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Title: Unforgivable

Author: Sharon Robards

Genre: Historical

Opening line: “…Well, Well, life can change in an instant in the most unexpected manner…”

Blurb: Set in the 1960s UNFORGIVABLE is the story of a teenage girl and a young nun caught up in the great religious and social upheaval brought on by the Vatican, and a thriving adoption industry driven by society’s fierce disapproval of unmarried mothers. Seventeen-year-old Sylvia, like many unmarried teenage mothers across Australia in 1966, is forced to wait for the birth of her child in one of the homes and hospitals run by the Catholic Church. St Joseph’s Hospital, is managed by the Sisters of St Anthony, and has never had a girl walk out the front gate without first leaving behind her baby. But the sisters had never met Sylvia, defiant and headstrong and determined to keep her child.

My thoughts: In the 1960s it was considered to be a real shame job to be an unmarried mother, and society was unflinchingly cruel towards an unwed woman with a child. The best a pregnant girl could hope for was to hide away in a nursing home, have her child, give it up for adoption, and return home without anyone learning about this shameful period of her history. This is all very good if that is what the young teen wanted to do, but many of them were forced into this decision.

Sylvia is pregnant, a teen and unmarried. She dearly loves the father of her child, Tommy, and he loves her but her mother tricks Sylvia and drags her off to a nursing home for unmarried mothers where no outside contact can be made. Sylvia determines that no-one is going to be allowed to take her child, and besides surely Tommy has the right to decide the child’s fate? She refuses to sign the relinquishing papers and fights the nuns every step of the way. Kim is also in the nursing home, her fiancé dumped her when he found out she was pregnant even though he was the father. She feels there is no alternative but to give her child up for adoption and is more or less resigned to her fate even though she passionately wishes she can keep the baby. Sister Gregory is given the job of instructing Sylvia and Kim and she feels sympathy for the girls in her care; so much so she is facing a crisis of faith. As the two girls approach their respective births the emotions are running high and the actions of the nuns seem little less than cruel. I was in turns horrified, devastated, and angry at some of the things that were done to the girls, windows nailed closed, forced to use different names; and I was very proud of Sylvia’s resistance. Author Sharon Robards managed to arouse huge depths of feelings in me as her story unfolded. I became so involved with the characters – even being compelled to hurl verbal abuse at the various ‘nasty’ characters and cry with the ‘innocent’ characters. In the home when the girls have given birth their babies are whisked away before they can even see them. To my horror the girls were then put into the general ward where the married mums are nursing and cuddling their babies. I was utterly filled with rage! I was also angry that it took Sister Gregory so long to speak up and that her superiors were convinced that the girls were being treated was perfectly ok. How these women of God could act so callously blew me away. Sylvia was a very courageous young woman and I was cheering her every step of the way. My only complaint, and it is a very minor one, I would have liked to know more of what happened to Sylvia after the story finished. We saw what happened with Kim 26 years later, but not Sylvia. The same with Sister Gregory where was she many years later, was there a good life in a convent for a nun with deep faith but who didn’t always agree with Catholic doctrine? Having had my grumble the story as it stands was totally completed for me; just lingering wonderings about these last two characters.

UNFORGIVABLE is a powerful story about unforgivable decisions and acts applied to the innocent. Mothers being forced to give up their babies and go back to the real world and pretend nothing had happened while their hearts bled for the child they would never hold. They may have gone out into the world, but they never forgot.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

With thanks to the author for my copy to read and review

Title: A man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: General Fiction

Opening line: “…Ove is fifty-nine …”

Blurb: Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon; with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him ‘the bitter neighbour from hell’; but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heart-warming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents association to their very foundations.

My thoughts: A MAN CALLED OVE is a debut novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. It had me both laughing out loud and sobbing helplessly. Ove is a man who believes in order, set routine and rules, and rules are never to be broken. He is very often his own worst enemy, but you find yourself siding with him despite his often poorly explained complaints. He does have a heart of gold, just doesn’t know how to let it shine out. He obviously loves and adores his wife of 40 years, Sonja, who seems to have the patience of a saint. But he obviously listens to her opinions and tries very hard to see her side of things.

