined and extremely likeable.

There is so much depth to this story it’s hard for me to include everything in my review. Parent/ child relationships are also another driving force throughout the story.

Finally; the setting of A Place to Remember, Ivy-May near Candlebark Creek in the Capricornia region of Queensland was a character in itself, beautifully described, evocative and alluring it will have many a reader eager to experience the setting in real life.

McLeod’s entertaining and witty sense of humour is scattered throughout the story.

Highly recommended for lovers of romance, secrets and rural settings.

Book #10 in the Australian Women Writers Challenge
Book #6 in the Book lover Book reviews Aussie author challenge. 
This review is part of the Beauty & Lace Book Club


   Dragon of the Month Club (Middle Grade fantasy)
    by Iain Reading

    Published by: Self published

My thoughts
 Ayana has recently moved to a new town and a new school. To escape the school bully she takes refuge in the local library where she meets Tyler and they soon become firm friends. In the Library they come across a magical book that adds new pages each month with instructions on conjuring a different dragon each time. After filling out a form in the book they soon find themselves enrolled in the Dragon of the Month Club. Some are easy to conjure whilst others will take more time and skill. When one of the spells goes wrong they are pulled into a magical world filled with danger.

I loved the idea that the magical world they entered was actually Tyler’s bedroom which had come to life. As they entered each story book he had on his bed they faced different perils requiring problem solving and team work to overcome.

Tyler’s bedroom had turned into an animated world. The bedspread of islands, palms and oceans were now all real, every book a new adventure from China to Victorian London, where they meet Sherlock Holmes. They encounter the worms and sand hills of Dune and the scissor man from Grimm’s fairytales.

The idea of conjuring dragons from the elements (water, steam, wood, sand) was unique but I felt the dragons could have featured more and been more significant to the story.

Reading’s stories are educational as well as entertaining. The author included fun facts, about the stories the children ventured through, at the end of the book.
I really enjoyed this story suitable for ages 7 – 10 (please see content rating). It was extremely readable but to become a 5 star read it need a few things:
Tighter editing
Explore themes fully – the bullying of Ayana caught my attention and empathy then petered out.
Equality in characters- in the author’s attempt to create a strong female role in Ayana he has inadvertently made Tyler look weak. I’m hoping Tyler will come to the fore in book 2.

Recommended for children that enjoy magical realism.
CONTENT: cautionary tales – may scare sensitive children. Characters say the words “bollocks” (in the sense of meaning nonsense) and “crap”.

My thanks to the author via Book Publicity Services for my review copy.


Little Gods (Literary Fiction) 
 by Jenny Ackland 

 Published by Allen & Unwin

My thoughts 
 Little Gods is a story of a regular family. Three sisters so very different, yet bonded by blood. Thistle- the philosopher, she believes in speaking up and speaking the truth. Audra- quiet, invisible, almost ghost like very rarely seen or heard. Rue- a catastrophizing mother who believes children should be protected from life and kept away from harsh realities. They are close but also annoy each other deeply. They don’t have deep and meaningful conversations. They bottle up their emotions just like any ordinary family. What struck me is the realness of the characters. This story is not escapism; it’s a stark look at reality.

Part literary fiction, part coming-of-age, Ackland’s writing is lyrical and original. A touching story that raises the question of how much or how little should we tell our children. Does withholding a truth really protect them?

Narrated by 12 year old tomboy Olive, she knows how to manipulate her peers. She’s not scared of anything especially the Sands boys. She likes to ask questions to know the how and whys of the world. When someone mentions she once had a sister she is determined to find out the truth even if it means listening in to conversations and piecing together snippets of information to formulate her own truths.

If you grew up during the 70’s or 80’s Little Gods is a nostalgic trip through childhood from going to the local pool to buying a razz and riding your bike through the local bush, Little Gods is authentically Australian.
Little Gods is a heartfelt coming-of-age featuring a young girl who is wilful, fanciful and brave and through her Ackland has captured the essence of 1980’s Australia.

With thanks to Allen & Unwin for my uncorrected proof copy.
Book #11 in the Australian Women Writers challenge
Book #7 in the Book lovers book reviews Aussie author challenge.

Friday 20 April 2018

Book Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Series: Gemma Woodstock #1
Publication Date: 1st June 2017
Pages: 440
Format read: Paperback
Source: Own


 In a suspense thriller to rival Paula Hawkins and Tana French, a detective with secrets of her own hunts the killer of a woman who was the glamorous star of their high school.

Rose was lit by the sun, her beautiful face giving nothing away. Even back then, she was a mystery that I wanted to solve.

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama.

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her?

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.

My thoughts

 The Dark Lake is the debut novel of Australian author Sarah Bailey.

Gemma Woodstock is a Detective Sergeant in the small rural town of Smithson. One of the local teachers, who also happens to be an old classmate of Gemma’s, is murdered and the ensuing investigation causes Gemma’s past to come crashing back to haunt her.

I can’t say I liked Gemma and some may question her morals but I didn’t dislike her. I was certainly intrigued to find out what made her tick. She was complex, complicated, obsessive and slightly off kilter. It was very risky having such a flawed protagonist however Bailey has pulled it off with ease. Gemma is basically a good person but sometimes good people can do bad things and unintentionally hurt others.

