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Title: The Ladies of Missalonghi

Author: Colleen McCullough

Genre: Historical

Opens: ‘Can you tell me, Octavia, why our luck never seems to change for the better?’…

Blurb: Sometimes fairy tales can come true-even for plain, shy spinsters like Missy Wright. Neither as pretty as cousin Alicia nor as domineering as mother Drusilla, she seems doomed to a quiet life of near poverty at Missalonghi, her family’s pitifully small homestead in Australia’s Blue Mountains. But it’s a brand new century – the twentieth – a time for new thoughts and bold new actions. And Missy Wright is about to set every self-righteous tongue in the town of Byron wagging. Because she has just set her sights on a mysterious, mistrusted and unsuspecting stranger … who just might be Prince-Charming in disguise.

My Thoughts: Set in The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia, in the time just before the outbreak of the Great War, the story revolves around a small town community, Missalonghi, made up almost entirely of various branches of the same family line – the Hurlingfords. Missy Wright’s mother, Drusilla, has been shunned by her family since she married for love, not money. Now widowed, she lives an impoverished life with her sister and daughter Missy. Plain, thin and doomed to wear brown, it seems Missy’s life is set to follow that of her mother and aunt. Their lifestyle is pretty typical of the day as it was quite common for widows, sisters and unmarried daughters to live together – especially later after the Great War when there was such a shortage of men. There are a few other poor single Hurlingford ladies and they all have to count their pennies while the men in the family, all wealthy and powerful, totally dominate all businesses and control the finances – never seeming to spare money for their poorer relatives.

When Missy’s rich cousin announces she is to marry a much younger but well-heeled man, Missy fears that a home and family of her own has passed her by. Then she meets a stranger named John in her uncle’s shop – a man who has bought up a whole heap of land from under the noses of the controlling Hurlingford men and has them all very worried. Egged on by the new librarian Una (who gives the whole plot of the book away before she lends it out) Missy sees a chance to turn her life around. It does involve being a bit deceitful but it is not in malice. But a girl has to take a chance. Just who John Smith is, and what he is up to, along with Missy trying to get him as a husband makes the basis of this lovely little story.

THE LADIES OF MISSALONGHI is a small book but the fact that it is packed full of scandal, friendship, gentle romance, laughter and good old-fashioned satisfying revenge makes it an easy and entertaining read.

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: Paint

Author: Jennifer Dance

Genre: Children’s Historical

Opens: The mustangs were barely visible as they loped across the rolling plains, their multi-coloured spots and smudges melding with the earth and rocks, their streaming manes and tails masquerading as tall grasses blowing in the constant prairie breeze…

Blurb: The life story of a painted mustang set against the backdrop of America’s Great Plains in the late 1800s. A Lakota boy finds an orphaned mustang foal and brings her back to his family’s camp, naming her Paint for her black-and-white markings. Boy and horse soon become inseparable. Together they learn to hunt buffalo, their fear of the massive beasts tempered by a growing trust in each other. When the U.S. Cavalry attacks the camp, the pair is forced onto separate paths. Paint’s fate becomes entwined with that of settlers, who bring irreversible change to the grassland, setting the stage for environmental disaster. Bought and sold several times, Paint finally finds a home with English pioneers on the Canadian Prairie. With a great dust storm looming on the horizon, man and horse will need to work together if they hope to survive.

My Thoughts: The target age group for PAINT is 9-12; but I really enjoyed the story, and I certainly think that teens and adults will get a lot from this book. Set in the late 1800s in North America, it follows a little horse through a series of owners. Paint was rescued by a Lakota boy, Noisy Horse, after her injured mother is attacked by wolves. She is a smart little filly and learns very quickly what her role is going to be as she lives with the Lakota people learning to hunt buffalo; and also learning how to be a boss mare. Life seems good, but history has a habit of disturbing life, and the white man moved in without care or regard of the different tribal lands and traditions of their new land, which resulted in the Indigenous people being moved out – often forcibly with guns pointed at them. Paint is separated from Noisy Horse when the soldiers move in to take the Lakota people to a government run reservation. From here she runs through a series of owners and horse sellers, both good and bad, until she ends up with a pioneer family on the Canadian Prairie. Paint’s ultimate fate was a bit ambiguous as it wasn’t very clear to me what happened to her after the big climax – my guesses could go either way – but would have liked closure to that thread.

