Ask Me For More by Elise K. Ackers

In brief: Liv comes back to town to plan her good friend’s wedding. There are two things she didn’t plan on: that she’s an outcast in the small town and that Cal grew up to be both nice and handsome.

The good: Second in the Homeland series, it’s easy to read if you haven’t read the first book. Plus Cal is a very nice young man.

The not-so-good: The wedding (fitting but not my cup of tea – a minor point!).

Why I chose it: Downloaded from Net Galley – thank you Destiny Romance.

Year: 2013

Pages: 120

Publisher: Destiny Romance

Setting: Country Australia

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

In my quest to read romance authors before the Romance Writers of Australia conference, I discovered the fantastic writer Elise W. Ackers. I’m glad that going to the conference has opened my mind to many new authors! In Ask Me For More, Ackers has created a lovely story set in a small Australian country town with some memorable characters.

The story opens with Cal meeting Liv (short for Olivia) at the train station before the long drive back to Hinterdown. Liv grew up there with Cal, but was forced to leave after a terrible event occurred. Now Liv’s back, grown up and here to plan her friend Sam’s wedding. Cal and Liv were friends growing up, but now there’s an attraction between them – to ignore or not?

This book is the second in the Homeland series, but I had no problems jumping in at book two. The book comes alive from the very first page, namely because of the detailed characters Ackers has created. Both the main characters, Liv and Cal, are likeable (I’d even say lovable when it comes to Cal) and have an interesting back story. Plus, when they are together on the page, sparks really do fly! The supporting characters, such as Sam (who appeared in the first book, Ask Me to Stay) are quirky but realistic. They could easily be your friends or neighbours (actually, I think they are much nicer than some of my neighbours!). Plus, there is the hilarious Boo the Goose, a goose with guard dog tendencies. He was the icing on the cake for me as a bird lover!

I liked that the book didn’t solely focus around the potential romance between Liv and Cal. Sam’s continuing avoidance in relation to wedding planning and Cal’s staffing issues at the pub helped to keep the book realistic and have me thinking about more than one thing. The surprise wedding, although not personally my ideal wedding (I’d want it in the afternoon!), was just perfect for the characters involved. Ackers is a great writer with a talent for writing fun and entertaining stories. The romance is sweet, but definitely not corny.

I think that there is another book in the Homeland series to come, which I’ll be looking out for. I’m not ready to leave the town of Hinterdown just yet!

The Inevitability of Stars by Kathryn R. Lyster

In brief: This is the story of Rip and Sahara, teenagers in love. Sahara leaves Byron Bay to go to art school, while Rip becomes lost in memories. Can Rip recover while Sahara’s life is becoming a mess?

The good: Very spiritual and an interesting twist.

The not-so-good: The twist I found initially a little off-putting until I accepted it as part of the story’s context.

Why I chose it: Sent to me by Harlequin Books – thank you!

Year: 2013

Pages: 297 (ARC)

Publisher: Harlequin Mira

Setting: New South Wales, Australia

My rating: 7 out of 10

When I read the blurb about The Inevitability of Stars, I was feeling in a romantic mood and the tag line ‘a modern day Romeo and Juliet’ really pulled at my heart strings. Despite not really knowing what the title meant (actually I still don’t – given the sun is a star and we wouldn’t be here without it, is it inevitable that they – and hence we – exist? Not sure. Potentially too deep for this time of day). Anyway, away from the title.

This is a book about Rip and Sahara – a boy and girl who have grown up together and fallen in love. Now that they’ve finished school, Sahara wants to leave their home of Byron Bay and study art in Sydney. Rip doesn’t want her to do this – in fact, he’s not really sure about what he wants. He’s scarred by the death of his mother (which is alluded to in the prologue) and the loss of Sahara. After Sahara leaves, Rip slashes his wrists. After leaving hospital, he takes flight to an unusual farm in the hinterland that is so much more than a job. In Sydney, Sahara meets Sean, nightclub mogul, and her life changes completely – from student poverty to living at the Hilton’s penthouse. Suddenly life is all about fashion, booze, drugs and looking the part. But when Sahara hears that Rip has died, she begins to crumble. Will she find herself again?

Told in the present tense with alternating chapters between Sahara and Rip, this novel is very spiritual. Sahara’s mum is into crystals and offers to do a tarot reading for Rip, while Rip’s journey contains numerous healing elements. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way Rip learns how to heal his pain is somewhat mystical. I wasn’t expecting this when I read the book – I’m not all that good when it comes to these kinds of things – but once I accepted that it was part of Rip’s journey, I found it easier to read. There is a lot of common sense within his scenes.

