Australian rural romance author Cathryn Hein has carved a strong following with her love stories that explore the highs and lows of life and this noveAustralian rural romance author Cathryn Hein has carved a strong following with her love stories that explore the highs and lows of life and this novella, which Hein has chosen to publish solo is no different. I read April’s Rainbow a couple of years ago in draft form and since then it’s been polished and professionally packaged with a beautiful cover and flawless finish.
For anyone who has wanted to read a romance novel from the male point of view, this one is for you because Tristan is our narrator throughout which is an interesting spin on the traditional formula. Tristan lives for the land and farming – he’s very passionate about it but as the fourth son he realises that he’s going to have to work hard to be able to achieve his dream of having his own property. The chance to manage a beautiful local property known as Rainbow comes with some strange stipulations but Tristan doesn’t care. This is the sort of gig he’s dreamed of and for the first part, Tristan is alone preparing the property and sourcing livestock. Then the owner, artist April Tremayne arrives and Tristan is immediately enamoured.
April is beautiful, damaged and eccentric with strange ideas that she requires Tristan to help with. And he does, although he can see that they feed a mania in April, something deep and dark spurred on by a tragic loss that he cannot really understand. And as he falls more in love with her, he tries to get her to see that love doesn’t always need to equal pain, that he won’t cause her any more hurt. Words of course that will come back to haunt him when he must make a choice for April’s wellbeing.
I found it too distressing to try and put myself in April’s position and in that experience, I kind of felt that it would be pretty easy to go down the same path that she does….frantically searching for a sign, for a sense of presence. Rainbow is where she feels that she might be able to heal but it’s not actually that easy and the installations she works frantically on only serve to temporarily lift her up before their inevitable end brings her crashing back down. The installations were such amazing ideas, I loved picturing them and could imagine the sort of stir they might cause in a country farming town!
Tristan’s struggle is a strong part of the novel. He’s incredibly quiet and shy (as a redhead I sympathise with his blushing) and April is someone he really does come to really care about deeply in a short amount of time. He wants to be able to help her in all ways but in order to really help her he must make a very difficult decision, one that he’s well aware may cost him everything. He tries to protect April for a long time, from the other local people, even from his well-meaning family but eventually he cannot ignore the fact that April needs more than she’s finding at Rainbow, that it’s not helping her.
April’s Rainbow is a really beautiful story exploring terrible grief but from a very interesting perspective which sets it apart. It’s heartbreak and love, despair and fragile hope that packs an emotional punch that will stay with you....more
I made a bad decision picking up this book when I only had a small amount of time to spare. I started it about half an hour before I had to leave to gI made a bad decision picking up this book when I only had a small amount of time to spare. I started it about half an hour before I had to leave to go and pick up my son from school and ended up taking it with me to read while I waited at pick-up, so difficult was it to put it down. When we arrived home I continued reading, all through dinner prep and then finished it after he went to bed.
This is Sara Foster’s fourth novel – I’ve read all of them now and every time a new one is released I remember just how much I loved her previous ones. She writes family relationships with depth and realism and I love the undertone of suspense that permeates the story.
The novel is told from four points of view – teenager Georgia who closely guards a secret, her frustrated mother Anya, a school counsellor who laments the inability to connect with her own daughter and the distant relationship she now shares with her husband, who has his own guilty secret. And Georgia’s younger brother Zac who discovers something that he doesn’t really know how to deal with.
Georgia wishes to reconnect with her cousin Sophia to confess her secret, quite unaware that Sophia also has a rather dangerous secret of her own. Before either can come clean though the two girls and a third teenager, a male friend are struck by a car, leaving Sophia in an induced coma. Although it seems a terrible accident at first, three teens walking on a badly lit road, soon there are questions raised.
I really thought I knew what Georgia’s secret was and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. I love it when a book can surprise me and manipulate me into believing something. If I had’ve been right about Georgia’s secret I’m not sure I would’ve liked this book quite so much – it was being wrong and watching the story take a different path than the one I expected that really amplified the experience and made me even more interested in the story. I felt that I was able to connect quite easily to a lot of the characters – I’ve been a teenage girl with a secret, although not one quite so possibly damaging as Georgia’s. And now that I’m a parent myself, I could also empathise with Anya, who is aware that Georgia is growing up and will soon be off to university and a life removed from that of the family home. My children are younger but there will come a time when they won’t rush to tell me everything, that getting the smallest piece of information will be like extracting teeth. Anya is also doubly struggling as her husband Callum seems to have retreated as well, preferring to spend his free time with a volunteer rescue group than at home with Anya. The exciting early years have waned into a tedious routine of parenting and juggling busy lives and Callum is tempted by the grass on the other side of the fence. Callum has made a mistake and now he has to deal with the consequences and fallout of that mistake at the precise moment when something else is going very wrong. And poor Zac, who finds something that he doesn’t really know how to deal with and makes a choice which ends up having quite far-reaching consequences….well it was hard not to feel for him!
This book showcases how easily close relationships can be come distant – both Anya and Callum feel the frustration of their estrangement. They still share a house, they’re still married but they’re not really sharing a life. Anya feels the distance between her and Georgia and Georgia is feeling a new distance between her and Sophia. They’ve gone from telling each other things to both keeping their secrets, albeit for different reasons. Sara Foster has nailed the complications of not only the intricacy of teenage relationships but also the adult relationships too, with their peers and with each other. Although I never went through anything like what Georgia did, a lot of this book did remind me of my own time as a teen, wanting freedom and being able to go about my business without having to answer 200 questions. Now that I’m a parent I am on the ‘other side of the fence’ and I see just how necessary those questions can be at times.