Paints isn’t the only point of view given – some of the other character’s give their points of view of the events and at the end Noisy Horse returns to his homeland with his granddaughter and tries to explain to her what happened and why remembering the events is important even though she didn’t experience them. He does this so that the people’s traditions can live on in memory if not practice, and maybe understand how their current lifestyle came about. Younger readers may struggle a bit with the last chapter, as it often comes across as a little bit of a sermon on the loss of rights, but is true and needs to be told.

Author, Jennifer Dance, is a very gifted story teller and her written descriptions of the land, the harshness of the pioneer life, and how in their ignorance the early pioneers destroyed the balance of nature resulting in huge natural disasters are so good that the events just come alive on the pages. People and animals die in the story – that is a harsh fact of life – and add long droughts, and endless blizzards and you get an inkling of what the pioneers went through to stay and survive.

It is so easy to tell that Jennifer did whole lot of meticulous research into the story. The world changing events that happened both to nature and the indigenous peoples in the lifetime of one horse makes the mind boggle.

At the very end of the story is an appendix with a historical timeline, glossary and more detail about some of the events mentioned during the story.

Last year I read Jennifer’s debut novel Red Wolf and it was one of my top 10 reads for 2014. PAINT doesn’t quite grab me the same way – but I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical novels, or are trying to explain that period of time to younger readers.

For more about the author – Click Here

C – Above average – was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

With thanks to Dundurn Publishing Group and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review

Title: The Country Practice

Author: Meredith Appleyard

Genre: Romance

Opens: Meghan’s heart jumped into her throat when she heard the crash, and then a cry for help

My Thoughts: After breaking up with her fiancé Meghan returns from London to Australia. ER trained she takes up an offer to work as a locum in a rural South Australian community, to give herself time to work out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. It has long been her dream to become a GP so now she will see if she is cut out for the role. Magpie Creek welcomes Meghan with open arms as it has been a long time since they have had their own local doctor and the residents try to do everything they can to encourage her to stay. For example, when they find out she’s a vegetarian the local bakery makes vegetables pasties and the pub adds vegetarian dishes to their menu. She is thrown into her new life in her very first few in Magpie Creek when she helps a heart attack victim and meets farmer Sean Ashby who has brought the patient in. The romance is nice, slow to build, and so realistic and believable. Sean and Meghan both have past issues to work through before there is any chance for them – and Meghan is as determined to work her month out and leave for her next assignment as Sean is determined that he doesn’t deserve a relationship. I did want to smack him a couple of times with his poor bugger me attitude – and to be fair I wanted to smack her too for insisting on throwing it all away. Which I guess demonstrates how invested I was in this story. A quick read, the story kept me engrossed and I cared very much for both Sean and Meghan.

THE COUNTRY PRACTICE is a debut novel for Meredith Appleyard, and her medical background gives the various back stories an authentic edge to them – and added to the believability of the book. Country hospitals have to do the best that they can with limited resources, and modern technology can assist by having an expert on the phone giving advice to prepare a patient to be flown out. Meghan and the nursing staff are just as much front line as a busy city hospital – only they have less things that go beep to plug their patients in to.

The story didn’t just relate the story of Meghan and Sean, the reader got to see a small rural community where everyone knows just about everything that’s going on, and keeping secrets is hard; and how the medical and emergency services are more than likely to know accident victims; and a whole community pulls together to help out someone in need.

I can’t wait for her next one.

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 Penguin Books Australia and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review

Title: The Islands at the end of the World

Author: Austin Aslan

Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian

Opens: They’ve been getting bigger all evening.

Most people think of Hawaii as a holiday destination but for Leilani and her family it is home. Leaving the rest of the family on the Big Island, THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD opens with Leilani and her father travelling to Honolulu on the island of Oahu for medical treatment. Leilani has epilepsy and the specialist wants to try an experimental drug on the sixteen-year-old to try and bring her fits under better control. Not long after their arrival a global disaster strikes – power fails across the world and almost at once power dependent technology no longer works. The end starts innocently; against the background of the main characters chatting to each other there are TV reports about a missing US president, other world leaders not being in the public eye, and then a televised announcement to the nation by the President is cut off mid-sentence before he can announce whatever it is he was going too.

