Category Archives: Womens Lit

Review: Season of Shadow and Light

seasonSeason of Shadow and Light by Jenn J. McLeod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: Uncorrected Proof courtesy of publisher (in conjunction with blog tour ~check out my stop tomorrow with author’s guest post)

This is my first Jenn J. McLeod and I was a little intimidated with the size (almost 500 pages!) after finishing 2 books which were slow to pick up. However, I was hooked by Season of Shadow and Light by page 3 and I, seriously, said out loud, “thank God!” I don’t know if anyone else found this but I was intrigue by the randomly-kinda-creepy incident; it probably had something to do with the reference to ‘long lost love’. Yep, I’m another sappy reader 😉

Season of Shadow and Light is more than just romantic love. It is also a tale of familial love; of loving someone so much that you would do everything to protect them. But what does protecting them mean? Is it best to keep a secret as such? Is it best to manoeuver for a ‘normal’ family life to ensure the least disruption all around?

Paige has had a pretty tough time in the last 2 years; recovering from a stroke and a miscarriage which basically terminated her career, she’s no longer sure of her identity. There seems to be a conspiracy that drove Paige to go on a holiday in a small-in-the-middle-of-nowhere town but which found her in woop woop town instead. The most unlikely circumstance found Paige with her daughter, Matilda, and Nana Alice living at a place where the long-kept secret is threatened to unravel. You really can’t keep much of a secret in a small town.

Aiden was firstly introduced as a grump but surely, everybody’s entitled to a bad mood now and again. After receiving the biggest blow of betrayal, Aiden had no other choice but to return home. As Paige and Aiden are thrown in together more and more, it was patently clear that they found in each other a best friend. I’ve really enjoyed the easy interaction between Paige and Aiden.

Nana Alice was not enjoying this trip at all. She didn’t want to go but neither could she let Paige go without her. She was tense pretty much the whole time and her attitude with Paige was hot and cold. Alice always thought honesty is the best policy so this secret is weighing her down but yet she’s promised to keep it. I found Alice to be the most interesting character in this book; a very tightly-held together lady but this lady’s got some pluck!

There were a number of perspectives in Season of Shadow and Light, Paige’s primarily but there were snippets of Aiden, Alice, and another’s in the last part of the story. It was pretty easy to distinguish the perspectives by the feelings they exude –each of their voices were unique and their feelings real. I was quickly drawn into the story (page 3, remember) and it was told a good even pace until nearly the end. I found the ending a bit rushed but I guess after 450 pages, you need to wrap it up.

Season of Shadow and Light is a cleverly woven tale with each thread being laced tightly together, some with fancy knots, with no loose thread left behind (even the ‘random incident’ had a resolution!). If enjoy a story of self-discovery, of betrayal and healing, of lies and trust, I’d recommend Season of Shadow and Light.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: Turtle Reef

turtle reefTurtle Reef by Jennifer Scoullar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Jennifer Scoullar’s Currawong Creek was the first Aussie rural romance I’ve ever read –it was sweet, it was heart-warming. It won me over and made me want to read lots more of the genre. Hence, my interest in Turtle Creek. Scoullar’s love for nature truly comes alive in these pages and is beautifully highlighted in this tale of romance.

It was a bit of a tough first half to read. It was slow to engage and there were a few roll-the-eyes moments for me. I just couldn’t connect with Zoe who at first, swore off men and in the next chapter, found herself pretty much fallen for Quinn. Yes, it was repeated that she’s sworn off men and had to work hard to resist Quinn but still she let herself daydream about being with Quinn. I found this whole business frustrating and unbelievable. On top of that, I also found Quinn to be quite aggravating (most especially when he decided what Zoe should drink, TWICE!). I just couldn’t get into this romance story.

The mystery part of the story was quite enjoyable. I liked the way clues were dropped and Zoe’s spunk in taking on the investigation. The resolution, however, deflated me. I think, being a mystery buff, I expected some sort of twist or at least, something a little more convoluted. This might have to do with having just finished a mystery/thriller novel prior to reading this book.