“…People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was colour. All the colour he had…”

“…He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced…”

Early on in the book though, after a hilarious chapter covering road rage, car park rage and fighting for justice over a two for one offer in a flower shop; we learn that Sonja has in fact recently died. The flowers he fought to buy at a reasonable price are for her grave and he goes to talk to her every week. The reader also learns that Ove has been forced into early retirement, so now this sad and lonely man has decided to end his life as there is nothing to live for. He has settled his affairs and now just needs to do the deed. But the day he has decided to end it all, his letterbox is run over by his new neighbours. She is a heavily pregnant Middle Eastern woman called Parveneh, he is a skinny, overeager to please husband, and they already have two small, very loud daughters. Undaunted by Ove’s gruff manner and grumpiness, Parveneh and her family make demands of Ove that despite trying to dig his heels in and ignore he cannot resist. He tries to commit suicide in a variety of ways, but each time he is thwarted. So, as well as his delightfully pushy neighbours, a mangy cat, a homeless teen, one of his wife’s ex-students, his ex-best friend who lives over the way and a man in a white shirt with evil intent all enter his life; and slowly but surely, despite his best attempts at resisting, Ove starts to have a reason to live again. His story is told with flashbacks to his childhood, how he met Sonja, and other critical events in his past, and how they have all contributed to the Ove of the present. Without his Sonja and, to a lesser extent, his job, Ove is adrift and has no anchor to the world. He just needed to find that anchor; a very small furry anchor. The mangy cat. Well what can I say about puss? I loved him! The cat is a very important minor character and his role is not to be overlooked:

"…It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated…"

The chapter on how Ove teaches Parveneh how to drive is the funniest thing I have read for ages – laughed till I cried – then read it again and laughed some more. Add to this the cat sitting on the back seat while the lesson was happening and the author telling you what the cat was thinking – well the two short sentences summed up what was happening and again had me in fits.

Ove is a character that you will be glad you have met, an honest and unassuming man with strong ethics, a human version of ‘Grumpy Cat’. You will also find yourself eyeing off Saabs as your potential next car purchase. A MAN CALLED OVE is heartbreaking and uplifting but you will not be sorry that you’ve read it.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

With thanks to Atria Books and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review

Title: Love, Desire and Betrayal

Author: Margaret Lynette Sharp

Genre: Romance, Short Stories

Opening lines:

Michaela Betrayed – opens: “…It had crept up on me quite gradually: this wave of ambivalence…”

The Sting of Life – opens: “…I guess I had an inkling that day, though I did my very best to smother outward signs…”

Amelia’s Call – opens: “…Lazily I open my eyes, smiling to myself as I take in and process exactly where I am in the scheme of things…”

Lauren Played – opens: “…For the first time ever, I knew what it was to be broken-hearted; yet despite my overwhelming vulnerability, my need for support of the most profound nature, I could not express my feelings to those closest to me…”

Blurb: 4 novellas in one. In this collection, Australian writer Margaret Lynette Sharp explores the universal themes of ‘Love, Desire and Betrayal’. Four young women: Michaela, Sally, Amelia and Lauren. Four distinct journeys. Do they each find love? A soul-mate? Or does life contrive to ruin their chances?

My thoughts: These four stories are about love – mostly young love – and how family, age, temptation and selfishness can affect love. All of the ‘stars’ of the stories are totally believable as they each discover that dreams and reality don’t always coincide. With short stories it is always very difficult for a writer to fully develop relationships in the time frame, but author Margaret Lynette Sharp was able to establish growth of character in each of the heroines – sometimes quite painfully for them – and as a result each young woman certainly had a different outlook on life by the end of their story. I really enjoyed these 4 easy to read stories and will certainly read more work by this author.

Michaela Betrayed – Michaela is a gifted music student who wins a scholarship to a prestigious music academy in London. As she leaves Australia her friend Thomas, who is a writer, declares his love for her. Many months later Michaela succumbs to an illness and flies home to Australia to recuperate. While she is back home, and against her parents’ wishes, the two of them get engaged before she flies back to London to finish her studies. Now Michaela finds herself conflicted between her music and her love, and also a changing Thomas and a new possible alternative version of her future. There is a lot of depth of emotion in this short story considering the limited length the author had to work with. Michaela definitely grows as a character during the story, not an easy thing to do in a short story. I was very impressed.

