Sunday 28 February 2021

Book Review: Close to Home by Janet Gover

Close to Home
Janet Gover
A story of community and family. Of the love that brings them together...and the fears that would tear them apart.


Publisher: Harlequin Australia 
Imprint: Mira - AU
Publication date: 3rd February 2021
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
RRP: $29.99AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
Aunt Alice Dwyer loves her small Australian town. She's rarely left its comforting embrace. She knows everyone in it; in fact, she's related to most of them. All she wants is to keep her family safe and the town running exactly the way it always has. Her way. But when an exotic French artist comes to town, her hold begins to weaken...

Lucienne Chevalier, once the toast of Europe, has come to Nyringa after a tragic loss to hang up her sequins and create a place for her circus family to rest between tours. With her is Simon, her grandson, recovering from an injury so damaging he can no longer perform. Lucienne fears he'll never embrace a new future. That is, until she notices the chemistry between him and the new schoolteacher... All they need is a push.

Both grande dames think they know what's best, but with equal amounts of stubbornness on both sides, peace looks unlikely. Then a relationship between Alice's rebellious great-niece and a teenage acrobat sets the two communities on a collision course. But when the bakery starts making patisseries over lamingtons, the battle lines are truly drawn...
My review
Ever since reading The Wild One I have been a big fan of Janet Gover's novels. She has proven over the years to have quite diverse writing skills, touching on themes that concern small town communities and are also relatable in a broader sense. 
Close to Home starts with a short prologue featuring a teenage Alice and it was good to get an insight into this young, fun Alice before she grew to be the proud and proper 80 year old we see in the following story.
Close to Home centres on two strong women, both matriarchs of their large families. Heartbreak features strongly in both their lives. Whilst Alice's is an old wound that she can't seem to let go of and it still shapes her decisions and attitudes, Lucienne's is fresh and soul destroying however she knows to move forward she must heal. I did feel one was more superficial than the other but to these two women the hurt was equal.
When the circus comes to stay in Nyringa the wariness of newcomers is raised and judging people before getting to know them which can often happen in small towns where change is feared. I loved all the circus details, how circuses had changed over the years and the love and commitment the performers have for what they do. I think this will have many readers on a nostalgic trip back to their childhood.

Gover redefines family with Alice and her large hoard of nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews and Lucienne declaring that every performer in her circus is part of her family. Family is more than your own immediate flesh and blood.

Two sweet and subtle romances weave through this story of acceptance and moving forward. Young love is instant and all consuming, as it often is, and has a Romeo and Juliet-ish feel. The other couples feeling are slower to develop and more wary to open up to each other. I thought both romances were realistic and well executed.

I could go on and on but no one wants a long wordy review so I will suffice to say that Close to Home is a story about family, relationships, community, new friendships, new beginnings, love lost and love found. And a great read!!

5/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Janet Gover grew up in outback Australia, surrounded by wide open spaces, horses...and many, many books.
She is a self-confessed 'bit of a geek girl'. When not writing novels she works in IT - in really dull places like Pinewood Movie Studios, Puerto Rico and Iraq

When her cat actually lets her sit in her chair, she writes stories of strong women, rural communities and falling in love. Her novel Little Girl Lost won the Epic Romantic Novel of the Year Award presented by the Romantic Novelist's Association in the UK, and she has won or been shortlisted for awards in Australia and the USA.

As Juliet Bell, in collaboration with Alison May, she rewrites misunderstood classic fiction, with an emphasis on heroes who are not so heroic.
Her favourite food is tomato. She spends too much time playing silly computer games, and is an enthusiastic, if not always successful, cook.

Challenges entered: Australian Women Writers Challenge
                                 Aussie Author Challenge  


Saturday 27 February 2021

Book Review: False Hope by Lynne Lee

False Hope 
Lynne Lee
She made a big promise. Did she also make a big mistake?


Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication date: 21st January 2021
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Mystery
Pages: 300
Format read: Kindle edition
Source: Netgalley
About the book
Ten years ago, Grace made her dying sister a promise—that she would look after Hope’s baby son as her own. Now, the man whose son she is raising has turned up on Grace’s operating table, fighting for his life.

When an accusation of negligence follows, Grace is forced to confront not just the man who abandoned her sister, but also his mother, Norma—who blames Grace for taking everything she loves.