Beautifully written and to me, showcasing that with each book, Sara Foster just gets better....more
Under The Spanish Stars is the second full length novel from Alli Sinclair and main character Charlotte is tasked with traveling to Spain to uncover tUnder The Spanish Stars is the second full length novel from Alli Sinclair and main character Charlotte is tasked with traveling to Spain to uncover the truth about a painting that her grandmother has kept in her possession her whole life. Although Charlotte knew her grandmother had been born in Spain and lived there until her 20s, her grandmother rarely ever spoke of her life there and discouraged questions. Charlotte is intrigued by what she could find out on her mission, although time of not something she has a lot of as her grandmother is ill in hospital and Charlotte wants to be able to deliver her the answers she seeks quickly.
And so Charlotte, who has spent the past few years being responsible, working her responsible job in the family insurance company, takes some leave and departs for Spain. There she meets with a professor about the painting who tells who she believes may have painted the painting that Charlotte seeks information on. In order to try and learn more, she is directed to seek out Mateo Vives, a flamenco guitarist who might not only be able to help Charlotte on her quest….but help her rediscover parts of herself that she has been keeping hidden.
I really enjoyed Charlotte’s journey both to find the information her grandmother needs as well as her journey in discovering her real self. Charlotte has an artist’s soul but her practical father has kind of insisted that she tamper it down because it rarely pays the bills. It’s an eternal struggle for Charlotte, who she wants to be versus who others want her to be. Before going to Spain she doesn’t have the confidence or the self-belief to give things another to, to take that step and say ok, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next but it doesn’t matter.
As well as Charlotte’s story, Under The Spanish Stars also takes us back in time to explore more of Charlotte’s grandmother Katarina’s past. I know next to nothing about Spanish history, so I found a lot of the snippets of life during that time somewhat fascinating and kept making little notes for myself on things to read up on further when I’d finished the novel. I actually found Katarina’s story really engaging and wished it made up a larger portion of the novel. Although I enjoyed Charlotte and her journey, I think the mystery and intrigue surrounding Katarina and her past had much more potential and could’ve been a larger part of the story.
I do have admit that both elements of romance in the book didn’t really work for me. I didn’t find much interesting about Mateo at all and I found his and Charlotte’s chemistry quite lacklustre. I think I actually enjoyed the parts of the book he wasn’t in more than the ones he was and his particular way of speaking got a bit grating after a while ie “you are doing the joking again?” and “you have done the driving in Spain?” etc. This very well may be the way Spanish people speak English, I don’t know. The only person I’ve known who spoke Spanish was an El Salvadorean married to my cousin and his English was probably better than mine. Likewise the romance wasn’t the most interesting part of Katarina’s story either, instead I found her personality and determination as well as the mystery surrounding the painting and her heritage to be the most interesting aspects of the story surrounding her. I also liked learning about the gitana families, the Spanish gypsies who have their own very particular culture and customs. Fortunately for me, the romance wasn’t a huge aspect of the book and I was able to focus on the other parts that did work for me....more
Lately, historical romance novels have been my comfort reads. They’re what I look for on my kindle when I can’t decide what I want to read and I’m alwLately, historical romance novels have been my comfort reads. They’re what I look for on my kindle when I can’t decide what I want to read and I’m always looking for new ones so that I have a nice collection there. I’m not exactly sure why it is – but there’s something soothing about the descriptions of dresses and balls. The men are all very aristocratic Dukes and Earls and the women are often of good breeding but impoverished and needing to make an advantageous match.
This one is a little different in that the heroine is not of a ‘good’ family – she’s of an entirely different class, hasn’t even ever met a Duke. She’s the widow of a village reverend and has a young daughter. And originally, she believes she’s marrying a gentleman of relatively good means, someone who will take care of her and make it so that she doesn’t have to move back in with her father after the new reverend arrives to take over the parish. However her groom, the feckless twin of the Duke of Essex gets cold feet at the last moment. Instead of fleeing he goes through with the marriage but signs the name of the Duke instead of his own.
And our heroine, Hannah, finds herself a very unexpected Duchess. And even more surprised is the Duke himself.
The Duke is responsible. Painfully responsible. He’s been bailing his brother out for as long as he can remember but he’s furious this time. Marcus had no intentions of marrying but now that he is married, he feels he must maintain the charade for a while, lest he destroy his family’s relationships entirely. So he convinces Hannah to stay and reside in his home for a while before they will quietly separate and go their ways. Sarah agrees but makes sure that she gets the Duke to acquiesce to her one request.
Despite the fact that Marcus is occasionally a little frustrating in his rigidity, I absolutely adored the two of them together. Hannah is such a breath of fresh air in a novel like this, she’s so practical and day-to-day – she’s used to cooking and cleaning and doing things for herself. She’s never had servants and the Duke has so many that it’s impossible for her to remember all their names, something that distresses her. She has raised her daughter herself too – no nurseries, no nannies or governesses. She doesn’t want to send her away to the nursery in the impressive residence of the Duke but she does realise that in her new role, she will have to adjust some things. Marcus’s stepmother and sister are refreshingly supportive of Marcus marrying a “nobody”, someone not from London society.