The Sting of Life – School is over for the year and the summer holidays stretch out with glorious potential. Sally’s boyfriend Nathan has finished his final exams and been offered a position at Medical School; he has accepted it. Sally, who is still at High School, is a bit put out because this will mean she won’t see him all that often for years while he studies and practices. Still she decides to act mature and tells him to go for it. He proposes to her, but tells her he can’t marry her until he qualifies. Everything is coming up roses until the summer holidays come to an end and Sally learns that life sometimes has a sting. Author Margaret Lynette Sharp seems to know exactly how an older teen thinks. Try telling a seventeen year old that she is young – I dare you. All teens mature differently but Sally just needed time to grow up and make adult decisions.

Amelia’s Call – This short story opens in Perth as Amelia marries Stephen. His mother hates her and the fact that Amelia has insisted that after the wedding Stephen follows her to Sydney because she has been offered a lucrative position. While her professional life is soaring Stephen’s is not and he is getting frustrated and angry. His mother is always on the phone begging him to come home. Amelia will not have a bar of it and thinks that once Stephen gets a job the lure from his mother will ease and life will be good. I did not like Amelia – if being a successful modern woman means being an Amelia then I don’t want a bar of it. She did change a bit by the end of the tale, but only because she found that she could have it all her way. Amelia is the oldest of the four heroines, but in some ways she is the most childish.

Lauren Played – Bridget is a sixteen-year-old high school student who meets an older guy called Rob at the beach. He and his mates are filming a short movie for a competition and Bridget ends up with a part. Love blooms for Bridget. Then a few months later with his eyes on fame the budding, and married, film producer dumps her. Life sucks, but the acting bug has bit. She signs up for the school production and meets young playwright David. David makes her feel valued, talented and asks her to appear in a movie he is making once the play is over. However, David is twenty-five – could Bridget be biting off more than she can chew?

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to the author for my copy to read and review

Title: Of Merlot and Murder

Author: Joni Folger

Genre: Mystery

Opening line: ‘…She was going to be late – again …’

Blurb: When her family’s winery becomes one of the sponsors at the Lost Pines Food and Wine Festival, Elise Beckett’s spirits soar at the chance to help with their booth. But as the festival gets underway, her cheerful mood turns sour when rival vintner Divia Larson is found dead. With all clues pointing to her grandmother as the prime suspect, Elise and her deputy sheriff boyfriend team up to clear her name. But Divia’s murder is as complex as a fine wine, with a strong bouquet of suspicion, bitter notes of betrayal, and more than a hint of danger. Will Elise and Jackson be able to untangle the mess before another victim is corked?

My thoughts: OF MERLOT AND MURDER is the second book in the Tangled Vines Mystery series – the first one being Grapes of Death which I read last year. The story begins a few months after the events that took place in the first book, Elsie and Jackson are now officially a couple and all is right with the world. River Bend Vineyard, the family winery, has a booth at the upcoming Lost Pines Food and Wine Festival and the family is excited to be part of it. Trouble is the booth opposite belongs to the Third Coast Winery whose owner just happens to be an old high school beau of Elise’s grandmother. His new wife is a real nasty piece of work and is universally disliked by the whole food and wine community. So when she is murdered there is no shortage of suspects – including Elise’s Grandmother who was the person who found the body and has reasons of her own to want the woman dead. Elise wants to protect her grandmother and decides to tiptoe around the investigation in case the police miss something. The investigating officer is Jackson and he orders her to stay right out of it. Of course she doesn’t listen and eventually gets into a right pickle. Overall the suspense was good – I spent most of the book wondering whodunit (and there were a plethora of suspects who had reason to kill the victim) and changing my mind every so often – including when one of my main suspects turned up dead! When the murderer was eventually revealed it was a complete surprise, but made absolute sense why they did it and how. There was lots of humour, great family banter, romance (but kept to a minimum), soap opera action, hostages and a shoe stealing cat. What more can you ask for in a book? I love this series and hope there is more to come.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to Midnight Ink and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review