Based on what her sister told her, Grace is sure she did the right thing to keep that promise. But what if Hope didn’t tell her everything? Norma’s vicious attacks push Grace to investigate further and what she finds makes her question everything she thinks she knows, pointing to a very different past—and a devastating betrayal.

As Grace uncovers the truth, can she protect her family from the consequences of what her sister did?
My review
False Hope could have been a gripping read however for me there were too many themes that  could have been better explored.
Grace has the juggling act of a young family, a demanding career as a trauma surgeon and the responsibility of being the only living child of a parent with dementia. She has adopted her late sister Hope's son and completely cut off his father and paternal grandmother. An action she believes is the only way forward for them all.  
When Hope's ex-husband turns up on the operating table after a serious accident leaves his life in the balance Grace has to act fast and preforms the operation that she knows will save his life. There is much bad blood between the families and a malpractice claim ensues. This on its own could have created a great story but it never fully evolved.
There were lots of little plot lines running through the story and just when I thought I knew where the story was heading it would change direction.
Grace was selfish, self centred and over possessive and as the story was narrated in first person it seemed that it was all about Grace; how hard she worked, how her mother was a burden, how she never understood her sister. Grace's thoughts and actions certainly didn't endear me to her. I continually questioned her actions and even after the big reveal I still felt her actions were self motivated.

False Hope was an okay read. None of the characters really gelled with me but it certainly held my interest and I was eager to get to the end to see how it would all wrap up.

3/5  ⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Lynne Lee was born in London and began her writing career as a teenager. She has been a full-time author since the mid-1990's, writing romance novels, short stories and ghostwriting bestselling books. False Hope is her second psychological thriller and is written under a pseudonym.


Saturday 20 February 2021

Book Review: Snowy Mountains Daughter by Alissa Callen

Snowy Mountains Daughter
Alissa Callen 
The road home isn't for the faint-hearted... 

Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises Australia 
Imprint: Mira
Publication date: 3rd February 2021 
Genre: Small town fiction / Rural romance
Pages: 352
RRP: $29.99AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
Peony flower farmer Clancy Parker was born and bred in the Australian high country. Small-town Bundilla is the only place she will ever truly belong, even if staying means remaining alone. The man she'd loved is long gone and single men are as rare as a summer snowfall.

As soon as he could, street artist Heath MacBride escaped his complicated family and traded mountain peaks for city concrete. Now a commission to paint a mural on Bundilla's water tower brings him home. It doesn't matter how long he's been away, the animosity of his cattleman father hasn't waned. As soon as the water tower is painted, he will be gone.

But between steadfast Clancy, who'd once been his muse, a free-spirited kelpie who becomes his shadow and a corrosive family secret, his best laid plans disintegrate. When life again backs him into a corner, will he have no choice but to leave or will he and Clancy have the second chance they'd each thought would forever remain out of reach?

My review

Alissa Callen has delivered again with her latest novel featuring the resilience of bush communities, the volatility of Mother Nature and the healing power of animals.

Bundy, companion, matchmaker and social media sensation, is the town's resident kelpie. Loved by everyone but owned by no-one. Like The Littlest Hobo on the much loved T.V. series Bundy has a sixth sense for who needs his company most and roams from person to person.

Clancy Parker was born and raised in the country town of Bundilla in The Brindabellas. This was her life and unlike many young people, who couldn't wait to leave, she loved everything about the town.

Heath McBride left the town as soon as he could and has made a name for himself as a mural painter. Now back in town to paint the town's water tower he must also face Clancy, the love of his life.

Wow! Alissa Callen has packed so much into this story. There's good friends Clancy and Heath who secretly have a crush on each other but both are reluctant to take the plunge and open up and risk destroying their friendship. We see, through Clancy, that farming isn’t all about cattle and sheep. She has a flower farm which is definitely a time consuming occupation also entirely at the mercy of Mather Nature. One bad storm at the wrong time and it's all destroyed.
Heath is home to paint a mural on the town's water tower which is a fascinating story on its own. Tie into that his estrangement from his father and it makes Heath an interesting and complex character to explore.

If you haven't seen the wonderful murals going up on water towers and silos all over Australia have a look at the website that captures them in all their glory.

Australian Silo Art Trail

Callen doesn't just give a brief obligatory mention of the Aussie countryside, fauna and flora she makes them a part of the overall story giving you the feel and sense of actually being there amongst it all.