Now Hawaii is cut off from the rest of the world as there are no communications, no power and planes aren’t working either. Tourists gradually become aware that they are not going to be able to get home, and locals who want the tourists gone are forced to start learning traditional ways to survive very quickly, battles break out between the two groups. Very quickly there is a decent into anarchy. Leilani and her father naturally decide to travel back to their home island and join the rest of their family, but that’s not easy when there is no transport, no communication, Leilani is having fits, there are people wanting to kill them and Tsunami’s, caused by god knows what, hitting the coastlines. On top of this there is a strange green glow in the sky that looks like a giant orchid.

As the story follows the edge of the seat adventures of Leilani and her dad the reader gradually learns what may be happening in the world – and eventually what may just stop it all. The answer to how to stop the end of the world seems far-fetched and is linked to Leilani. She herself rejects as simply to ludicrous when it is first mentioned to her, but fear of what may happen to her and her family results in her being open to anything. Certainly the reality is that with the end of power nuclear power stations are going to start melting down all over the world releasing tons of radiation into the air.

THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a blend of ecology, Hawaiian mythology and technology dependence. The overall scenario of something happening in the world at a political level followed by a sudden loss of power globally resulting in loss of technology and basic resources is horrifyingly plausible. I would like to think that survivors would not descend into chaos and violence quite so quickly – but you see how people do anything to survive in just a local flood or cyclone, so understand that often, at its base level, human nature is out for self-preservation. Leilani and her father were nice people – who sometimes had to do not nice things in their struggle to get home. When I say not nice – they stole food and supplies and protected themselves when threatened. Not something they would have done under normal circumstances. Leilani is also worried about her condition when her medication runs out. And finally a YA dystopian with no central romance – oh Leilani likes boys, but when the world is falling apart around you, you just want your mum, and it the love of family which drives Leilani and her dad. Overall author Austin Aslan has done a magnificent job of combining mysticism, mythology and science and I can’t wait until the release of the follow-up book ‘The Girl at the Center of the World’ – there is a teaser chapter for the final book at the end. Speaking of the ending most of the lose ending from the story are tied up just leaving the main lead into book two. I am really looking forwards to how everything is tied up and if the world will be saved.

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: A Small madness

Author: Dianne Touchell

Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction

Opens: He’d eaten an orange.

My Thoughts: I finished A SMALL MADNESS by Dianne Touchell a few days ago and have been mulling over my review ever since. I worry that I am not going to do it the justice it deserves, so in a nutshell – WOW, fabulous, thought provoking, confronting, heartbreaking, unputdownable, all in all an absolutely amazing story about teen pregnancy, family relationships and mental issues. I have already earmarked as one of my top reads for this year, if not the top one!! So those few words that I jotted down while reading should cover my thoughts if the review doesn’t do it justice!

A SMALL MADNESS opens as Rose and Michael have sex for the first time – they are in their last year of High School, in love and ready to go to that next level after dating for a while. Afterwards, Rose can’t believe that no-one can tell that she has become a woman; that she has gone all the way. They didn’t use protection – even though both of them were prepared – but hey, no-one gets pregnant the first time! Well she does, and this is where the bubble bursts and the madness starts as she is ill-equipped mentally to deal with the reality of her situation. A SMALL MADNESS is told in the third person of the main characters so you get to see why they do the things they do. Rose decides that the pregnancy isn’t happening – that she has a virus. She is learning about viruses in Biology and viruses can be destroyed and go away. This sets her on the winding road downhill to madness as she decides if she ignores the reality and treats the situation as a virus, it will all go away and everything will be ok. As she is not pregnant she doesn’t need help.

I’ve worked it out. We won’t tell anyone. No one could help us anyway. I can hide it. It’s not real….These things go away all the time

This denial of pregnancy is not as implausible as it sounds. In fact the idea for the plot came from a newspaper article that author Dianne Touchell read while in the USA – in an promotional interview she said “society gathered their metaphoric torches and pitchforks,” and assassinated the characters of the young couple in the centre of the uproar; her heart went out to the couple. A quick google on the subject of denial of pregnancy produces stats which indicate that denial of a pregnancy at 20 weeks’ gestation or later occurs in one in 475 pregnancies. That is a lot, and they are not all teenagers, and they are certainly not bad women, they are women who need help so desperately, but don’t recognise that they do.