The best bits about this book, however, was the prose on nature. Scoullar trotted out one after another amazing pieces of this world (eg. dolphins, octopus, dugongs, etc) in such a skilful way of weaving into the story without it all being too much. Turtle Reef is basically an invitation to the readers to enjoy and protect this beautiful world we have been blessed with.

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: Wild Wood

wild woodWild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

Wild Wood is an intriguing story of one family’s existence through the ages. A family with a folklore that is living to ensure their continuity & maybe even prosperity. The novel spans 6 centuries of secrets hidden in a little town by the Scottish borders.

This tale is told from 2 perspectives: Jesse in 1981 and Bayard in 1321. Jesse had recently found out that she was adopted and is in doubt of her identity. She is looking for her birth parents and by several incidents, she got to Hundredfield where it all unfolded. Jesse is likeable enough though I don’t feel there was anything special about her. Her story felt pretty average to me –a bit slow to develop and not one character to really grab me except maybe one minor character. The twist about her family didn’t surprise me one bit either. I could see it coming a long way.

Bayard’s story is the one that appeals to me in this novel. He was a man of war –that was his lot, being the youngest son of three. And yet, in the midst of battle-hardened men, he was considerate and surprisingly, gentle. His is a tale of brutality of the age, of superstition, and also, of love. I was quite happy with this perspective which really is the highlight of this novel for me.

Expectations! It can easily wreck a book for you. I feel that this is what mostly let me down in Wild Wood. It has not got any time travel nor does the time-slip work out to be such. So, there is a bit of “magic” (of folklore) but it didn’t quite grab me. I like the premise of it but I don’t think the origin of it was explored enough –just that it’s there and how what happened in 14th century related to what’s happening now. It turned out to be a pretty average read as it was slow to develop, twists which didn’t catch me by surprise, and my inability to connect with the ‘contemporary’ characters.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster (Australia) for copy of eARC via NetGalley

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Review: Mothers Grimm

mothers grimmMothers Grimm by Danielle Wood

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Source: Uncorrected proof courtesy of publisher

In a fairytale, the only good mother is six feet under. All the others are bad news.

By this part of the blurb alone, it should be pretty obvious what we’re getting here. None of that Disney fairy tales with an Happy Ever Afters. By the last line of the Prologue; ”…why it is, in fairy tales, that the Good Mother is always dead.”, I questioned the timing of my reading this book on motherhood (FYI, am expecting my second baby in about 6 weeks). Yet, I continued reading with some foreboding…

There are 4 stories in this novel which I supposed inspired rather than a retelling of any fairy tales. Each story was preceded by some phrases of a fairy tale on which stories are based. These stories are set in more contemporary times with loose interpretations on fairy tales’ mothers. What is missing from these stories are the magic usually employed in fairy tales, the basic good vs. evil, and the ultimate love prevails overall sort of path. In spite of this, these stories are cleverly realistic and frighteningly Grimm-like.

The black and white of distinction between good and evil is blurred as these stories dug into the human psyche. These mothers are far from perfect and each carry own unique struggles in her role as a woman and a mother. These well-told tales carried the burdens of motherhood throughout the ages into contemporary settings where appearances are just never what they seemed. This was highlighted throughout by black humour; pushing out or aside that darkness within us all can sometimes be overpowering.

My instincts tell me that if I were to read this a decade or so from now, I would’ve appreciated it more. But in consideration of my current situation, my heart ached for the future: the upcoming birth, the joys & pains of small children, and further on, the promised heartbreak when they will eventually leave home. These are, of course, the natural course of life though reading Mothers Grimm made it all so awfully real to me –that these all collided in to one point in time so near rather than throughout the next decade or two. This book is one I’d like to re-read one day in the distant future to hopefully better appreciate.

Thank you, Allen & Unwin in conjunction with The Reading Room for copy of paperback .