A wonderful community of characters were included and I wanted to hear all their stories. Ned, Cynthia and her daughters dropping off sweet offerings, twins Millicent & Beatrice, Mabel the journalist, Clancy's best friend Brenna, Taite, Trent the Vet and Rebecca the florist were all important threads in the story. I'm hoping we will visit them again in future books.

Snowy Mountains Daughter is vividly described from the snow capped mountains to the gum trees and wooden bridges the setting comes alive on the page. A free-roaming kelpie, a second chance at love and a dying mans confession make Snowy Mountains Daughter a story that will have your emotions reeling.

5/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Photo credit Goodreads
When USA Today bestselling author Alissa Callen isn’t writing she plays traffic controller to four children, three dogs, two horses and one renegade cow who really does believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. After a childhood spent chasing sheep on the family farm, Alissa has always been drawn to remote areas and small towns, even when residing overseas. Once a teacher and a counsellor, she remains interested in the life journeys that people take. She also is partial to historic homesteads and country gardens and has been known to drive hours to see an open-garden. She currently lives on a small slice of rural Australia in central western New South Wales. 

Challenges entered: Australian Women Writers Challenge 
                                 Aussie Author Challenge

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Thursday 18 February 2021

Winners of a copy of The Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes announced!

Once again I would like to thank everyone who entered my giveaway for a copy of The Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes Box set. The giveaway closed on the 16th February and the winners were randomly selected (using Random org) from all correct entries. 
 Congratulations to........   Liz Dorrington & Heather
The winners have been notified and have seven days to to provide a mailing address.
Please see my Giveaway tab for more chances to win great books. 


Book Review: The Devils You Know by Ben Sanders

The Devils You Know
Ben Sanders 


Publisher: Allen & Unwin 
Publication date: 2nd February 2021
Genre: Crime / Mystery
Pages: 328
RRP: $29.99AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
Vincent needs a change. He's spent the last fifteen years in covert operations for the US government, but after a botched and fatal mission, he decides he's done with pulling triggers.

He lucks into a dream job in Santa Barbara as head of security for supermarket mogul Eugene Lamar: nothing more than driving the boss to and from golf, with ample downtime for surfing, or sitting by the pool contemplating life-and how to live it with a zero body count.

There he meets and is intrigued by Lamar's daughter, the journalist Erin Jones, who's on tour in California to promote her book about the benefits of war. Vincent's seen his share of conflict and is sure he can change her mind - and he'd really like to make his case over drinks.

But there's a problem: if Lamar's business is confined to supermarkets, why does he need a panic room full of assault rifles, and a .357 revolver in his car? It doesn't take long for Vincent to find out that Lamar owes a debt to bad people - and that's only the start of it. He's ensnared in a criminal enterprise, which soon brings costs in lives as well as money.

Erin wants answers, and needs Vincent's help to get them. But how much does she already know? Is his growing attraction to her a liability? And can he keep her safe from the brutal killers who are after her father?

It seems that Santa Barbara is a sunny town full of dark talent, and Vincent will have to revert to dark talents of his own if he's going to survive . . .
My review
The Devils You Know is my first read by best-selling author Ben Sanders and I can easily see why he has such a huge following. He writes with prose that are sharp and biting. His characters are wonderfully drawn with a protagonist that is rugged and heroic combating antagonists that are dark and ruthless. The perfect mix for a compelling crime mystery.
Vincent applies for a position as body guard to supermarket mogul Eugene Lamar. He is expecting an easy ride, a bit of a holiday, a ride around the golf course and then some time for a surf. However, he soon learns there is more to Lamar than meets the eye. Lamar owes somebody some big money and they are out to make him pay.
As the stakes rise so does the body count and Vincent teams up with Lamar's daughter, Erin Jones, to find out who is behind the extortion.
I really enjoyed the character of Vincent. He was calm and cool, battle scarred but still competitive.  he wouldn't carry a gun but didn't baulk at busting a few noses.
The multiple points of view narration and short chapters kept the story moving along at a steady pace and held my interest throughout. 
Sanders shows through Vincent and Erin you can be on opposite side of a political agenda and still have level headed conversations  about it without getting heated and offensive or offended.
The subtle romance thread was well executed and the element of mystery had me guessing and second guessing until it came to a well wrapped up and satisfactory conclusion. 
4/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the author
Photo Goodreads
Ben Sanders is the author of American Blood, Marshall's Law, The Stakes, The Fallen, By Any Means and Only the Dead. Sanders' first three novels were written while he was studying a Bachelor of Engineering at university, he graduated in 2012 and now writes full-time. To date Sanders has sold over 30,000 copies of his novels collectively across Australia and New Zealand alone and has been praised by the New York Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Toronto Star. His work id published in eight languages, and he lives in Auckland, New Zealand. Sony has optioned the rights to The Devils You Know for a Ray Donovan television series.