She was a good person. And she was as genuinely appalled as everyone else by speculative descriptions of the monster who must have done this dreadful thing in the bush. Because it wasn’t her

A SMALL MADNESS is not an easy book to read, but it is not heavy reading, if that makes sense. You know something bad is going to happen but it’s like being a rabbit in car headlights you can’t take your eyes off the pages. Rose and Michael are likable characters – despite what they did. They are emotionally fragile, rather than evil, and all I felt was sympathy and concern. The open ending worked for me because they are both starting out and once they have gotten over this huge bump in the road they will go on with their lives. The reader is gently brought to the realisation that life isn’t black or white – quite often there is grey – and with the grey must come compassion. Although confronting, full of drama and angst, and not sugar-coated in any way, I cannot recommend this book more highly.

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 Allen & Unwin and the author for this copy to read and review. Allen & Unwin recommended retail price is $16.99

Title: The Room

Author: Jonas Karlsson

Genre: Contemporary

Opens: The first time I walked into the room I turned back almost at once

My Thoughts: THE ROOM is narrated by Bjorn as he starts a new job after leaving his previous position in slightly murky circumstances. Whatever the implied reason for his change in job circumstances he sees it as a step up the promotion ladder, the reader is not quite sure. Whether Bjorn is a reliable narrator is something that readers will need to sort out for themselves – my personal take is that I would suspect not. At first he seems like any other person who is focussed on rising to the top of their career. That he is obviously intelligent is not in question, that he is socially inept is not in question either, what is in question is his mental state and how organisations deal with someone who, it becomes increasingly apparent, has an obvious mental issues. As THE ROOM progresses the reader slowly comes to doubt the reality of what Bjorn is saying and to eventually doubt his sanity; at the same time the reader will start to doubt the other characters and their motives, and yes even their collective sanity; finally, the reader may even start to doubt their own perceptions of reality.

A short yet surreal story, all the action seems to be based mostly in reality, but whose? The government office where Bjorn works will ring true for public servants across the world. Bjorn is the office odd bod/ weirdo even – oh come on, we have all worked with one. Sadly the office weirdo is often in need of help rather than derision. Bjorn has such a set routine, a strong perception of how other people should be, and an inability to interact with his work colleagues that you immediately start to wonder if he might have some form of Asperger’s – which then makes you feel guilty for thinking him as odd. The whole situation begins with Bjorn annoying his colleagues by his inability to fit in, and in turn the colleagues annoy Bjorn for not doing things properly in his opinion. He rewrites conversation in his mind so they say what he believes is happening, which is the readers first inkling that Bjorn may not be a reliable narrator. The escalating situation overwhelms Bjorn to the extent that he needs time to gather himself mentally, and this is when he discovers the room. It is a small unused office near the toilets with a desk and chair. Bjorn starts to use it. The room becomes a soothing refuge from the main office, a place where he can work more quickly and efficiently. The trouble is when Bjorn goes into the room; his colleagues see something much different, what they see is the ‘weird one’ standing motionlessly and staring at a blank wall, as if he has shut down. And that is when Bjorn’s idealism clashes with his colleague’s realism – they doubt his sanity whilst he suspects conspiracy – how can they not see the room.

I did not like Bjorn as a person; I would hate working with someone like Bjorn and it would be an HR minefield dealing with a Bjorn-like person in the workplace. This is not to say I have issues with people with mental issues in the workplace – far from it. I worked with a person who had Asperger’s and he was a delightfully quirky character who the whole office got on with and accepted his quirkier habits. In THE ROOM Bjorn does not have nice personality, and I couldn’t feel a lot of pity for the events that followed, well only a little, and that is the crux of my problem. Does it make me a bad person to not like someone who is clearly under the influence of a mental illness? Alternatively should I force myself to like someone because they do? To be fair though I don’t much like his ‘normal’ colleagues either, although many would argue what is normal? In reality working with someone who has mental issues should not end up the way it did in THE ROOM. There appeared to be no compassion from any of them at all, and the one attempt at counselling/diagnosis was a joke.