Title: Wattle Creek

Author: Fiona McCallum

Genre: Romance

Opening line: ‘…Damien had suicide in his sights …’

Blurb: Damien McAllister is a man on the brink. Spending long, hard days on a farm he has no affection for, and nights ignoring the criticisms of his mother, Damien can no longer remember what he’s living for. But in a small town like Wattle Creek, there are few people to turn to — and Damien learned long ago to keep his problems to himself. Until Jacqueline Havelock, a young psychologist escaping her own issues, arrives fresh from the city and makes Damien question everything he has known about himself…also igniting a spark in his lonely heart. Soon Damien is daring to ask for more than an ordinary life, and can glimpse the possibility of happiness. Will this accidental farmer dare to fulfil the long-forgotten legacy of his father and find peace in the arms of Jacqueline? Or will the ghosts of their pasts threaten the fragile new lives they’ve just begun to build?

My thoughts: As you can see from the opening line, WATTLE CREEK starts off with a very emotionally confronting scene of a man staring down the barrel of gun wanting to end it all. This is not how you would normally expect a romance to open. From this heart in your mouth opening though, author Fiona McCallum takes us into the lives of the small farming community of Wattle Creek in outback Australia. He is a ‘typical’ Aussie bloke in that he doesn’t talk much and is not inclined to share his feelings. But Damien finds the courage to seek help and he is lucky because the local medical centre has just taken on a short term psychologist and he is her first patient. Jacqueline is a city girl who has her own reasons for wanting to be away in the country. She is determined to help the community however she quickly comes to the realisation that practicing in a small rural town with a bush telegraph that travels faster than a walk across the road to the grocery store poses challenges she had never considered. Nothing is private. How on earth can she convince patients like Damien to visit her without the whole town knowing? Can she change the attitude of the townspeople? Depression and suicide are confronting issues, sadly all too common in the rural areas. It is common in the cities too, but unlike the city dwellers, in the outback access to professional help is not always available. WATTLE CREEK demonstrates what could happen if a psychologist was easily accessible. Damien is the ‘everyman’ of the farming community and his struggles are handled extremely sensitively and are spot in in showing the thought process, or rather the lack of thought process, people on the edge possibly go through.

Don’t be put off though, this is not a self-help book, and the story is not a depressing read; if you will pardon the pun. There is a lot of joy and laughter and, of course, the romance. Watching the city girl getting drunk on her first Friday night in town with the girls, dealing with a boss who thinks women should stay at home and nurture the men, and learning how to fit in a community are all portrayed well. Like any community Wattle Creek has a variety of characters that might fight like cat and dog during the day – but when danger threatens they all pull together. And anyone who has been to a CWA afternoon tea will understand the vast array of food that is available there. Special mention needs to go to the smallest character – Squish. Anyone who has a Jack Russell in their life will relate to this little dog, and anyone who needs a friend who is always willing to listen needs one of these in their life – or any dog!!

WATTLE CREEK deals very well with how depression affects those who work and live in the land. And Fiona McCallum has dedicated it “…to all those who have suffered depression and will suffer depression in the future: a problem shared is a problem halved…” and given a list of web addresses and organisations for those who think they need help to contact, including: www.beyondblue.org.au/

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

Title: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Genre: Mystery

Opening line: ‘…Mma Ramotswe had by no means forgotten her late white van …’

Blurb: At a remote cattle post south of Gaborone two cows have been killed, and Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s No. 1 Lady Detective, is asked to investigate by a rather frightened and furtive gentleman. It is an intriguing problem with plenty of suspects – including, surprisingly, her own client. In addition to this Mma Ramotswe is haunted by a vision of her dear old white van, and Grace Makutsi witnesses it as well. Is it the ghost of her old mechanical friend, has it risen from the junkyard? Added to the mix one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s apprentices may have gotten a girl pregnant and, under pressure to marry her, has run away. Naturally, it is up to Precious to help sort things out. Also in the background their old foe, Violet Sephotho, has launched run for the Botswana Parliament; and Grace has a wedding to plan.