Sahara’s world is totally the opposite of Rip’s – it’s cemented in reality, superficial and commercial. It was interesting to compare what Rip was doing (such as gardening and eating home-grown raw food) to what Sahara was (smoking, not eating and lounging around). This made me think about our busy lives today – how much do we truly connect with ourselves or is it all based on who/what/where/when/why? Sahara’s journey, while not as spiritual as Rip’s, allows her to come full circle and see what parts of her life are so damaging. I did enjoy Sahara’s story more, perhaps because I’m more familiar with some of the aspects.

The prose Lyster writes is beautiful and I think that the characters speak in italics without quotation marks emphasises the slightly other-worldly quality of the book. It makes each line sound poetic and much more emphatic. Lyster should be praised for her ability to entwine two disparate stories together and create a magical, haunting novel.

The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay

A quick rundown… In a small village on the New South Wales coast, two men are trying to adjust to life post-World War II. Ani Lachlan is trying to adjust to a life she never expected to have.

Strengths: Beautiful imagery and a dreamy quality to it.

Weaknesses: Occasionally I was confused when the book changed time periods (pre and post war).

Why I read it: Received from Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room – thank you!

Pages: 250 (ARC)

Published: 2013

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: New South Wales, Australia

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I was first attracted to The Railwayman’s Wife because of the cover (shallow, I know). I liked the melancholy feel of the blonde woman looking over the rough coastline. (I also liked her hat). It seemed to me a book of longing, of feelings hidden and currents running under day to day conversation. This is exactly what I found on reading the book.

The Railwayman’s Wife is not an overly happy book. Given the time (post World War II Australia) and the setting (idyllic coastal New South Wales village), you would expect everyone to be jubilant. Unfortunately that’s not the case for the main characters. Ani Lachlan is devastated after tragedy hits her close family. Nothing is the same and she has to adjust to being many things she never expected to. Roy McKinnon was a happy teacher and poet before the war changed him. Now he can’t teach, can’t write and is locked in an aimless existence. Dr Frank Draper tries on the sidelines to help everyone in his own abrupt way, but doesn’t get very far.

The book reminded me somewhat of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, in particular the first section. There’s a dreamy, filmy quality of the book that puts a distance between the sadness of the characters and the reader. Ironically, it feels like a train crash – you can’t stop it from happening and you can’t stop watching (reading) it. I felt for Ani’s pain and Roy’s sense of futility, but not to a huge extent. The way the book is written in the present tense (something that I can find quite annoying) didn’t make it seem real or like it was happening now, but long ago, back on a day far away. The characters felt like characters, rather than real people.

The book has some lovely lyrical moments, often related to train journeys through tunnels and across the Australian wilderness. It’s a book to ponder the questions of moving on after grief (Is it possible? Should it even be attempted?) and adjustment to the unexpected. It doesn’t offer any resounding conclusions, but is a dreamy book to ponder love and loss. I would have liked a firmer plot, but the quality of the writing allowed me to visualise the events and characters in the book clearly so I could make my own conclusions. Probably best read on a train with time to spare to think about this life.

I read this book as part of Reading Matters’ Australian Literature month. Please do take part if you have the chance, as 50 pence will be donated by Kimbofo to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Getting stuck into some challenges…

After some thought, I’m going to have a go at a few challenges this year. I hate having what to read dictated to me, but these challenges sound flexible and enjoyable to me!

2011 Aussie Author Challenge

This runs over the course of 2011. I’m going to try Tourist level (3 books by 3 different authors). In fact, I’ve even got one review done – Kate Morton is Australian and I’ve read The Distant Hours. I could probably go more (I have Shaun Micallef, Bryce Courtenay and Peter Yeldham books to read), but this is not the only challenge I want to do!

Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2011

Again, I think I’ll take it easy with this one and try Hajime (one book). It seems that all the city bookstores are out of all of Murakami’s books except Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, so perhaps there are lots of people participating! (Not to mention Australians are yet to see Murakami ebooks).

The Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011

 

Wow, 200 years since this book was written! I have a beautiful copy given to me one Christmas that I haven’t read yet. So I will be participating as a Neophyte, aiming to read the original.

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

You’ve probably guessed already that I enjoy historical fiction, so I’m hoping this is an easy challenge for me! I’m going to attempt Struggling the Addiction (10 books).

2011 Reading From My Shelves Project

This challenge is aimed at reducing the amount of unread books on your shelf and then passing on the book to someone else. Not a problem for me, as I almost always pass my books on to friends or family. I’m going to attempt 20 physical books this year (not going to count ebooks…yet).

