Review: The Fifth Letter

the-fifth-letter
The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Do you have a group of best friends? Do they know everything about you or do you think you know all there is to know about each other? I have a group of my own best friends; four of us grew close during high school – almost like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina. Like them, 3 of us are married with children and one has just found The One and about to tie the knot in a few months’ time. *sniffs – am so very happy for her*

The beginning of their friendship is almost laughable. It was pointed out to them that they all have 2 things in common: surnames starting with “C” and their star signs (Scorpios). It’s not the silliest thing that have begun deep friendships, of course, but this was the basis that Joni decided that the four of them are meant to be best friends forever. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most innocent start of the group…

scorpio

Years later, they were still good friends. They see each other regularly and even have girls weekend away sometimes. This weekend though, things rather fell apart. They decided to each write an anonymous letter of secrets to tell each other. It really wasn’t that easy to be anonymous when you know each other well and in addition to that, Joni found a fifth letter with a rather menacing tone. What is she to do with it? Is she supposed to do anything about it?

I really enjoyed the beginning of The Fifth Letter. The stage was being set with Joni finding the letter, her confessional conversation with a Catholic priest (my favourite character), then flashbacks to their teen years. I started smiling on page 3 and found at the end of my train trip, that I still had a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t just funny but the flashbacks also remind me of my own memories of my friends. I didn’t actually like any of these 4 ladies even though I can identify/empathise with all of them in one thing or another. Joni, being the main protagonist and whose perspective we read from, can be very frustrating! She is lovely really but oh, she can be so blind! In saying that, however, I also couldn’t really pick the fifth letter writer. And that precious ending, oh wow, I was literally choking with laughter!

What began as a rather humorous and reminiscing read, this novel took a turn into a dark complex of human emotions. These women each have their own issues which they feel they cannot voice yet that is the first step towards healing. The Fifth Letter engages the reader to look beyond the surface, to check our unrealistic expectations of women and see them as a person, an individual, who is not perfect (no one is perfect) and needs loving supports.

Thank you, Nicola Moriarty, for this novel and the chance to reflect of my own friendships. Like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina, I’m sure that we do not know everything about each other and that’s okay… I am certain, however, that none of us harbours any ill will towards anyone in the group 😀

Thank you Harper Collins Publishers Australia for providing paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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Review: Traitor to the Throne

Traitor to the Throne
Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you think Rebels of the Sands was amazing, wait ’til you read this Mind-Blowing sequel! Oh My Goodness! This was a yarn that kept pulling at your heart string at every stitch and The Ending… boy, it’s a ‘rug-pulled-out-from-under-me’ moment. This book is Epic and is easily my favourite book of the year (I know it’s only mid Feb but I do think there’s very little chance of it being topped up – YES, it is that good!). Alwyn Hamilton has done an absolutely fantastic job; Traitor to the Throne is a tightly knit tale despite all the twists and turns, she’s got it all under control. I’m exhilarated and exhausted, at the same time; it feels like I’ve just been through a sandstorm. The sand story gets everywhere…

Note: I bought this book as soon as I saw it at the store. I rarely ever gush about books like this so that alone should tell you just how FABULOUS this book is. For now, I need to be left alone, a book hangover of the worst kind; here’s to hoping that no one needs anything from me at work today 😥

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Candice Fox: Q&A

Thank you so much for your time, Candice! I absolutely adored Archer & Bennett and gobsmacked at the opportunity at a Q&A with you.

Warm-Up Quick Qs:
Tea or Coffee?   Coffee.
Green cordial or Red Cordial?  Red.
Red Wine or White Wine? Both.
Vegemite or Nutella? Vegemite.
Cats or Dogs?  Both.
When did you first start writing and what was the road to publication like for you?
I started putting serious words down at about age 12. I’d been writing before then, but on the family computer, which was vulnerable to invasion by my brothers. When my mother got me a computer for my room, I felt like I could write without it being read by anyone I didn’t want to have access to it.