Bailey weaves the themes of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers, deception, lies and tragedy throughout the story.

The story moved at a slow pace. There is a lot of moving back and forward in time with back-story filling in the gaps and building on the mystery.
I was captivated by the prose. Bailey has a way with words that had me mesmerized. It is easy to lose yourself in the writing alone.

I pretty much guessed the murderer but I couldn’t work out the motivation and it didn’t spoil the story or the tornado like ending.

The second Gemma Woodstock novel 'Into The Night' is due to be released in October 2018 and I’m looking forward to seeing how Gemma moves on with her life and to immerse myself in some more captivating writing.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

About the author

  Sarah Bailey is a Melbourne based writer with a background in advertising and communications. She has two young children and currently works as a director of creative projects company Mr Smith. Over the past five years she has written a number of short stories and opinion pieces. The Dark Lake is her first novel.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Book Review: Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publication date: 27th February 2018
Pages: 352
Format read: Paperback
Source: Own


The 2:00 a.m. call is the first time Lexie Vidler has heard her sister’s voice in years. Annie is a drug addict, a thief, a liar—and in trouble, again. Lexie has always bailed Annie out, given her money, a place to sleep, sent her to every kind of rehab. But this time, she’s not just strung out—she’s pregnant and in premature labor. If she goes to the hospital, she’ll lose custody of her baby—maybe even go to prison. But the alternative is unthinkable.

As weeks unfold, Lexie finds herself caring for her fragile newborn niece while her carefully ordered life is collapsing around her. She’s in danger of losing her job, and her fiancé only has so much patience for Annie’s drama. In court-ordered rehab, Annie attempts to halt her downward spiral by confronting long-buried secrets from the sisters’ childhood, ghosts that Lexie doesn’t want to face. But will the journey heal Annie, or lead her down a darker path?

Both candid and compassionate, Before I Let You Go explores a hotly divisive topic and asks how far the ties of family love can be stretched before they finally break.

My thoughts 

Two sisters, two very different life outcomes. Lexie is a doctor engaged to Sam who is also a doctor. Annie is a drug addict. Lexie is not surprised when she gets a call for help, from Annie, in the middle of the night. It’s not the first time it has happened. But now Annie is pregnant and that changes everything.
”There is no off switch to the love between sisters” - Lexie Vidler

Who isn’t intrigued by dysfunctional family stories! I could clearly see from the Facebook discussion for this book that so many readers could relate to the sisters on different levels – unparented children (when the parent is not mentally present), drug abuse, sibling connections.

The story is set in Alabama where there are strict laws on drug use in pregnancy and any woman who is reported with drugs in their system whilst pregnant faces criminal charges for child endangerment with a penalty of a jail term. This causes a moral dilemma for Lexie. Should she protect her sister from authorities or protect the unborn child.

”What Annie is facing is a nightmare – but she is my sister. I’d never want her to face this alone.” - Lexie Vidler

Lexie has brought Annie up since the sudden death of their father when their mother became mentally detached from the world. Lexie saw every one of Annie’s problems as a failure and she needed to fix it. Lexie was not used to accepting help and kept shutting Sam out however Sam was sensitive and supportive, never judgemental, he knew how to rein Lexie in when she was going too far. I was so glad that Rimmer didn’t disappoint me and Sam stayed a constant until the end. *sigh*

Lexie and Annie’s story is intense and relatable, it will make you angry and break your heart; it opens up a lot of moral issues for discussion.
The dual narration, present day told by Lexie and the past through Annie’s journal entries, had this reader switching allegiances as the full story was revealed.

I will finish with this quote from Annie. It just killed me.
” How many thousands of dollars do you sink into a person before it stops being selfless and starts being ridiculous? How many times do you bother to revive someone who is nothing but a drain on you and society?” – Annie Vidler.

What if this was your sister or brother, your own child? Would you ever stop helping someone you love?

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Content: frequent coarse language, drug use, sexual assault.

About the author

Kelly Rimmer Kelly Rimmer is the USA Today bestselling women’s fiction author of five novels, including Me Without You and The Secret Daughter. Her most recent release is Before I Let You Go. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, 2 children and fantastically naughty dogs, Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages. 

This book is part of the Booklover Book Reviews Aussie author challenge
and book #9 in the Australian Women Writers challenge

Monday 9 April 2018

Book Review: Esme's Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Esme's Wish (Esme Series #1) 

Esme's Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Publisher: Odyssey Books
Publication date: 30th October 2017
Pages: 252
Format Read: Paperback
Source: Gift from author


           “A fresh new fantasy of an enchanting world.” - Wendy Orr, author of Nim’s Island and Dragonfly Song.

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

This fresh, inventive tale is an ideal read for younger teens.

                                              My thoughts                                    

Esme’s Wish is the debut novel and first in a series by Australian author Elizabeth Foster.