As well as Marcus and Hannah getting to know each other in the time they agree to continue being married, there’s a side plot of mystery running through this book too as Marcus seeks to uncover a sinister plot that might possibly involve his wayward brother. Even though he’s furious at him, Marcus is still bailing him out – and it appears that this time, he might be in a very large amount of trouble that might lead to a dangerous situation. I really loved how this played out, the story became more and more intriguing with more touches of suspense. I have to admit I found it difficult to like Marcus’s twin David after the deception that he pulled with Marcus and Hannah – especially poor Hannah, who was really manipulated and went through an emotional wringer. However he really did redeem himself at the end of the novel and now I’d like to read his story – it sounds very interesting! – as well as the story of their younger sister, which make up the trilogy.
Marcus and Hannah had great chemistry and each somehow managed to bring out the best in each other when they were bringing out the worst. Marcus is quite stuffy and proper very concerned with the responsibilities of being a Duke and head of his family and also aware that but for a few minutes, it would’ve been David. There’s some nice complexity to their relationship that extends just beyond Duke and spare as well, which was good. The strength of the development of the relationship between Marcus and Hannah, two strangers who end up married to each other was definitely the highlight of the novel and a joy to read. I really liked both of them and thought that they turned out to be perfect for each other and the way they came to realise they didn’t want their ‘arrangement’ to end was lovely....more
And I mean that in the best possible way. In a this was so good I don’t even know where to start kind of way. The characters? WeWhere do I even begin?
And I mean that in the best possible way. In a this was so good I don’t even know where to start kind of way. The characters? Well it’s what we’ve been waiting for. Damianos is finally allowed to be Damianos. He’s been using his upbringing and military experience in helping Laurent in tactics but this is the first real time he gets to lead in the way that he would as a Prince, an heir, a King. For so long he’s had to dampen down his whole personality – not always successfully either, struggling to fit into a role that he was never designed for. He’d been raised to be a King, not a slave. And Damen is clever, he’s a strong leader, he’s a possessed fighter. He never gives up, even when the odds look ridiculously stacked against him. He doesn’t quite have Laurent’s darkly twisted mind but he has battle experience and know-how.
I read this book almost on tenterhooks, aware of all the reveals that were going to come. When Laurent found out who his slave really was….how was he going to react? The man he’d sworn for years that he would kill. And it was awesome, full of unexpected twists and emotional tugging at my heartstrings as the two of the negotiated their new roles. Damen doesn’t need to do what he’s told anymore and Laurent has to negotiate not being in charge, having an equal beside him.
I’m very mindful of spoilers when writing a review like this – so much to discuss but very difficult to do so without revealing some of the key plot points in the novel. I think that C.S. Pacat has a brilliant mind – it’s very rare to find a book that excels not only in complicated strategy and mindtrickery but also in amazing emotional connection. I’m not a big m/m reader – I don’t avoid it but it’s not something I read a lot of. I just don’t come across many. However this trilogy had me so invested in these two characters and their troubled….relationship. There are so many complications underpinning it – Laurent and his past, his feelings over his brother and also, what is finally revealed in this novel, his battle of wits with his uncle, the Regent hoping to outmaneuver him long enough to stay alive to inherit his throne. Likewise Damen also has his own goal, to return him to Akielos and take his true place as the King after his brother usurped him. So much stands in their way, so much they have done to each other both knowingly and unknowingly. Despite all of that, they have managed to somehow forge something amazing and both of them make the other better. Laurent needs someone with a sense of compassion, someone who recognises when he needs to ‘take a moment and calm down’ before he does something rash, someone who has been raised with strength and self-belief. And Damen, despite the fact that he’s a King, still displays at times, almost too much compassion. He’s complacent, he sees the best in people. It’s how he never saw Kastor and Jokaste betraying him. And even after that, he still gets blindsided several times by more trickery and betrayal. Lucky for Damen, Laurent sees stuff like this coming and he’s able to act in order to both protect and help Damen as well as himself in their uneasy alliance. I haven’t always liked Laurent throughout the trilogy, even in this volume. Perhaps that’s because the narration is Damen’s and he’s so masterfully betrayed at the beginning of the novel, you cannot help but kind of side with him. But the way in which Laurent plays out in this book, I cannot help but admire him and so many things suddenly become so clear. I’m so glad I made the choice to re-read books 1&2 just before this one was released, it’s not something I usually have the time to do but it was so worth it to be able to read them all together and have every little detail fresh in my mind.
I honestly think this was the perfect ending to an amazing trilogy. I loved the first two books and when that happens, you’re so hopeful and fearful for the last. And this gave me everything I wanted, everything I needed and I closed the book feeling so satisfied. And well, lots of other things too, because of the feels, but mostly satisfied. All of the groundwork laid came to wonderful fruition and I can’t find one “I wish this happened” to say about it at all....more
I read this as it was only 100p and it was an attempt to find out quickly what happened to Mariana from Cartel without having to read the rest of theI read this as it was only 100p and it was an attempt to find out quickly what happened to Mariana from Cartel without having to read the rest of the books in that series. I didn't find out what happened to Mariana and this is even more of a clusterfuck than Cartel. ...more
I’ve heard some interesting things about this author/series and given the second book was recently releI don’t even know where to start with this one.