I started submitting manuscripts at 18, and had four failed works rejected by over 200 hadespublishers before hitting on a winner with Hades. The manuscript was originaly accepted by an independent publisher in the UK before that venture collapsed, and I sent it around again in Australia, heavily edited. Gaby Naher decided she would represent me, and she did the hard yards finding someone to take a chance on me at Random House.

Are you a planner? Do you know the ending of your book when you started writing and how it will get there?
I am a very loose plotter for my own work, but working with James Patterson requires me to do extensive planning – 15,000 word outlines and alike. I generally don’t start writing my own work until I have the first quarter worked out in my mind, and then I’ll keep ahead of myself by three or four plot points just so I don’t hit a wall. I never like to know much about the ending. I like it to unravel organically, so that I don’t accidentally foreshadow it along the way or get bored before I get there.

How do you find inspiration for the crime / mystery? Is there a particular publications you read or do you trawl through police reports for past crimes etc?
Basically everything I consume is true crime related, when I have a choice in the matter. I’m married to a very gentle and sweet-natured man, so I have to balance out my gruesome night-time viewing sometimes with lighter content. But I keep up to date with all the latest true crime docos and the dodgy ones from the eighties and nineties, too, for their nostalgic value. I read true crime, I listen to true crime podcasts.
The Neddies list is a good starting point for anyone wanting good quality true crime, but of course, there are great publications from the US which aren’t necessarily well written but valuable nonetheless – sometimes the books are written by FBI agents or profilers etc so they’re not arty but they are packed with useful tidbits.

Which one of Australia’s true crimes fascinate you and why?
the-fallOh, there are so many. I was deeply interested in the Daniel Morcombe investigation – not so much for the processes but for the suspects involved. What a bunch of evil people. And the mystery surrounding the famous blue car still niggles at my mind now and then. There are great lesser-known crimes being reassessed through podcasts right now by The Age etc – the one about Phoebe Hansjuk is great, and the one about Rachael Antonio. I always plug my good friend Amy Dale’s book The Fall about Simon Gittany’s murder of Lisa Harnum. I read the book before we became friends, so I’m not biased. It’s very difficult to move me emotionally – I’m very desensitised to violence. This book disturbed me very much.

How do you find collaborating work? And not just with any author but with one of the biggest names in the publishing industry!
never-neverIt’s great. In some ways it’s very useful that he’s the most powerful author in the world, in that I can lean on his experience and wisdom whenever I need to – if anyone’s going to know what will work in a sticky spot in a manuscript, or foresee a problem long before I will, it’s him. Yes, of course, it also made the whole endeavour very intimidating in the beginning, because I didn’t want to fail at such a rare and wonderful opportunity. But I’m over that now. We’re onto our third work together at the moment. I think we fit together like Lego pieces.

Has writing changed you as a person? Is it therapeutic? Or is thinking about crime all the time make you a little more paranoid?
On the contrary, before I got to write for a living I was as voyeuristic and weird as I am now, I just didn’t have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for it. I’m that person who will interject into an otherwise everyday conversation with anecdotes about serial killers or facts about dead bodies. People used to think I was the ugly duckling in that way, but now that they realise I was a swan the whole time, I feel free to be me.

What can we expect from you next? Is Crimson Lake a stand-alone novel or is it meant to be a serial too? Any more Archer & Bennett books?
Crimson Lake was meant to be a standalone, originally, but it’s caused such a stir that my publishers across the world all agreed I needed to do another one. I’ve just finished editing Last Chance, the second full novel in the Detective Harriet Blue series with James, so now I’m onto the Crimson Lake II first draft. I don’t know if there will ever be any more Bennett/Archers. I don’t rule it out, but at the moment I have to chase what is best for my career, and it’s moving on with Ted and Amanda, and Harriet and her guys.

You can check out my thoughts on Crimson Lake, here

About the author

candice-foxHades, Candice Fox’s first novel, won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014 from the Australian Crime Writers Association. The sequel, Eden, won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in 2015, making Candice only the second author to win these accolades back-to-back. Also, in the 2015 Davitt Awards, Hades was Highly Commended in the debut category. Her third novel, Fall, was recently published to critical acclaim.