Challenges entered: Cloak and Dagger Challenge
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Wednesday 17 February 2021

Book Review: Misty by Fiona McArthur

Fiona McArthur 


Publisher: Self Published
Publication date: 30th November 2020
Series: Lyrebird Lake #2
Genre: Romance
Pages: 208
Format read: eBook
Source: Courtesy of the author
About the book
Misty saved the life of Dr Ben Moore but that brief wonderful connection was just a memory. Misty the midwife shuts out her daydreams and sets off for a new life in Lyrebird Lake, where she meets the new locum…and looks into Ben’s sea blue eyes!

Ben moved to Lyrebird Lake for a chance to start again. But he wasn’t doing well in the single parent role. Can Misty and Ben find the connection that saved his life once? Is Misty is the perfect person to make Ben’s family complete?
My review
As much as I loved Montana's story in Lyrebird Lake #1 I found Misty's story even more heart-warming.
Misty had always had premonitions and it was one of her premonitions that led her to save the life of Ben Moore. There was an instant and unexplainable connection between them but  Misty had no time for romance, she was moving the next day to Lyrebird Lake to work with best friend Montana.
Montana (from book1) is now married to Misty's brother Andy and they have set up the new birthing centre at Lyrebird Lake. 
Misty is another wonderful, realistic romance read from Fiona McArthur. The main themes of natural birth, postnatal depression, postnatal  psychosis and related suicide are sensitively explored giving reference to the mental and lasting strain on the attending doctor. 
McArthur explores these themes within a close-knit small-town environment where everyone pitches in and helps out when needed. Minor characters from book 1 also feature in book 2 and we get snippets of information on these characters' lives that I can see making a return in future books.
As much as I loved Misty's cautiousness when it came to a new relationship I also loved how Ben never gave up when Misty tried to push him away.
Misty is a feel-good romance with the expected happy ending. I'm looking forward to the next book in the Lyrebird Lake Series.
5/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the author
Credit: Goodreads
Fiona McArthur has worked as a midwife for thirty years. She is the clinical midwifery educator inner rural maternity unit and teaches emergency obstetric strategies while working with midwives and doctors from remote and isolated areas.

Fiona has written more than thirty romances, which have sold over two million copies in twelve languages. She has been a midwifery expert for Mother and Baby magazine and is the author of Aussie Midwives. She has also written the novels Red Sand Sunrise, The Homestead Girls and Heart of the Sky. She lives on a farm in northern New South Wales.
Challenges entered: Aussie author challenge #AussieAuthor21
                                 Australian Women Writers Challenge  #AWW2021

 Read my review of Montana:

Sunday 14 February 2021

Book Review: My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips

 My Best Friend's Murder
Polly Phillips

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Publication date: 6th January 2021 
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Pages: 355
RRP: $29.99AUD
Format read: paperback
Source: courtesy of the publisher

About the book

Bec and Izzy have been best friends their whole lives. They’ve been through a lot together –  from the death of Bec’s mother, the birth of Izzy’s daughter, they've been side by side for all the highs and lows life has thrown at them.

But there’s a darker side to their friendship, too – and Bec is about to reach breaking point.

Then Izzy is found broken and bloodied at the bottom of the stairs.
It could have been an accident – perhaps she fell – but if the police decide to look for a killer, then Bec is sure to be their prime suspect.
My review
Bec and Izzy have been friends since high school. They'd always been there for each other. Or had they?
Now in their 30's Bec is starting to realise that Izzy hasn't always been supportive of her and often she has been downright manipulative. When they were younger Bec was happy to let Izzy have the limelight. She was the beautiful one, everyone loved Izzy and she chose Bec to be her friend. However now she sees the friendship for what it is, one sided and toxic. But Izzy is her best friend and she can't let go. She needs Izzy's approval for everything.
"I'm like one of those old dogs that pine for the owner that beat them."