Summed up THE ROOM is very thought provoking, and anyone who has gone through stressful events in an office environment will find themselves relating too much of what occurs. Jonas Karlsson does not stick to political correctness when dealing with mental issues in the workplace, instead he brings out the reality of what occurs – the whispers, the intervention, the counselling – in fact anything that political correctness says should happen does happen – and as in real life political correctness adds to the problem. Just because an action is the politically correct way to do something, doesn’t mean it is the right way, and can make things much worse. I went out of my comfort zone while reading THE ROOM – but I cannot recommend enough; is there a room, and if so where is it? Read it for yourself and make your own mind up

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 Crown Publishing and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

February Reading Wrap Up

Welcome to my February reading wrap-up which I am posting now because I won’t be finishing any of my current reads by tomorrow:

The total of books I read in February was: 14

Of these: 3 were Library Books, 7 were E-books and 4 were from my physical TBR pile

Then: Out of the books I read I discovered 8 ‘new for me’ authors (i.e. the first time I have read their work).

And: 4 of the books read were written by Australian authors.

Best Book of the month:

I have had the best month ever in February with no less than 6 (yes, you read it right – six) ‘A’ reads. I give ‘A’s (or 5 stars) to books that regardless of genre are complete page turners for me, that have me reading late into the night, suck me straight into the story and leaves me wanting more at the end; and I utterly recommend it. If I give a high score to a book it means it is a top example of whatever genre it belongs to. Picking the best out of such a strong field this month was hard, two stood out as the top of all the tops. Those books were The Room by Jonas Karlsson (Contemporary Fiction) and A Small Madness by Anne Touchell (Contemporary YA). In the end though as it was an unputdownable and amazing story about teen pregnancy, family relationships and mental issues, A SMALL MADNESS by Anne Touchell just made its nose over the winning line, so it is my book of the month for February (and I have no doubts it will be in my Top 10 of the year).

Least Favourite Book(s):

I say ‘least favourite’ because my lowest ‘score’ still means it is very readable, but for one reason or another I found it a bit of struggle to stay focused and finish. I didn’t really struggle with any of the books this month.

General Summary:

Because I am an eclectic reader I read many different genres, sometimes at the same time! This month the different genres covered were Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy, Dystopian, Women’s Fiction, Historical (set over 50 years ago), Contemporary Fiction (set in the last 50 years) and non-fiction. Some of the books were a blend of two or more genre.

My 4 Australian authors for February were 2 of the new-for-me authors Deborah O’Brien and Anne Touchell; along with Loretta Hill and Kate Forsyth. Just to clarify an Australian author is defined by me as either an Australian born author no matter where they live and write in the world now, or an author who currently lives and writes in Australia even though they have been born elsewhere.

Finally, the 8 ‘new-for-me’ authors this month were my Aussie authors Deborah O’Brien and Anne Touchell; along with Sophia McDougall, Gregory Funaro, Tessa Hainsworth, Austin Aslan, Jonas Karlsson and Jill Shalvis; and I would happily read all of these new authors again.

Interesting book related link that I’ve come across this month:

Is it Dystopian Literature you’re reading? If not then what is it? Bookriot tries to clarify the nuances of the different speculative fiction subgenre so you can figure out if you’re reading Dystopian, Utopian, Ecotopian, Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic or even Parallel Universe, Multiverse or Metafiction:

http://bookriot.com/2015/02/16/defining-end-world-know-apocalyptic-vs-dystopia-vs-spec-fic/

The List

So let’s get onto what this post is about – here is the list of books that I read during the last month (each group is in the order I read them):

A = Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down

Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall – YA Science Fiction

The Room by Jonas Karlsson – Contemporary Fiction

Mr Chen’s Emporium by Deborah O’Brien – Women’s Fiction

Operation Valentine by Loretta Hill – Romance

A Small Madness by Anne Touchell – YA Contemporary Fiction

Escape from Wolfhaven Castle by Kate Forsyth – YA Fantasy

B = Really Good Read

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis – YA Contemporary Fiction

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger – YA Historical Mystery

The Islands at the end of the World by Austin Aslan – YA Science Fiction/Dystopian

A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber – Mystery

C = Above Average – very readable and enjoyable

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium by Gregory Funaro – YA Historical Fantasy

Up With the Larks by Tessa Hainsworth – Non-Fiction

A week in winter by Maeve Binchy – Women’s Fiction

Animal Magnetism by Jill Shalvis – Romance

D = Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish

None

So onward to March –Woo Hoo! I wonder what book goodies I will discover this month?

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