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Review: Dancing on Knives

dancing on knivesDancing on Knives by Kate Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

Dancing on Knives is rather atypical of Kate Forsyth’s books. Its contemporary setting in Australia and lack of the magical element may disappoint her fans of fantasy works. Fortunately, as a fan of Forsyth, my reading appetite is quite eclectic and I could appreciate the amazing effort she’s put into this baby. Whilst it was first birthed over 30 years ago, this novel has gone through a number of revisions (and was also previously published under different title) until the form it has achieved today.

This mystery novel is told from the perspective of twenty year old Sara, eldest daughter of the Sanchez family. It’s an interesting perspective noting her limitation / weakness however it was a lifting experience as Sara, in loving her family, slowly found her strength. The Sanchez family has weathered many troubling times and yet, there were love to be found in each other to sustain them through these hard times. With a focus on family and their secrets, this novel could easily have been a family saga (unfortunately, it’s a little short…).

What impressed me of this novel wasn’t the mystery itself but the whole aura of the novel and the number of things packed into 300 odd pages. The research itself must’ve been a colossal undertaking; mostly in reference to the Spanish culture of cookery & art. I must acknowledge my ignorance for both but I can’t help but be awed by the details that were included without being overwhelming.

The novel itself isn’t a ‘retelling’ of the tale in the strict sense as it was rather of Sara who identified herself with the fairytale mermaid her Spanish grandmother used to tell. This tragic tale combined with the stormy weather, the decrepit condition of the house, and the sinister circumstance of Augusto Sanchez’s accident gave the novel a very gothic atmosphere. Whilst the usual ‘magic’ element is missing, there are references to the supernatural which again lent force to the dark & eerie feelings of the story.

Fans of Kate Forsyth may found Dancing on Knives somewhat hard to swallow / enjoy especially for the fantasy-die-hards. I, however, loved the atmosphere, the well developed characters, and the Spanish flavour of this story. If you’re a fan of Kate Morton, I think you should give this particular work of Forsyth a chance.

Thank you, Random House Australia for copy of eARC via NetGalley

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Review: Sense & Sensibility

sense & sensibility - joanna trollopeSense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own paperback copy

A retelling of a classic in contemporary setting isn’t usually my cup of tea so I picked this up mostly due to a reading challenge. I seem to do that a lot… picking up “random” books to complete a challenge. There is no other way to describe this book but that it’s pure fluff. Do your brain cells need a break? This one will definitely proof to be a relaxation. You will, however, find it a Requirement to follow up the read by watching the movie.

The thing about retelling is that we know where the story is going so there’s no surprises there. Though being one of a well-loved story, there is still that tiny bit of anticipation of each favourite scenes as they come and the ending, whilst still good isn’t as satisfactory as the original so I always have to go back & re-read. There were some difficulties, I think, in transposing the entailment of inheritance to the male descendant in contemporary times –as Elinor continues to protest that we are no longer in the 19th century. It galls me a little that such prejudices might still prevail but… as you’re reading, keep in mind that this is a retelling and meant only for your light-reading enjoyment. Don’t take it too seriously.

I really could NOT help it that throughout my reading, I was haunted by the images of Emma emma & hughThompson (Elinor) and Hugh Grant (Edward). That was the best adaptation ever (of this book) and far being from annoying, I was loving imagining them in the contemporary setting as per this retelling. As always, considerations are to be made for individual interpretation and artistic licence for characters & their development. I somehow found Marianne and her mother to be a lot more annoying that their originals –I guess I personally just can’t stand those wishy washy (disguised as following your passion) type of people. For me, it’s common sense all the way!

 

Despite some rough patches, Trollope’s retelling of Sense & Sensibility was the light entertainment I needed at the time. I loathed to put it down and could not stop but continue thinking what should happen next and in what way… An adorable fluff.