My Best Friend's Murder is a captivating story of toxic friendships, narcissism and gaslighting. Izzy is a master manipulator she has Bec second guessing everything she sees and hears. I  think we have all seen, or even been in, a toxic friendship at some time however these usually end with some sort of blow-up during the teen years or early twenties. Bec and Izzy were in their thirties and I was astounded they were still going on with all this game-play. However, I did find it quite entertaining!

The story is narrated in the first person by Bec and as with any first person narration we are only getting one side of the story.

The story starts with the friendship and the back and forward maliciousness with lots of background on both Bec and Izzy and I found this all quite fascinating reading. When Izzy is found near death at the bottom of the stairs the story turns to a mystery. Was she pushed or did she fall? The conclusion to this well-paced mystery took me by surprise.

My Best Friend's Murder is a cleverly-plotted narrative that astutely explores the complexity of toxic friendships, manipulation and revenge.

4/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Credit: Polly Phillips
Polly Phillips currently lives in Australia, although she is originally from the UK. My Best Friend’s Murder won the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2019. Polly has worked as a journalist in Australia, Dubai, Denmark and the UK. This is her debut novel.  

Challenges entered: Aussie author challenge #AussieAuthor21

                                 Cloak & Dagger challenge 
                                 Australian Women Writers Challenge #AWW2021 


Wednesday 10 February 2021

Book Review: The Spiral by Iain Ryan

The Spiral
Iain Ryan 

Publisher:  Echo Publishing
Publication date: 2nd February 2021
Genre: Crime / Thriller
Pages: 336
RRP: $29.99AUD
Format read: Paperback 
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Beauty & Lace Book Club
About the book
Erma Bridges' life is far from perfect, but entirely ordinary. So when she is shot twice in a targetted attack by a colleague, her quiet existence is shattered in an instant.

With her would-be murderer dead, no one can give Erma the answers she needs to move on from her trauma. Why her? Why now?

So begins Erma's quest for the truth - and a dangerous, spiralling journey into the heart of darkness.
My review
The story is set around the University of Queensland, Fortitude Valley and the surrounding area. It opens with Erma called for a disciplinary meeting. A lot of names are thrown around but the reader is left in the dark as to what it is all about. Erma is sure her friend and colleague Jenny is behind the complaint. Out of the blue Jenny shoots Erma and then fatally shoots herself leaving Erma with a massive, why.
Erma’s life then spirals into dark dreams and relentlessly pursuing Jenny’s last movements.

Iain Ryan explores the concept of the choose your own adventure and gameplay novels as Erma is doing research to write a book on the history of these books. I remember my sons reading these although they weren’t quite as complex as the books referred to here. You the reader were in charge of the plot. Your decisions had consequences and you never knew ahead what they might be. Ryan draws parallels between these books and Erma’s life decisions, actions and consequences.

The plot is complex, running multiple plot lines, and like a jigsaw puzzle you have to piece together snippets of information each seemingly inconsequential and unrelated until you put them together and reveal the final picture.
When I started the book I was totally confused and I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. Well my fears were soon allayed! The story was tense and gripping and I read the book in one day, on the edge of my seat through the second half as Ryan smashes out the twists one after the other.

In this genre mixing novel a Fantasy thread is introduced with Sero the Barbarian searching to regain his lost memory. This is told through Erma’s nightmares and often linked to Erma’s actual life events and hidden fears.
Erma’s character was hard to connect with. Her penchant for violence brought about by teenage trauma and exacerbated by a case of PSTD seemed more akin to a gangland member than a University supervisor. However, even though she wasn’t totally likeable I still felt I wanted her to come through each situation and hopefully heal herself mentally.

I love noir fiction and I love fantasy so I enjoyed both genres within the book. I think the mixing of genres could have been a risky move but worked well for this reader.

The Spiral will appeal to readers who like dark and gritty Noir Fiction.
4/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This review was originally on the Beauty and Lace website and you can read it here 
About the author
Credit: Goodreads

Iain Ryan grew up in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. He predominantly writes in the hardboiled/noir genre and his work has been previously published by Akashic Books (New York), Crime Factory (Melbourne) and Broken River Books (Portland). His most recent novel 'The Student' is available now via Echo Publishing/Bonnier.
Challenges entered: Aussie author challenge #AussieAuthor21
                                 Cloak & Dagger challenge 


Monday 8 February 2021

Mailbox Monday & Life This Week - February 8th


Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week. It now has a permanent home at the Mailbox Monday blog.

