Friday, 22 May 2020

Book Review: Sheer Water by Leah Swann

I've seen this book popping up all across social media with high praise, and was fortunate to read it recently.
I didn't know what the story was about, but those that had read it were using words like "tragic" and "heart-breaking" to describe it.
After finishing it within a couple of days, it is evident why those descriptions were used.
This was a very emotional, tender and devastating novel, written beautifully.

The story begins with a woman named Ava and her two sons, 9 year-old Max, and 4 year-old Teddy, driving to a new residence in the fictional coastal town of Sheerwater.
Ava is hoping to put the past behind her, which includes her abusive husband Lawrence, but she is nervous that she hasn't made the correct choice.
Nevertheless, she is determined to make a fresh start for herself and the boys.
About half an hour away from their destination, they witness a tragic accident involving a light plane crashing into  vacant grassland near the side of the road.
Ava makes the snap decision to get out of the car and assist, leaving her sons in the car.
Once paramedics and other passersby arrive to the scene, Ava heads back to the vehicle but makes the shocking discovery that her boys have gone missing and nowhere to be seen.
Who has taken the boys? Or did they wonder off on their own?

The story unfolds over three days and I felt that the beginning and ending were the best parts, although having said that, I would've liked to have an ending with more closure. An epilogue would've been helpful to provide that resolution. 
Sheer Water is told in alternating chapters from Ava's, Lawrence's, and Max's perspectives, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative of Max.
In fact, if the entire book was from his perspective, I would've given this 5 stars.

As mentioned, this is a highly emotional novel with an element of mystery, and one that will leave you thinking even after you have finished reading it. 

Sheer Water is available now through Harper Collins Australia, RRP $32.99 

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Book Review: Fool Me Once by Karly Lane

I don't mind reading the occasional rural romance, particularly with the vast range of talented female Australian authors available, including Karly Lane.
Her latest novel, Fool Me Once, is her fifteenth book, and I had the opportunity to read it recently.

Georgie Henderson is a cattle manager on a farm called Stoney Creek in the New England region of New South Wales. 
Farming has always been in her blood, with her family once owning a property named Tamban.
Sadly, Tamban was sold off to a large corporation after her father turned alcoholic following the death of Georgie's beloved mum years ago.
She's been managing Stoney Creek since the elderly owner Harry had a stroke and had to move closer to his family in Melbourne.
It is a job that  she loves, and although it can be difficult, she feels at home on the farm, and dreams of one day saving enough money to buy back Tamban.
Shannon is Georgie's outgoing life-long best friend and it is her idea for the two to attend a B& S Ball. 
Georgie decides to go along reluctantly, and it is there that she meets handsome businessman Michael Delacourt.
The two have an instant connection and end up doing something that neither of them would usually would do - spending the night together.
The following morning after making a hasty exit, Georgie thinks that they will never see each other again, but Michael has other plans and it isn't long before he tracks her down and the two fall head over heels.
A whirlwind trip to Hawaii where they decide to get secretly married follows, but sadly, the honeymoon period quickly vanishes when Georgie uncovers a terrible secret that Michael has been keeping. 
She feels as though she can never trust him again, but he wants to try and work things out.

This was an enjoyable read for me, I like how the story highlights the importance of women in farming.
Georgie is a strong, determined and passionate character, and those qualities shine through during the story.

Fool Me Once is available now through Allen & Unwin Australia, RRP $29.99

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Book Review: Who We Were by B.M Carroll

I have just finished reading Who We Were by B.M Carroll and thought it was excellent!
It really had me turning the pages and I read it in a couple of days as I simply had to know how it was going to end. It's a great book, I highly recommend!