In 2015 Candice began collaborating with James Patterson. Their first novel together, Never Never, set in the vast Australian outback, was released in August 2016. They have also co-written a prequel novella, Black & Blue, as part of the James Patterson BookShots series. They are currently at work on the sequel.

Candice is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings. The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer, Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her mother and older brothers.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. She lives in Sydney.

Find Candice: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

Review: Crimson Lake

crimson-lakeCrimson Lake by Candice Fox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was soooo excited to see Candice Fox was to release a new book. I must admit to being a teeny weeny disappointed to find out that it is NOT an Archer & Bennett but still… It’s a must-read. If you love crime novels, Candice Fox’s books are must-reads!

Despite being told that this is her best book yet, I can NOT make this distinction. I love ALL her books fairly equally and they are ALL my favourites. The mysteries are terrific but the characters and what she made them go through are just mind-boggling. They are fragile. They are broken. They are survivors.

The main difference in Crimson Lake to the Archer & Bennett books to my mind is that it’s cracking hilarious. Wait a minute, Amanda Pharrell is horrendously hilarious. I can see some people might find her annoying and if she’s someone I know IRL, I’d probably want to kill her myself but seriously the stuff she said were Lough Out Loud Funny. Err, yes, I’m most probably that crazy lady on the train… Here’s one of the things she said that cracked me up to no end & I kept going back to it:

“… I’m dead fascinated with your case. I’m so fascinated, someone should pin me in their hair and wear me to the races.”

We don’t know very much how Amanda’s mind works as the novel is told from Ted Conkaffey’s perspective but one thing we do know is that she’s full on contradictions. She’d slunk away for certain confrontations and yet,

“…doesn’t anything scare you anymore?”
“Not really,” she said brightly…

Ted Conkaffey is hiding. He’s tired and he’s sad. He has had no choice but to accept what fate has dealt him to date. The geese found him. Amanda baffled him. Her cases interest his mind and his brain geared up to put these puzzles together. Maybe there is something else he could do even now… Despite being told from Ted’s perspective; Amanda completely took over the whole book. Maybe we’ll have her perspective in the next book?

Aside from these amazing characterisation, I also love Fox’s prose; the way she draws you to the characters then the setting and then weaves tangled weave of mysterious circumstances which leave you guessing ‘til the end. Crimson Lake, with its tightly developed plot, unique characters and a snapping end, is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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

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Review: Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop

Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop
Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop by Amy Witting
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I purchased this book, I bought it because:
1. I like the sound of the title, and
2. the cover fits a task for a reading challenge.
I didn’t realise that this was a follow-up to a book, I for Isobel which I’ve actually read a few years ago though I only vaguely remembered. I read it but I did NOT understand it which is why it remains “un-rated” on my shelf despite being read. Hence, I started reading Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop with trepidation. I don’t know whether I’ve grown up a little in the past few years or what but I actually enjoyed this book. Hence, the 4-stars’ rating.

The novel opens with Isobel’s struggles as an aspiring writer. She’s just taken her first determined step to commit herself as a writer. She’s quit her steady but dead-ending job, having to leave home because of this and found herself in a boarding house without having much left for food. This first part of the book was rather confusing though that is because Isobel herself is confused… this was made obvious when the state of her health was revealed and she suddenly found herself in a sanatorium. It is here, through her interactions with others and certain friendships or even enmities, that she began to accept herself and in doing so, flourish.

“Is it possible to cause so much misery to another human being, simply by being oneself? she wondered, feeling a reflection of that misery. No help for it; she must continue to be herself.”

As always, reading is subjective and what I learnt from this book is probably different from others. I did find this book to be very reflective and rather thought-provoking. With a diverse set of characters to complement and/or as foils to Isobel, Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop is an engaging read. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve read the earlier book as this book can well stand on its own.