Life This Week is a meme created by Denyse Whelan Blogs where bloggers share snaps of what is currently happening in their lives.
Happy Monday!

Since my last Life This Week we have celebrated Australia Day which we usually celebrate with a family picnic but it was far too hot this year so we stayed at home close to the pool.
I have been trying to do the photo a day challenge. I did this waaay back in 2011 and I must have been a lot less busy then, or had a much better memory, because this year I've already missed about a third of the days photos but I will persevere. I will be interested to compare the photos and see how life has changed over the ten years.

I've started another afghan throw. This one is for my Grandson

We are still pretty much failing at gardening but we keep trying 😀

I caught this candid photo of our cat recently. He looks like he is waiting for his dinner.

Books I've received and purchased over the last two weeks

This book has the most gorgeous cover!
I loved Scrublands when I read it and I was pleased to find Silver, the second book in the series, at my local Op shop.

Saturday 6 February 2021

Book Review: Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

Gone to the Woods
Gary Paulsen


Publisher: Pan Macmillan  
Imprint: Macmillan Children's Books 
Publication date: 12th January 2021
Genre: Children's / Teenage / Memoir
Pages: 224
RRP: $16.99AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
From the author of the bestselling Hatchet comes a true story of high-stakes wilderness survival!

At the age of five Gary Paulsen escaped from a shocking Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead, finding a powerful respect for nature that would stay with him throughout his life. At the age of thirteen a librarian handed him his first book, and there he found a lasting love of reading. As a teenager he desperately enlisted in the Army, and there amazingly discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

A moving and enthralling story of grit and growing up, Gone to the Woods is perfect for newcomers to the voice and lifelong fans alike, from the acclaimed author at his rawest and realest.
My review
I'm finding it hard to know where to start with this story. My son, when young, was a huge Hatchet fan. He read the book over and over and talked of it often. This is how I came to know the name Gary Paulsen, so when I heard he had written a memoir of his childhood I jumped at the chance to read it.

Gary Paulsen writes with stark reality, there is no softening around the edges. He writes about life exactly as he lived it and some scenes are quite gruesome. The story contains vivid descriptions of a train load of injured soldiers and also a frenzied shark attack on the passengers of a plane crash. What I found most distressing is that these are actual real events witnessed by Paulsen as a young child.

The story is narrated in third person with Paulsen referring to himself as 'the boy', so it reads more like a fiction novel than the usual memoir with first person narration.

Paulsen takes moments from his life and weaves a story around that event introducing history and education into the narrative.

The boy, at age 5, after living a life of neglect with his mother, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm. Here he learns to work hard and to live off the land but mostly he learnt how it felt to  belong. Every sight, sound and smell the boy experiences comes alive on the page. These few years are what set him up to survive life when he was taken back by his mother. What followed  was years of neglect, poverty, bullying and hunger.
The story isn't all bleak as Paulsen interjects humour into even the bleakest events.
When he discovers the library and the librarian who gently encourages him to read more and more books that broaden his mind a whole new world of hope is opened up to him.
Paulsen's writing starts out soft and gentle when he is a young child naive and fragile, as his life moves on you can feel the writing is more jaded, edgy. Then as a teen, 16 - 17, the writing is angry, disillusioned. I find this type of character change through words and sentence structure unique and engaging.
Gone to the Woods is a harrowing and moving true life story of resilience, perseverance and the healing power of books. Narrated with warmth and humour it is touching and informative.

This book is being marketed as middle grade but I would recommend 12+ as there are some quite horrifying and descriptive scenes of war and a shark attack.

5/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Credit: Pan Macmillan

Gary Paulsen has received great acclaim and many awards for his novels written for young people. HATCHET, and its sequel, THE RETURN, are among his best-known works. He has sailed the Pacific and competed in the gruelling 1,049 mile Iditarod dog-sled race across Alaska. He lives with his family in New Mexico, USA.