The story centers around a group of men and women in their late 30's who all attended the same secondary school.
Katy, who used to be the shy and kind type, is organising a twenty-year school reunion for the past students, and the group of friends (and enemies) are planning on getting together at a venue in Sydney. 
For Katy, it is an opportunity to show the others that she is now a confident and capable woman.
As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the group chapter by chapter, and gain an in-depth understanding of who they are now, and as the book title suggests, who they were back then in their teenage years.
Annabel was once the most popular girl in school but found that changed after a fall from grace; she is now mother to three children and married to her high school sweetheart, Jarrod.
Grace is mother of four young children and has remained friends with Annabel after all this time.
Zach was once Mr Popular and known to make fun of others, but now claims to be a changed man with a family of his own, and helps others for a living.
Melissa has always been the high achiever, and her determination has made her a success, but her love life isn't all it appears to be.
And Robbie, who was always the victim of classroom jeers.

As the reunion date nears, Katy puts together an updated version of the high school year book, showing off their current-day lives as a bit of fun before they all get together.

But they begin to receive anonymous threats bearing some of their deepest and darkest secrets, and nobody knows who or where the threats are coming from. 
It is difficult to say more without spoiling it for others, but I really enjoyed this fast-paced, thrilling and mysterious novel.
I did find the ending was a little underwhelming but still very entertaining.
I think the author has done an amazing job telling the story from 7 different character's perspectives. 

Who We Were is available from 28th April 2020 through Viper Books, and has an RRP of $29.99

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Book Review: The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat

Firstly, I hope that you are all doing well in these uncertain and challenging times.
It hasn't been easy but I am hoping that it won't be too long before things return to the way they once were. I have been busy helping my three daughters with their distance education, but I have tried to make sure that I make a little bit of time for myself each day to read, even if it is just a few pages here and there.

I have just finished reading The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat, which is released today through Allen & Unwin.
It is based on the true story of a woman named Hedy Bercu.
The story begins with Hedy, who is of Jewish background and originally from Vienna, fleeing to what she believes to be the safety and isolation of Jersey in order to escape the Nazis in 1940.
She only has one friend in Jersey, a young man named Anton.
All of Hedy's family were left behind and she is unsure if they escaped or are still alive.
As the story progresses in time, Anton begins dating a young woman named Dorothea. Anton and Dorothea quickly fall in love and marry, however, Anton is forced to join the army and leave a heartbroken Dorothea behind.
Although Hedy has initial reservations about Dorothea, it isn't long before the two become firm friends.

Meanwhile, as desperate times call for desperate measures, Hedy hides her racial status and takes a job that is run by German authorities. It is there that she meets German lieutenant Kurt Neumann and the two soon fall for each other. But they both know that their relationship is a dangerous one, and the consequences of being caught together are a matter of life and death.
It is a risk that they are both prepared to take, but at what cost?

This was a quick and easy read, with a beautiful message of hope and love intertwined. Both Hedy and Dorothea were admirable, strong, brave and determined female characters, and this was captured beautifully by author Jenny Lecoat, who was born in Jersey herself.

The Viennese Girl is available through Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99. 

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Cook Book Review: Now For Something Sweet - Monday Morning Cooking Club

In 2006, a group of four women got together to form the Monday Morning Cooking Club to collect recipes and stories from some of Sydney's best Jewish cooks. 
Since then, the women have culminated three cook books, and Now For Something Sweet is the fourth that the group has put together.

This book features a number of cakes, biscuits, bars, tarts, and some savoury recipes also.
The recipes all have a little story about their origin, which I adored reading about, and the recipes themselves are delicious and simple to follow.
I absolutely love the photos in this cook book; they are so appealing and totally drool worthy!!

Interspersed throughout the book are special step by step instructions on how to perfect certain things such as making custard and chiffons, how to dissolve sugar, and how to work with yeast. 

I have been poring over this book for the past couple of weeks, reading the women's stories and admiring the recipes.
It is a beautiful book that celebrates family, food and friendships.
I have already made one recipe from this cookbook (Salty Sticks), and look forward to making many more, including the Romany Creams pictured below (with complete recipe).