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Review: The Lost Sisterhood

sisterhoodThe Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Two main reasons I picked this book is the author (I enjoyed her previous work, Juliet) and she’s writing about Amazons! Girl Power, right?! Plus there isn’t much known about the Amazons –are they a myth or were they real? What’s happened to them? There are so many possibilities and in the realm of fiction… infinite possibilities!

The story is told from 2 perspectives: Diana (present) and Myrina (past). I think Diana is a great choice of a name for a protagonist who is a philologist completely obsessed over the Amazons. Whilst she’s not a fighter or hunter as such, she is proficient in fencing (as a sport) –I found this to be slightly strange and amusing at the same time. Diana is as academic as you could get and will do all she can to gain knowledge about the Amazons. I have to admit that I didn’t particularly find Diana to be special though there were some admirable moves on her part.

Myrina, though, is a very strong and courageous woman. She definitely spoke to my heart of hearts. She fought for her sister and then again for the women in the sisterhood. She is a born fighter and leader; tough, resilient, and sharp. Throughout the reading, her chapters are the ones I looked forward to and dreaded the ending.

There is romance, of course, and though it was sweet…ish, they went as per my expectation so I didn’t find them particularly engaging. In terms of actions (Amazons… actions… you know where my thoughts are going), there really wasn’t much though the ending about the Amazons were kind of interesting though I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. Yes, indeed, Girl Power, and I supposed that might make a very interesting tv series but I just can’t find it in myself to like this conclusion.

Overall, I found The Lost Sisterhood to be a pretty average read. It was slow to begin with and held only half of my attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it as engaging as Juliet and due to personal taste, am not a fan of parts of the ending.

Thanks to Random House for copy of eARC via NetGalley

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Review: The Yearning

yearningThe Yearning by Kate Belle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: print copy courtesy of publisher

More than anything else, this was a cover crush for me. The teacher student encounter turned me off somewhat though I cannot but profess an undying curiosity as to what happened 20 years later. Nothing, I don’t think, can really prepare me for my venture into The Yearning.

The story began in the 70s and I could not help but laugh at the fashionable Solomon Andrews (sorry, 80s kid here – never got to live nor appreciate the 70s in its heyday). I cringed; I rolled my eyes; I snorted at the gushing over Solomon and, especially, his wear…

Darker and less burly than the rest, he was cool in tight flares and a smiley face T-shirt. It was a little too short for his waist and she smiled secretly at the smoothness of his belly…

 

A man strode in, his ponytail swinging in time with his hips. The clunk of his platform shoes drew all eyes to him. A gold medallion nested in a puff of chest hair rising from the open neck of his paisley body shirt, and his pants hugged his buttocks, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Oh, it was a terrific and promising beginning; I was hooked line and sinker! The first half of the book was practically put me in a daze, a sensual one. This is another thing, I don’t read much erotica so I was feeling a bit unbalanced by this tone. Despite this uncomfortable feeling (I was also reading on the train on the commute to work so imagine me cracking the book open only halfway so no one else can read over me!), I found this young girl’s sensual awakening to be an enjoyable read. Mostly because it made me remember some of the awkwardness of that age.

Then we jump years in time and life was somewhat normal… which was a little disappointing if not realistic. Her struggles are my struggles; struggles all women could identify with. And I wonder, how many of us made the following choice; it sounds really sad, at first, but so very sensible!

’I know what it is to have love, and I know what it is to lose it.’
She lay motionless, listening intently to what sounded like honesty.
‘I also know that not everything is about happy ever after. Sometimes we have to choose what’s best over what we think we want.’

In the end, however, it wasn’t about love. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t about relationship. This is about an affirmation of self; affirmation of women’s independence. I’m not talking about not needing men at all but rather the ability to identify oneself without having to refer to a nearby male and to be happy and functional with that identity. To me, The Yearning is an empowering novel which reminds us all that the power to be happy lies within us all and not dependent on anyone else.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster Australia for copy of book via The Reading Room

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Review: Currawong Creek

currawongCurrawong Creek by Jennifer Scoullar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: Copy courtesy of Penguin Australia via The Reading Room

I am trying to think of whether I’ve ever read any Aussie rural romance type of books prior to Currawong Creek and I can’t think of even one title! I think I’ve a number of them on my to-read list on GR but for one reason or another I’ve not read any of them. I have to thank Anna from The Reading Room for her generous offers to date , including this book. Sometimes, I decided to take the plunge (like this time) and enjoyed the read enormously.