Challenge entered: Non Fiction Readers Challenge 

Friday 5 February 2021

Spotlight and Giveaway: The Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes (Books 1-5 Boxed Set) by Cenarth Fox

The Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes Box Set
Cenarth Fox 

The Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes is a 5 book series staring Nicholas Twit aimed at middle-grade readers aged 8 - 12.
About the books
Book1: The Cat Burglar / Fifi and the Angels

In Book 1 Young Nick uses the detection methods of Sherlock Holmes to expose a scam and catch a very clever cat burglar. Later in Book 1 the young sleuths solve mysteries with a little help from a friendly policewoman, Detective Sergeant Les Trade. A simple observation turns into a tale involving illegal immigrants, blackmail and lazy dog-owners. But who will be the boss detective? And is Doctor Watson smarter than Sherlock Holmes?  
Book 2: The Garden Gnome Mystery / The Goldfields Ghost Adventure

Nick’s new partner is Felicity Heywood-Jones who is 13. So there are two detectives—Holmes and Watson. But will they co-operate? And is Watson smarter than Holmes? In Book 2 Nicholas investigates a mystery about garden gnomes. It reminds him of a famous mystery solved by Sherlock Holmes. Felicity meets a girl who works from home and is being ripped off by a cruel person. Can Felicity help the girl and expose a nasty businessman? Strangely Nick’s gnomes and Felicity’s rip-off are linked. But how? Then Nicholas goes for a weekend trip to the country where he meets a ghost and an escaped convict. It all happens in an old gold-mining town
Book 3: The Mystery of the Awful Painting / The Mystery of the Terrible Twins / The Ned Kelly Adventure

Nick investigates a strange case and notices something unusual in the house next door. A man is stealing garbage. Nick follows and gets kidnapped twice! Felicity has to work at a creepy old house and accidentally pushes one of the owners off an upstairs balcony. More trouble. But things get really explosive when Nick tackles a mystery starring Ned Kelly. He was a famous outlaw and getting caught in the crossfire means Nick is seriously in danger. There's a map of where all the mysteries are located, word puzzles, Twit-Speak words including the fabulous sotov and edhen, a mini mystery and tips on how can write your own mysteries.
Book 4: The Clayton's Murder / The MCG Bomb Mystery / The Stinging Mystery of Jeremiah's Ghost

In this book, Felicity has some serious personal problems. Her father's girlfriend is missing presumed dead and Flick's dad is in the frame. Can Felicity help her father? And in the meantime Nick gets a really silly case of stolen roses. Ah but it involves two ladies of the theatre and boy can they act. One of the women has some rotten food and cobwebs on her dining-room table as she's mad about Charles Dickens-or is she just mad? But things hit overdrive when Nick 'n Flick get involved with a would-be terrorist at a major sporting event. Nick discovers schizophrenia and learns heaps. But suddenly it looks to be all over for the Schoolboy Sherlock Holmes. He gets tricked into saying he saw a ghost when it was a set-up, a sting to catch him out. How can the boy detective survive?
Book 5: Mr Hawthorn's Hedge / The Tallest Women in the World / The Bee & Bee Cottage / Cranley Glasspot's Newspaper

When we first meet them in this book, Nick and the others are facing a possible disaster. Nick has been tricked. A sneaky journalist has set up a trap and Nick has walked right into it. Nick is about to be exposed as a sham. How can he survive? And Felicity is investigating some strange sights and sounds happening at midnight behind a nearby hedge. Then for something special, we take a step back in time to Victorian England with a story featuring the real Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. It's the adventure of The Tallest Woman in the World. And finally there are two mysteries with one each for Nicholas and Felicity.
About the Author     

Cenarth Fox has written plays and musicals, novels and non-fiction books. 
As a long-time fan of Sherlock Holmes, Fox has written three stage shows and a novel about the famous detective and given over 200 performances of his one-man show, G’day Sherlock.

The five books for young readers make up the rest of his Sherlockian canon. 
His other novels include an 8 book crime series The Detective Joanna Best Mysteries and a series about a young English actress during WW2.

Fox has turned his plays about the Brontes, Agatha Christie and Shakespeare into novels and his play about Dickens is now a film. 
His books are at and his stage shows at 
The inspiration behind the Nicholas Twit series.

Having written so much about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his most famous creation, writing crime fiction for children seemed the next step. Nicholas Twit (aged 10) is the schoolboy Sherlock Holmes and has turned his bedroom of today into the sitting-room of Mr Holmes in London in 1890. The mysteries he tackles with Dr Watson (Felicity aged 14) – Nick ‘n Flick - use the methods the great detective used. The printed books are in a glossy magazine format copying The Strand Magazine which published 59 of the 60 Conan Doyle tales. They are a great way to introduce young readers to mystery fiction.
Cenarth Fox has generously offered 2 x hardcopy box sets to Australian addresses.