I’ve heard some interesting things about this author/series and given the second book was recently released, it seemed as though it was everywhere. This was a free download from iBooks, probably in promo for the release of the second book and I also ended up with Seven Sons by Lili St Germain as well. I have read romances that revolve around an OMC before, for a while there they were pretty much the thing. But this isn’t a romance. It’s billed as “dark romance” but….yeah, no.
Mariana is a teenager who was at university in the US but is recalled home because her drug runner father got drunk and ended up with the load of drugs he was hauling impounded by the DEA. His cartel boss is going to kill them all but Mariana negotiates herself instead, giving herself to Emilio Ross, drug and crime boss extraordinaire, in exchange for the lives of her family. Emilio toys with Mariana for a while, basically attempting to mess with her head before putting her in an ‘auction’ as a sex slave. Emilio’s son Dornan (stupid name) has seen something ‘special’ in Mariana and that combined with her amazing accountancy skills buys her a free pass out of the auction and one into Dornan’s bed and strip club as a bean counter. I’m honestly so bored of the badass seeing something undefinably “special”, something that he’s never seen/felt before, something that causes him to act out of character and blah blah blah. Especially as Mariana is boring, whiny and doesn’t really do anything interesting at all, except during her sacrifice for her family. And even then, I don’t know, it doesn’t really feel all that believable. There’s something about the detached way that she does it, that she goes through these motions that doesn’t really seem like survival mode but more just….the fact that Mariana is boring. She has no real interesting thoughts or reactions to anything.
Emilio is basically, I don’t know, Pablo Escobar or something without being on the run. He’s an asshole who moves drugs and has bought off cops, US marshals, border patrol and basically anyone else you can think of. Dornan is VP of the Gypsy Brothers, an OMC and I don’t know what he does? Runs strip clubs? Rides around being a supposed badass? Who cares.
The fact of the matter is, there’s nothing in this book except a bunch of disconnected scenes that don’t actually really make up a believable story. Dornan tells Mariana that she’ll tell him she loves him soon and she does. But Dornan, apart from buying her himself instead of letting her to go the sex slave auction, doesn’t actually do anything that warrants anyone falling in love with him, let alone a psychologically traumatised teenager who has been kidnapped, mindfucked, actually fucked, abandoned for weeks on end in an apartment she cannot escape from, almost raped, etc. It’s a wonder she still has a mind at all and isn’t a dribbling mess but the thing is, I can’t buy Mariana’s mental strength anymore than I can buy what she and Dornan have is a “romance”. One of them is a criminal with zero respect for women, daddy issues up the wazoo and the other is a captive who has no choice but to launder their money and service Dornan. About Dornan’s only redeeming feature so far is that he “doesn’t like to share” which isn’t really about Mariana and not putting her through being abused by other men, it’s about himself.
But Dornan gives her orgasms……and she loves him.
But….why? Why does she love Dornan?
I don’t even know that this can be portrayed as some sort of Stockholm Syndrome where Mariana is dependent upon him because he rescued her from a significantly worse fate. If it is supposed to be Stockholm Syndrome then it’s not at all written to portray that sort of mindset, the sort of dependence or emotional mind control. Mariana is whiny and once she gets to have sex with Dornan, really doesn’t seem all that concerned about her situation. Dornan is hot, of course. He’s a badass motorcycle dude who basically has zero personality. Some attempt is made at giving him some sort of backstory, along with his friend and the President of Gypsy Brothers but it mostly falls flat. The most interesting thing about Dornan is his uneasy relationship with his father and the issues this creates for him, but it’s only glossed over and doesn’t really delve into it. Some attempt is made to make Dornan seem sickened by some of the violence but given I’ve read Seven Sons, it isn’t at all believable.
I didn’t see this trilogy ending well at all, even before I did some research and realised that it’s a spin off of the Gypsy Brothers series and not the other way around. Actually reading Seven Sons (first of the Gypsy Brothers books) was an attempt to find out the ending of this trilogy without having to read the next 2 books, because Seven Sons was only 100p. However it didn’t really tell me anything and I guess you’d have to read a couple further along in the series, or maybe the final one. But I’ve honestly read enough. I no longer care what happens to Mariana and given I’ve read Seven Sons I can gather what happens to Dornan.
It seems I’m forever requesting or picking up books without realising that they’re the sequel to a previous one because I read this one without knowinIt seems I’m forever requesting or picking up books without realising that they’re the sequel to a previous one because I read this one without knowing until today when I went to c&p the description, that it’s a sequel. That explains quite a few things I think. If I’d read The Storms of War before this one I would’ve grasped the family’s situations much better and things that felt a bit vague, such as the marriage of the sister of the main character, would’ve made more sense.
The story begins at the end of WWI and the de Witt’s are struggling to reestablish their places in the world. Their stately pile was used as a hospital during the war and because of family patriarch Rudolf’s German extraction, their lives are definitely not what they once were. Oldest son Arthur has returned from abroad but seems sly and secretive. Elder daughter Emmeline has married and moved to London now and Celia, youngest of all has returned from doing her part for the war effort. The family are preparing to welcome Rudolf and Verena’s niece Louisa to the household and Celia is excited, hoping to befriend her. She is to be disappointed though as Louisa it seems, bonds far more quickly with Arthur despite their significant age gap. When Arthur takes Louisa to London, ostensibly to give her a season it instead sets forth a storm of tragic events that will test the family’s strength and faith in each other and shine more of a negative light upon their heritage.