My thoughts: When I pick up a book from The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series I have certain expectations. I expect a slower pace and to reacquaint myself with familiar friends who have traditional values such respect for people, for property and to have manners. In fact if someone doesn’t portray these values then they are usually the ‘baddie’.

THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY, the twelfth in the series, opens a few weeks before Mma Makutsi’s long awaited wedding. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency takes on a new case with a client who makes a big fuss about not wanting to meet Precious Ramotswe in the office. Someone has killed two of his cattle and he would like Mma Ramotswe to find out who and why. As well as doing her detecting work Precious needs to solve various domestic issues such as sorting out the problem of Charlie the apprentice, stop an old enemy from being voted into parliament and solve the mystery of the ghost van. I love spending time in Botswana with Precious; she makes me smile and her story relaxes and soothes me as I read. In fact I now drink Red Bush tea myself – and it is a wonderful brew to sip while you are reading about detecting. The characters are all charming, they grow in character every book and the stories are a wonderful peek into another culture that in many ways is not dissimilar to our own.

My one tiny niggle with the story was my feeling of being left out of the Botswana wedding celebrations. After all the back story build-up and preparations, when the day arrived it was a bit – well – meh! I wanted drums, I wanted music I wanted colour – but there was none of that. Otherwise I have really enjoyed this series, a blend of wit and wisdom I hear someone very accurately described them, and thankfully I still have a couple to go before I catch up.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

Title: The Wedding Bees

Author: Sarah-Kate Lynch

Genre: Romance

Opening line: ‘…Sugar’s bees hummed steadily in her lap as she wound down the window and strained to look up at the Flores Street apartment building…’

Blurb: Sugar Wallace did not believe in love at first sight, but her bees did. Every spring Sugar coaxes her sleepy honeybee queen out of the hive and lets her crawl around an old map of her late grandfather. Wherever the queen stops is their next destination, and this year it’s New York City. Sugar sets up her honeybees on the balcony of an East Village walk-up and then she gets to know her neighbours. Sugar has a knack for helping people and there are a lot of people in the building that need her help. There’s Ruby with her scrapbook of wedding announcements; single mom Lola; reclusive chef Nate; and George, a courtly ex-doorman. They may not know what to make of her bees and her politeness, but they can’t deny the magic in her honey. And then there’s Theo, a delightfully kind Scotsman who crosses Sugar’s path as soon as she gets into town and is quickly besotted. But love is not on the menu for Sugar. She likes the strong independent woman she’s become since leaving the South and there’s nothing a charmer like Theo can do to change her mind.

My thoughts: THE WEDDING BEES was a wonderful Sunday afternoon read along with a glass or two of New Zealand Pinot Noir – author Sarah-Kate Lynch is from NZ after all. I really related to the subject of bee keeping because we had a hive in our back yard – not ours we were just minding it as we had a particular flowering tree in our yard. I asked the bee keeper if there was anything I needed to do (other than let them run free in my trees) and he said all I had to do was go down to the hive and chat to them every day. Which I did – felt stupid the first couple of times but by the time they left six months later I missed our chats. THE WEDDING BEES is a sweet old fashioned feel good romance, one that the bees are determined to make happen. Sugar resists the growing attraction to Theo because of an traumatic event in the past, which she gradually reveals and is the reason she has been moving every year for years. Sugar is very good at helping others, just not so good at taking advice herself, so her bees have to take drastic action! It is not all sweetness and happiness in the book – there are mental issues, bad tempers, hopelessness and a very nasty man. Watching how it all pans out and people’s needs are met was very satisfying. Sarah-Kate Lynch doesn’t fall into the trap of giving everyone in the story a happy ending either, although everyone is in a much better position at the end of the book than the start – it is just that some of the characters are still working through issues as the story ends, but the reader is left in no doubt that things will turn out just fine. The writing was really good with the author transporting me to a New York apartment balcony teeming with flowers, busy with bees and the smells from the chef cooking next door with his balcony full of herbs and vegetable. I really loved the story, and under the easy read there was depth and drama. Oh, and I also really liked the occasional Point of View from Queen Bee Elizabeth the 6th, it was just so different and fitted the magic of the story.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

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