Romany Creams

3 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch
cocoa powder
60 ml (¼ cup/2 fl oz) boiling water
250 g (9 oz) unsalted butter, at room
temperature, chopped
230 g (1 cup/8 oz) caster
(superfine) sugar
185 g (2¼ cups/6½ oz) desiccated
300 g (2 cups/10½ oz) plain
(all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150 g (5⅓ oz) milk chocolate,
roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Line 2 large baking trays.
Combine the cocoa powder and boiling water and set aside. Beat the
butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the cocoa mixture and beat
to combine. Fold in the coconut, then sift together the flour and baking
powder, and fold into the mixture until well combined.
Roll large teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and arrange on the prepared
trays. You should end up with around 60 biscuits. Lightly press the tines
of a fork on to the top of each ball. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden, then
allow to cool.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler until just melted
and still thick. Use the melted chocolate to sandwich the flat sides of the
cookies together.
Makes 30

Recipes extracted from Now For Something Sweet by Monday Morning Cooking Club (Harper Collins Australia) RRP $49.99, out now.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Book Review: You Are No Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

This is the third novel that Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen have written together. I have read their other two novels, The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl, and thoroughly enjoyed both.
After reading You Are Not Alone, it is safe to say that this is another winner in my opinion.

The main character is Shay Miller, a 31 year-old woman with few friends, no job, and no significant other.
One Sunday morning as she is waiting at the subway, she sees a woman of similar age and appearance waiting on the platform.
In a matter of seconds, the woman leaps to her death in front of an oncoming train. Shay is left shocked and traumatised by the woman's death and tries to uncover more about the mystery woman.
She finds out that the woman's name was Amanda, and then goes on to attend her memorial service.
It is there that she meets a group of women who seem to have their act together, including sisters Jane and Cassandra Moore.
Shay is drawn to these women, in particular the two sisters.
When Cassandra and Jane start to take her under their wing and offer to help her out, Shay is thrilled.
But it isn't long before she realises that getting the life she wants comes at a price. 
What do the sisters really want from her? And just how well did they know Amanda? What secrets are they keeping?

This book had so many twists that kept me guessing until the end!
The story is told in alternating chapters, and as there are quite a few characters, it can be a teeny bit confusing to get your head around them all and the roles they play, so it's a book you need to give your full attention.
It is very well written, and the characters are described in a lot of detail, which I liked.

It wasn't at all predictable. It is a great thriller that will have you turning the pages!

Available now through Pan Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Book Review: Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain 

Morgan Christopher is twenty-two years old and in jail for a crime that she is not guilty of. 
She had dreams to escape the confines of her alcoholic parents home and persue a career in art, but that was put on hold on one tragic night when her life would change forever.
Serving a year into her sentence, she one day gets a visitor; a woman by the name  of Lisa Williams, whose father was artist Jesse Jameson, who passed away recently.
Lisa tells Morgan that her father's will specified that Morgan would be able to be released from jail early on the proviso that she restores an old post office mural in the small Southern town of Edenton. 
Morgan is hesitant initially, but it isn't long before she agrees, as Jesse was one of her favourite artists, and she is soon released from jail.
But the job she must complete is difficult, given the mural's age and condition, not to mention the deadline as it must be ready before the opening of an art gallery.
When Morgan begins cleaning off the layers of grime, she soon discovers that the painting has a story of its own - one of madness, violence and secrets...

Anna Dale is a young artist, originally from New Jersey, who moves to Edenton when she wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton.
Her mother has just recently passed away, and she is desperate for work, so accepts the position.
However, it isn't long before she finds out that the residents of Edenton have a lot of secrets to hide, and not everyone is happy about having Anna in their town, particularly the males.
Prejudice and accusations soon appear in Anna's world, and one day both she and the mural disappear...

So what ever happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues to her fate trapped in the layers of the mural? You will need to read the book to find out!

The story is told in alternating chapters, and flows beautifully between the two timelines.
I loved how it unraveled slowly to build up the characters development, and Diane does a great job of handling the heavy issues in the story in a gentle and sensitive manner.
I would definitely recommend this as I enjoyed the elements of mystery and both of the two main female characters. 

Big Lies In A Small Town has an RRP of $29.99 and is available through PanMacmillan Australia.
Thanks to PanMacmillan for an ARC.