The biggest problem for me in this book was that it felt so very obvious. The prologue means that there is basically no doubt in the reader’s mind what occurs and so Celia and everyone running around trying to get to the truth of it, trying to unravel a mystery made for pages and pages of somewhat tedious reading. I know the characters aren’t aware of the same things that the reader is but it felt like there should’ve been more of an attempt to blur the lines a little, make a bit “did it or didn’t it?” when really it seems as though there’s no doubt from the very get-go. Everyone seems to place mostly unwavering faith in a lazy, greedy wastrel who doesn’t really deserve their loyalty and I felt quite dissatisfied with how the bulk of that story played out.
The story shifts between Celia and Louisa and I have to say, I did find Louisa’s portion much more interesting than Celia’s and perhaps that was because I didn’t know about the previous book when I read this one. Celia’s story revolves too much around some “fauxmance” with Tom, the son of the help at her parent’s home and it never seemed to be going anywhere to me, always floundering and the whole thing just felt very awkward to read, especially after Tom’s confession. Louisa’s story was much more interesting but I had to wait so long to really get to it and it felt like a lot of the really meaty part was missed out as we skipped away again. Louisa’s narrative should’ve been a bigger presence in this story, considering all that happened. Instead I felt it got too bogged down with Celia, always back to Celia and for a lot of the time, she really didn’t have much going on until well after the time of Louisa’s stay at Celia’s family home and her time in London. Celia’s trip to Germany was quite interesting, a glimpse into the lifestyles of those who had made money from the war in Baden-Baden. Most of Celia’s story seemed to come much late in the book (and apparently this is the second novel in a trilogy, so I think I can see where the third book is going) but by the time it all began to unfold, I think I’d kind of lost interest. Everything felt too contrived, no one really talked to each other, just about everyone could’ve done with a few home truths.
It seemed promising at first but didn’t live up to my expectations. The story jumped around too much for me and elaborated too much on stuff that didn’t interest me and skimmed over what did as well as signposted the major “dilemma” or climax of the novel far too obviously. Even now that I know it’s a trilogy and a lot is explained probably in book 1, quite a bit of my dissatisfaction with this book doesn’t have much to do with that....more
This is the first fiction novel of Ann Morgan, who is quite well known for her A Year of Reading the World blog. I’ve been reading that blog for a whiThis is the first fiction novel of Ann Morgan, who is quite well known for her A Year of Reading the World blog. I’ve been reading that blog for a while now and followed her quest to read a book from every country on the planet, detailing how people sought her out to help her, often unofficially translating publications for her, supplying their own copies of books and just generally giving information on books from countries that would be considered difficult to source material from. She published a book about that experience and has now turned her hand to fiction.
So much about this blurb intrigued me. When I was younger, I wanted to be an identical twin. I read all the Sweet Valley Twins/High/University books and thought it sounded like so much fun. Of course as I grew older I kind of lost interest in being a twin and wanted to have twins. Then I became pregnant and was really rather relieved that each time, the ultrasound showed a single baby. But I find the twin dynamic really interesting and I enjoy reading books that feature twins, especially ones that revolve around the differences, the evolving relationship as they negotiate adolescence and adulthood. I think a lot of books paint one twin as the good Elizabeth-style twin and another as the more reckless Jessica-style twin who usually bullies/takes advantage of the good one and I’m not sure it’s always that simple.
Beside Myself is certainly complex in some ways but I think it also relied on the good/less good theory to begin with. Helen is the ‘good’ twin who gets good marks in school, gets to wear pretty clothes. Ellie is behind at school, is always pulling at the neckline of her clothes and ruining them and occasionally still wets the bed. One day as a ‘trick’, Helen suggests they swap roles and she coaches Ellie on how to behave like her. Helen does their hair differently, swapping their usual hairstyles and they swap clothes. The only problem is that when the trick is over, Ellie refuses to swap back, continuing to act like Helen and Helen becomes so frustrated that she seems to take on ‘Ellie’ traits. The more desperate Helen is to prove who she is, the more she seems unable to whereas Ellie seems to excel, seemingly having no more trouble doing schoolwork, no more accidents.
So much of the early set up seemed implausible to me: is it really possible for a mother not to notice that her children had swapped roles? Most mothers/family members of multiples that I know can tell them apart in an instant, no matter who they’re pretending to be. My husband knows twins and occasionally we see one or the other on tv. “I don’t know which one it is,” I’ll say, because they need to be in front of me in person for me to tell them apart as there are some subtle differences. My husband will glance at the screen, they’re usually some 50+ metres away from the camera, often not looking or back towards us or whatever. But he’ll state “that’s A or B” within three seconds. He’s known them 20+ years and says they even walk differently and don’t need to be facing him for him to know which one it is. And yet Helen and Ellie’s mother accepts it in a second, which I just couldn’t buy. Attempts are made late in the book to address this but I’m not sure I found them plausible either. If that was the true motivation, I think it’s even more heinous than not being able to tell your children apart at the age of seven.