I hope I can do it…let’s revisit in a few months! What challenges are you trying this year?

Mini Reviews: May 2010

These short reviews come from before I started blogging- they were recorded on sites like Library Thing and Goodreads. That’s why I’m giving you a month at a time!

So Much for That: A Novel by Lionel Shriver

Well, so much for that.
This book wasn’t what I thought it was going to be- an opinionated piece about America’s health care system. Sure, we get that it costs the individual a lot to be treated for cancer and that aged care homes are expensive (although not really that much different to Australia with the thousands in ‘care’ [as in ‘we don’t’] fees and bonds up to a half a million). But I digress- although I’m sure that the character of Jackson would be happy with that.
Essentially this is about life and facing death in several different forms and how everyone copes. Dark and serious in places, light and sunny in others. I enjoyed this more than The Post Birthday World but I don’t know that I’d tell you to go out and buy this. It’s well written, but don’t assume that it will be an easy ride. Much like life itself.

7.5 out of 10.

Old Sins by Penny Vincenzi

I think this is one of the earlier books by this author. It’s a bit muddled towards the end (yes, we know exactly what’s happened but wait patiently for the characters to realise) and a bit dated. Some of the dilemmas could have been easily solved with DNA technology and a mobile phone (had they been invented). There’s also a lot of sex involved, some of it a bit creepy.
All that aside, this is a great bonkbuster holiday novel. I would suggest starting with some of the author’s other novels first though.

8.5 out of 10.

New Europe by Michael Palin

Palin’s writing really transports you to Europe. From misery at Auschwitz to a fashion catwalk, I smiled and wiped away tears at various points. Very well written travel book with a good dose of history thrown in. Can’t wait to read some more of his books.  (NB. My first Palin!)

8.5 out of 10.

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

A delightful chick lit from the master, Marian Keyes. This sticks with familar topics such as single women in Dublin and life on a magazine. There’s Lisa, the reluctant new editor of Colleen magazine, Ashling the ‘ever prepared’ deputy and Ashling’s married friend with children, Clodagh. Add in a variety of nice sounding men and you’ve got a recipe for a bumpy ride.
I originally aimed to read this book on holidays but never got around it- instead, reading it during a very busy time. I suspect it would be good either way- easy to pick up and put down, engaging story and language that’s easy for a tired/relaxed brain to navigate.
My only criticism is that time seemed to fly after the launch party- months go by in pages- I suppose it had to end somewhere. I much prefer this to her latest book.

8.5 out of 10.

Playing the field by Zoë Foster

Fairly well written chick lit (with bonus extra adjectives) about a relationship of your average Aussie girl with high profile football (rugby) player. The plot doesn’t really advance beyond meet the boy, insecurities compared to other WAGs, problems with ex-girlfriend, repeat. The twist at the end wasn’t terribly plausible, but it was a bit different. Nice book, but nothing special.

7 out of 10.

For Crying Out Loud: v. 3: The World According to Clarkson  by Jeremy Clarkson

Ahh, Clarkson is back and he hasn’t become any less opinionated (if anything, he’s more spot on…or am I getting older?). His witticisms are spot on and there’s some insider Top Gear trivia for the fans. A great train read (but don’t read in a silent carriage- you’ll be glared at for laughing).

8 out of 10.

10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2010 (various authors)

 

This book was produced for the 2010 Get Reading! Programme, which is designed to encourage Australians to read. Each year, the committee selects books (either by Australian or foreign authors) to be part of the programme. There is also an incentive (a free book, although it used to be a second book for $5) to encourage readers to read more widely.

 

This year’s offering, 10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2010, is similar to last year’s formet, ie. 10 short stories from Australian authors. This year’s collection features stories from Maggie Alderson, Georgia Blain, Mark Dapin, Nick Earls, Alex Miller, Judy Nunn, Malla Nunn, Craig Silvey, Rachael Treasure and Christos Tsiolkas.

 

I enjoyed reading most of the short stories, but I found that I’m not really a short story fan. Everything is over too quickly without getting a handle on the characters. I enjoyed Maggie Alderson’s story about a vintage clothes shop and its customers the most, but I have read all her previous books so I’m very familiar with her writing style. I couldn’t get into Alex Miller’s story and ended up skipping it. Judy Nunn’s story was very different to her books- I see a future in crime fiction. Mark Dapin, a new author for me, produced a different, thought-provoking story.

 

While I enjoyed the opportunity to read a free book, I don’t think I found any more new authors with the exception of Mark Dapin. This was a very fast and light read.

 

7 out of 10.