The appeal was twofolds. The cover which depicts a woman in a slim black dress walking bare feet in a rural Australian setting –just gorgeous background and I love the contrast! The blurb about Clare finding “herself the unlikely guardian of a small, troubled boy”. This calls to my maternal instinct and I really wanted to find out whether that boy found the help he needed. I know, I didn’t really read it for the ‘romance’ still… I enjoy romance in all forms!

It was an easy book to get into; Clare, a Brisbane lawyer, was finding life to be lacking. Whatever it’s lacking, she’s not quite sure because she’s doing well career-wise and she’s even got a good looking and successful boyfriend. She’s just going with the flow… This side of Clare was so easily identifiable that she’s caught my interest very early in the story. When she found herself responsible for a little boy, she tried to keep living her life as before but (as all mothers will know) this was a disaster. Clare found herself thinking of her childhood and turned to Currawong Creek where she herself had some happy memories.

Currawong Creek was a heart-warming story that calls to your nurturing soul (I’m not just talking about the little boy here), of finding home where one’s soul and body belongs, and of course, no story is complete without loss, forgiveness, and love. I devoured this book in no time at all as I really didn’t want to put it down. It was such a comfort read and whilst, the ending was a little choppy and slightly rushed for my liking, I still found myself happy, relaxed, and content when I closed the book. The best bits of the book for me though was the light humours peppered throughout the story; one of which I will close with…

Clare climbed the tree. She didn’t quite know how she did it. One minute she was standing on the ground, rigid with fear. Next minute she was astride a broad branch, peering down like a possum, with the heeler leaping and snapping below. There was no risk of falling. She was wrapped around that trunk so tight it was like she was welded on. Getting down, on the other hand, might present some problems.

Thank you Penguin Australia via The Reading Room for providing copy of book

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Review: Reconstructing Amelia

ameliaReconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: copy of book courtesy of Simon and Schuster via The Reading Room

My mother has no ideas about computers, smart phones, and most especially, the internet. She absolutely did not and do not have the slightest clue of what I got up to online. I notice that whilst I’m online and have registered on a number of social networks, I’ve still not got that much ahead of my mother in web-knowledge. And this is what scares me of when my son reach his teenage years. I have to admit that reading Reconstructing Amelia has got me thinking a lot of what I might have to face in about a decade…

This book has 2 alternate perspectives, Kate (the mother) and Amelia (the daughter). With Amelia, we are privy to her thoughts and the events leading up to her death whilst with Kate, there was a bit of time jumps between her past (before Amelia), a more recent past (interaction with Amelia), and mostly the present as she struggles with Amelia’s death. At times, it gets confusing but overall, it built up Kate as one of us, a woman with baggage but is working her best with what she’s got. I dreaded each Amelia chapters, however, because I just didn’t need any more teen angst (been there!). She had her head on straight despite everything and was amazingly strong.

The story kept me hanging in there as it kept developing in a more complex plot / possibilities; anonymous texts, sexual identity, bullying, etc. But then, the ending, I felt, was a letdown. I thought it was somewhat anti-climactic after all the layering intricacies provided by the rest of the novel. Fortunately, it was kept short so it was quickly over with.

I realised lately that I like reading books about mothers because since I became a mother, I’m a lot more interested in what that means to others. A lot of the time, of course, the fictional experiences I’ve read are a very different to mine (this one, especially) however these stories highlighted the importance of parenting. Nevertheless, there are just instances where whatever you do, it is still a two way street –the child will also need to respond, to reach out to enable you to help them.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster & The Reading Room for providing copy of the book

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