The book skips back and forth a bit in time, from when the twins are children to when they’re adults. Their lives have diverged significantly – Ellie-now-Helen is a TV presenter, married to an architect living in a beautiful home. Helen-now-Ellie suffers from significant mental illness, lives on welfare and squats in squalor. They haven’t seen each other in many years – but their mother contacts the twin now known as Ellie to inform her that Helen has been in an accident and lies in a coma. Helen’s charismatic husband visits, begging her to come and see Helen as the one thing that might possibly wake her up. Ellie is reluctant but somehow ends up in Helen’s big house, seeing what her life could’ve possibly become…..had she never come up with that idea to swap roles as children. The problem for me was that I think I needed more from Helen/Ellie’s years in their late teens/early 20s. We get snatches of Helen-now-Ellie’s life as she is the narrator but I would’ve liked more, to get a better understanding of her illness. Was it something that lurked in her all the time? Or was it something that grew and developed because of the role she’d been forced into as a child? I’m probably supposed to decide myself but I can’t get past the fact that no one except the elderly grandmother with dementia seemed able to tell that the twins had swapped. Surely a different hairstyle and different clothes doesn’t change a person completely….how did Ellie-now-Helen improve so much at school? How did Helen-now-Ellie regress so much that she could barely colour in the lines in her first day or two of being forced into the role of Ellie at school?
Beside Myself was an interesting look at nature vs nurture and I thought the writing was superb. The story of one twin’s descent into mental illness, isolation and poverty did strike a chord within me but at the same time I did find it difficult to believe that she wouldn’t have been able to prove in some way that she wasn’t original Ellie. I was very surprised when the girls’ teacher didn’t seem to notice anything untoward at all and it seemed as though everything that unfolded did so because of something I found really difficult to believe. Even simple things, like one twin being bought lovely clothes and the other one being given daggy, ugly clothes struck me as merely a plot device to ensure they looked differently rather than something that was believable. Yes original Ellie had a habit of tugging on her clothes (something that seems to stop miraculously when she becomes Helen) but why continue to buy her clothes and shoes that were so inferior to her twin’s?
I have to give it good marks for the writing but ultimately it left me with too many questions and too few answers....more
You know how sometimes you hear about a book and you just know that it’s going to be for you? That it’s going to be something that you connect with anYou know how sometimes you hear about a book and you just know that it’s going to be for you? That it’s going to be something that you connect with and will make you feel things? This for me, was one of those books. I read and really liked Sally Hepworth’s debut novel The Secrets of Midwives last year so when I heard about this one I knew that I was definitely going to be adding it to my TBR. I read it one sitting and found it almost impossible to put down.
Anna Forster is 38 which is disturbingly only 4 years older than I am and she has been diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s which is genetic. She’s reached the stage where she needs care or help in day to day life but the only facilities that really cater for people in her situation are aged care facilities. Her twin brother Jake chooses Rosalind House because of Luke, a man of 40 who resides there who has a condition somewhat similar to Anna’s. He believes that she will do better having someone around her that is her own age. I felt an immediate affinity with Anna, even though we really had very little in common. I tried to place myself in her shoes, to be given awareness of exactly what it is that she would be losing and applied it to my own life and it was really quite heartbreaking. Anna narrates part of the novel and the reader experiences her decline both through the eyes of others as well as through her own storytelling.
The other parts of the narration come from Eve and her daughter Clementine. Eve was a society wife, disgraced by her husband’s involvement in a Ponzi scheme. Left with nothing she takes a job as the cook at Rosalind House because the address of the facility allows her daughter to remain enrolled at her school. Eve becomes entranced by the story of Anna and Luke and the bond between them. Her young daughter Clementine is the victim of bullying at school and she spends quite a bit of time with the residents of Rosalind House after school while her mother is working. Both Eve and Clementine face ostracisation from their previous social circles because of what her husband did and Eve bears the brunt of a lot of people’s anger as there is that age-old question: how did she not know what her husband was doing?
I felt for Eve in her situation too, because she was an innocent party and she suffered too, losing all of her possessions, her home and her husband. She was forced to move into an apartment that barely housed herself and Clementine and take a job that required her to do more than the description entailed in order to keep them going. She has the added stress of Clementine’s school situation as her daughter faces what is perhaps the worst type of bullying: adult sanctioned and encouraged, where children repeat what they have been told or overheard, using it to ruthlessly torment her. She’s 6, far too young to understand what has happened and is also a true innocent party. Instead of facing sympathy and understanding she is shamed and shunned, taunted cruelly and then reprimanded when she lashes out in response.
I have to admit, I don’t know a lot about dementia/Alzheimer’s and my life has thankfully been relatively untouched by it, barring a few more distant relatives and I’ve never known anyone or known of anyone who knew someone with the younger-onset variety. I’ve read one book about it before but the character was around 50-ish, so older than Anna from this novel but still very young in terms of dementia. So I’m for sure no expert but this definitely had such a feel of authenticity and reality to it, including how Anna’s brother Jack felt. We are never given Jack’s point of view, the author chooses to let the reader see him through Anna and Eve’s eyes and I feel like this worked really well. Anna can see Jack’s emotions at times but lacks the ability to process them or even relate them to her situation. Eve sees a brother trying to do the best thing for his sister, but feels as though he is ultimately making the wrong choices for her. Eve finds herself utterly transfixed by the bond that develops between Anna and Luke and risks everything she can to facilitate it. I think it gives her something to believe in, shows her that even in dire situations, love and beauty can be found. Rosalind House opens Eve up to all sorts of new experiences and she evolves in her time there. Because of this, so also does Clementine.