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Review: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, Alison Goodman has once again lived up to my expectations! They’re very tall, let me assure you… If you loved, The Dark Days Club then you would absolutely be blown away by Dark Days Pact. If you think The Dark Days Club was okay & a bit slow, Gurl, you are in for The Ride of Your Life!

Lady Helen is now in Brighton. She is ‘recuperating’ from her illness but really she’s training hard to become a Reclaimer. The Grand Deceiver is coming though and there is division in the Club but most of all, what’s wrong with Lord Carlston? The answer to this last question totally heart-crushing! Even as Helen likes to think that she’s a logical creature, the answer lies elsewhere.

This was a fairly thick book and I read it in 3 (work)days… I could’ve read it in a single sitting but you know adulthood really ruins my reading life! The Dark Days Pact is a surprisingly complex book. It started quite gently and the first layer of deception was acceptable as a reasonable twist to the story but then there’s another and another AND another! It’s a snowball effect that you just cannot see how this will end. The irony is that these so-called Reclaimers and their associates are involved in deception just like those the Deceivers they are supposed to regulate…

I’ll finish with a warning: around the halfway mark, this book becomes completed UNPUTDOWNABLE. There were twists upon twists (plot) and then the feels… your heart will be squashed, pulverized, bandaged, and once again mangled beyond recognition. I am in pure agony waiting for book 3.

Thanks to Harper Collins Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Blog Tour: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

About the book

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

My Blurb

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a beautiful read. Mind you, there were stacks of romance in here though I think you can kind of tell by the number of hearts on the cover 😉 There were times that I found the romance crossed the corny cheesy line but I made the allowance for “First Love”. They really weren’t that bad; just a teeny weeny bit more than I liked so you may love it.

At the beginning, however, Steffi was facing first day back at school without her best friend. She’s 16 so she’s in sixth form; which term I actually had to look up as I’m not familiar with the British education system (thanks, Google!) and it’s like years 12 & 13. She may know all the students there but it’s a big day for her. She is determined that she will speak this year. She needs to prove to herself and her parents that she’s capable of ‘normality’ so they will let her go to university. Minutes later, she met a boy who cannot hear, Rhys, and he’s rather cute…

There is only one perspective, Steffi’s, and we get to hear everything she’s saying in her head. She’s getting help and she’s working very hard to overcome that which limit her. I love that we get to hear these things; she may not be able to speak but it doesn’t mean that her head is empty! I can’t tell how accurate the things she’s thought of in relation to other people who are in the same boat as Steffi but it felt just as how they could’ve thought (feel free to correct me) and in some ways were really enlightening. Meeting Rhys with a different type of limitation helps her in a way as they found support in each other; tackling the world which place those limitations on them and along the way, found her confidence and identity.

I have truly enjoyed this book. It was a fun, educational, heart-warming, and totally encouraging book to read. It really inspires you to reach for your dreams despite what the world tells you; only you can decide your limits.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

Quick Q&A

  1. What kind of research was involved in writing A Quiet Kind of Thunder?

A lot! I learned some (very basic) sign language and read as much as I could on deaf culture and community. I also watched videos on YouTube, including those from/about people in deaf/hearing relationships. For selective mutism, I did a lot of general research into things like diagnosis and treatment, and read the materials that were aimed at teachers and parents to get an idea of how they would deal with a child in that situation.

  1. Is there an interesting story/incident that you came across during your research that you could share with us?

Everything I learned about deaf culture and BSL was fascinating, and I really loved watching BSL music videos online – they absolutely blew my mind.

  1. What is it that drives you to write contemporary YA and of such confronting truths?

For me, those are the kinds of books I most love and that I take the most from. I love books that are honest about people, relationships and the world, and so I suppose it makes sense that I would also try to do this in my own writing. Writing is also a great cathartic way to explore issues and problems that goes beyond just talking or thinking about them, so there’s probably an element of that, too.

About the author

sara-barnardSara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Find Sara on: goodreads  |  tumblr  |  twitter  | instagram