Esme’s mother had disappeared seven years ago, thought to have been lost at sea. Her father is now remarrying but Esme doesn’t believe the ‘lost at sea’ claim and while her father is away on his honeymoon she plans to do some investigating of her own.
While searching for clues about her mother’s disappearance Esme finds a doctor’s note about her mother’s headaches, delusions and talk of other worlds. Was her mother ill and nobody told her?

After following an eagle down to the beach Esme notices a lustrous shell in a rock pool but as she reaches for the shell she is pulled into the pool and plummeted down into its depths. When she surfaces she is in another world. She is befriended by Daniel and this is where Esme’s real journey begins.
As Esme tries to uncover what happened to her mother more mysteries are revealed that will have a lasting effect on Esperance and its people.

Foster’s writing is beautifully descriptive and flows effortlessly. Esme has a strong personality thriving in seclusion after being shunned by most of the town folk. She soon becomes firm friends with Daniel and Lillian and learns to trust and rely on others. I liked that the three teens could be friends without a love triangle in sight.

I loved the town of Esperance with its watery canals, gondolas and bridges which reminded me of Venice.
The world of Aeolia is tied to the Gods and frequent mentions of Greek Gods through statues and paintings gives scope for additional research.

The magical element was enchanting; my favourite being Akitsu’s shop with its enchanted paper fish, birds, beetles and butterflies all so delightfully imagined and brought to life on paper.

The story wraps up well, however also leaves on opening for the sequel Esme’s Gift.

Recommended for readers 10+ years
Content: battle with a spectre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

                                                   About the author

 Elizabeth Foster read avidly as a child, but only discovered the joys of writing some years ago, when reading to her own kids reminded her of how much she missed getting lost in other worlds. Once she started writing, she never looked back. She’s at her happiest when immersed in stories, plotting new conflicts and adventures for her characters. Elizabeth lives in Sydney, where she can be found scribbling in cafés, indulging her love of both words and coffee.

this review is part of the Boolover Book Reviews Aussie author challenge 
and Book #7 in the Australian Women Writers Challenge  

Saturday 7 April 2018

Book Review: You Wish (Contemporary Fiction)

You Wish 

You Wish by Lia Weston

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Publication date: 27th March 2018
Pages: 320
Format read: paperback
Source: publisher


 Sometimes imagination is not enough.

Thomas Lash grants secret wishes . . . on-screen, that is.

White wedding gone horribly wrong and need to swap the groom? Never went to university but must have a graduation photo? Need to create a fake family for that job interview? Problem solved with expert Photoshopping and Tom's peculiar ability to know exactly what you desire. Tom never says no, even when giving grieving parents the chance to see what the lives of their lost children may have looked like.

But where do you draw the line . . . and what happens when the fantasy Tom sees on-screen starts to bleed into his real life?

                                                         My thoughts 

This book is seriously funny, thought provoking and did I say seriously funny.
I’m a bit crushed that now I’m finished I have to leave Tom behind.

Ignis Fatuus – A deceptive hope, an illusion that misleads. IF is born.

Tom, co founder of IF, makes personal photo albums for clients projecting their dreams and wishes through airbrushing and photo-shopping. Tom with his knack of reading people can produce exactly what they wished for. No request is too extreme and although Tom does find the idea morally challenging his clients leave with photos of the life they dreamed of, not what reality gave them.
But what happens when Tom’s work life bleeds into his home life and he is no longer sure what is real and what is fake.

The author uses narrative intrusion to draw the reader in and feel a connection with Tom. His friends think he is a bit strange, afraid of commitment and reluctant to grow up. The reader sees a different Tom. He is sensitive, an introvert. He burdens himself with everyone’s problems. Tom feels he is not accepted by others. He is an observer and this quality has enabled him to read people effectively which also sets him apart from others.
”That thing you do. Do that thing. It’s that weird gift you have.”
People are always asking him to read a room and it invariably gets him into trouble.

The story is multi-layered with many small plots weaving throughout with themes of family, friendship and morality.
Tom’s mother, Amanda Lash, best-selling author, inspirational figure and YouTube celebrity is swamped by fans wherever she goes. His father is reticent and withdrawn which is cause for much speculation. His teenage sister, Genevieve, is having trouble with her own feelings and reaches out to Tom. Their relationship and closeness is touching to read.

Weston’s writing is taut, fast and satirical. The characters are well developed and believably flawed. The concept of the story is thought provoking and challenging. Innocent on the surface but how far do you go and what are the consequences. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as Weston finds humour in the everyday.
Highly recommended! Readers are in for a roller coaster ride as Tom battles his parents, his girlfriend, his sister, his colleagues, his best-friend but mostly his morals.

With my thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for my copy to read and review.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

                                                   About the author

Lia Weston is a fiction writer. Her debut novel, THE FORTUNES OF RUBY WHITE, was published by Simon & Schuster Australia in 2010. Her second novel, THOSE PLEASANT GIRLS, was published with Pan Macmillan in May 2017. YOU WISH, Lia's third novel, is out in April 2018. In between wrestling with plot points and procrastinating instead of writing her synopsis, Lia runs a bicycle shop with her husband Pete and works as a freelance copy-editor. 

This review is part of the Book Lover Book Review Aussie author challenge