This book is written with beauty and sensitivity, it’s a compelling story and a heartbreaking rendition of love. Sally Hepworth is going to be one of those auto-read authors for me....more
Alissa Morgan-Jones had everything – a burgeoning career as a dressage eventer and trainer of horses, a handsome husband, an enviable stable. That allAlissa Morgan-Jones had everything – a burgeoning career as a dressage eventer and trainer of horses, a handsome husband, an enviable stable. That all changed one night when not only did she discover a betrayal but a terrible fire left her a widow, destroyed her house and her stables. Alissa now suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggles to do simple things. She can’t even think of a horse without breaking out into a cold sweat, traumatised and devastated by her loss. She suffers crippling nightmares and carries her own healing injuries from the fire.
The last thing she needs is news that her somewhat eccentric mother-in-law has had a fall, been diagnosed with cancer and had to go into care. Alissa and her husband purchased the property for his mother to live in and now Alissa owns it. She would’ve been happy to forget about it but instead she must go and sort it out. She’s distressed to discover that their are animals….many animals, including a horse. Her mother-in-law’s cranky neighbour Cameron Blakely is just one more reason to wash her hands of the place.
It isn’t that easy, however. Alissa finds that although there are definitely some strange goings on in Mavis’ place, slowly she begins to find a peace there that she hasn’t been able to since the fire. It takes her a while and she still experiences crippling fear and panic attacks but soon she can even begin to feed the animals, as well as get the horse the care it needs. Soon word of Alissa’s presence in the small town gets out and parents ask her to help their children with horse riding lessons. She’s frightened, terrified that she won’t be able to do it but there are pieces of her brain that see where she can be of help, what she can do to make better riders and mounts. It’s in her blood. Even the animosity with Cameron mellows into something much more attractive and she finds herself drawn into his small circle of friends, fitting in.
I have really developed a bit of a thing for a good romantic suspense and this book definitely fits that bill. From the very beginning I found it difficult to put down, for a couple of reasons. I became really invested in Alissa and her journey because her PTSD was so well written. I really could feel and experience her panic and fear and felt so genuine and believable. I also felt like it was something the author showed that Alissa had to work hard to manage, not something that took front and centre and then kind of faded away. Reading about her struggle made me feel strangely protective of Alissa, like her sister is and I found the scenes with her sister and the detective investigating the fire pretty hilarious. Those two had some chemistry and I’d love them to get their own book at some stage….but more about that later.
I found Cameron a bit of a jerk at the start, he seemed to make a few assumptions about Alissa and why she hadn’t been to the house before now and why she won’t feed the animals. Instead of just asking her if she’s ok, he just assumes reasons himself but when he does witness some of her PTSD related fears, he becomes quite understanding and the two of them end up building quite a connection. It isn’t smooth sailing though, Alissa still has some issues surrounding her husband’s death and something strange is definitely going on in the house.
Which brings me to the suspense element of the novel. I was utterly sucked in by it and loved puzzling it out and putting the pieces together just as things were being revealed in the plot. There were some really fun twists and turns in this and the sinister atmosphere built nicely, with Barrie able to use Alissa’s state of mind as a way to perhaps have the reader (and other characters) query if there really is something happening or if she’s imagining things. I got a few guesses right and got surprised a few other times and thought that the way that things played out was excellent. I was riveted the entire time.
There’s no doubt that this isn’t over and I’m hoping that this is a trilogy. I can’t wait for the next installment, I have to know what happens next....more
Hold On To Me is another novel in Victoria Purman’s Boys of Summer series. I’ve read the previous novels and really enjoyed them. Stella was introduceHold On To Me is another novel in Victoria Purman’s Boys of Summer series. I’ve read the previous novels and really enjoyed them. Stella was introduced briefly before and Luca is Anna Morelli’s brother so I was pleased to get the opportunity to head back to this world and catch up with what is happening.
This one is a little slow to get moving – the cafe next to Stella’s shop catches fire and although her shop doesn’t burn it does take quite a bit of water damage from the fire brigade putting out the fire. She hires Anna Morelli’s brother Luca to repair the shop as well as make some improvements – Luca has ‘ideas’ and together the two of them begin to plan a much better space whilst a simmering attraction starts between them.
Luca is 29 to Stella’s 35 and this is something that does preoccupy her. I’m almost the same age as Stella and I have to admit, I didn’t find it to be such a big deal? Perhaps because my husband is older than me, I don’t tend to view age gaps the same as many others might. But 6 years when both characters are around 30ish didn’t seem much at all. If Stella had been 45 and Luca 25, it might’ve been something I felt more easy for her to panic over. After all, when you stretch that far, people can be in very different life places….especially if the older character is female. By the time the guy gets to 30 and might think about wanting children, the woman is most likely going to find that difficult. When the situation is reversed, men can keep fathering children well into their senior years. I think in some ways it was trying to portray that being younger, Luca was often the one more settled, more ready for what was happening but this was occasionally spoiled by him storming off in a huff, getting angry over being jealous or becoming moody in a way that was just vaguely explained as being because he’s Italian. Also Anna refers to her brother as bella several times throughout this book which made me giggle. I’m assuming it’s supposed to be bello.
What I did really love about this book is the strong friendship between all of the women (well couples) that have each been previously featured in a book. They catch up frequently and share their lives and have girls nights (and guys nights, I’m assuming!) and in some cases, match make the not-yet-paired-up members. I also really liked the little side plot of Stella’s friend Summer and her finding of romance. Actually I think I would’ve liked to have read more about that! The women are all so closely-knit and their friendship is written in such a natural and genuine way. It makes this seem like a really lovely place to live, the sort of place you’d love to move to, even if just to be included in that sort of friendship group.
Stella had a pretty rough childhood and it’s definitely affected her into her adulthood, as well as the failed relationship that sent her fleeing back to Middle Point. She’s had to overcome quite a few knocks and she’s very determined and strong, but at the same time she does tend to have a streak of the vulnerable in her and she finds it very hard to trust. I felt as though Stella had quite a bit of justification to be as emotionally stunted as she was, even though it did make her at times, a little frustrating! She was stubborn, clinging onto this stuff from her childhood and allowing it to continue affecting her every day life but thankfully she did manage to take some steps towards letting it all go, as well as what happened with the relationship in her past, once she got over the idea that she might somehow be publicly humiliated in some way and that it would change people’s perceptions of her.
Despite a few niggles with this one (mostly personal – not seeing what the big deal was with the age and Stella needing to constantly tell herself to leave the young man alone etc) I did enjoy this story and I loved being back in this part of the world, catching up with the other couples and seeing what was going on in their lives. Victoria Purman has created a really nice community here and populated it with lovely people, the sort that you just enjoy being connected to....more
Fiona Barton’s The Widow is a polished debut in suspense, giving us not a new story but a new spin on it. I’ve read similar things before, generally fFiona Barton’s The Widow is a polished debut in suspense, giving us not a new story but a new spin on it. I’ve read similar things before, generally from the perspective of the jaded detective who dedicates their career to finding the one perpetrator behind a horrible crime, only to find themselves stonewalled at every turn by an accused that’s too clever or legal jargon or any other number of obstacles. In this novel although we do get that perspective it’s also split, focusing on the wife of a man accused of committing a terrible offense: the kidnap and murder of a two year old girl as well as the newspaper journalist who seeks to secure her story.
You’ve seen them before, partners of people accused of doing heinous things. They stand by them, stoic at their side while they answer questions or give a carefully prepared statement. Jean is that woman, the sort of woman that you can imagine a predator taking and moulding into what he wanted. She’s meek, doesn’t come across as particularly clever with a simple job. She keeps a nice home for Glen, her husband and so long as things go Glen’s way, their life moves on without a ripple. When things don’t go Glen’s way he turns into someone else and Jean becomes Jeanie to cope with the stress. Jeanie doesn’t ask questions. Jeanie does what her husband says, supports him totally. Jeanie doesn’t crack under police pressure either, she has her story and she sticks to it.
Fast forward and Glen is dead without ever having been convicted of the crime he was accused of. The little girl’s body has not been found and now, Jean is free. The television cameras and the reporters are hounding her day after day, desperate for her story. What does she really know? Always there has been the ever-present Glen hovering, reminding her that they don’t speak to the press. But now they sense an in and reporter Kate is the first one through the door, blithely making cups of tea and paying Jean the sort of attention she hasn’t had in years and doesn’t know how to deal with. Without doing a single things, Jean suddenly has herself an exclusive deal to tell her story…
I found myself really hooked on this story because it was obvious from the get-go that Jean knew quite a bit more than she was letting on but how much she knew and how much she was aware of knowing were the interesting questions for me. She’s painted as a very submissive wife, the sort who is utterly overrun by her husband but at the same time there are flashes….glimpses of a woman who has hidden depths, quiet means of flouting her husband’s authority.
Glen was smooth, the sort of character with an answer for every question, an alibi, a rational explanation and he was obviously a source of great frustration for the detective in charge of the case, who believed that he was the culprit but just couldn’t prove it. Couldn’t close the case for the devastated mother, couldn’t find the body of her little girl. Probably like many men before him, Glen uses his wife as part of his alibi and the dutiful Jean confirmed it over and over again under police questioning.
I found this story so interesting and horrifying as well. It makes me wonder how many times police probably know who the perpetrators are but yet they just don’t have the solid evidence they need to prove it. They know it, but can’t act on it. Makes me think of cases in Australia, like a young 3yo boy who was kidnapped over a year ago and nothing has been seen or heard of him since.
Parents of missing or kidnapped children often come under severe scrutiny from the media and the mother of the kidnapped child in this story is a young single mother on welfare. She allowed her daughter to play in the (fenced) front yard where she could supposedly be safe but it was nothing for someone to tempt her over to the fence and simply lift her over it and into a waiting car. The whole thing probably took less than ten seconds from start to finish and she finds herself criticised, lambasted for her mothering skills and not taking better care of her child. It seemed such a classic case of victim blaming, because a child should be safe in her front yard. She should be able to innocently play while her mother folds washing or god forbid has a cup of tea or even watches something on television. Parenting is hard work, especially on your own and sometimes you have to take your half hour of peace where you can. But it’s a fact that whilst a child may be safe most of the time, there will be a time when they might not be safe. When danger lurks, even though they’re just doing something they’ve done many times before. I found the intrusive presence of the media frightening in this story, the way they hounded and harassed Jean, even the way Kate manipulated and cajoled her into giving the interview, giving up pieces of her life with Glen. Jean came across as vulnerable and browbeaten and I think that journalists like to convince themselves sometimes that they’re trying to get her story for the greater good but really all they are after is the kudos for their paper and the knowledge that they succeeded where others had failed.
I really enjoyed this book – I thought it was clever, well written and although it’s not really a new story as such, it was presented in a way that made it seem very new and different. Jean was a well created character, I really did waiver on how I felt about her throughout the book many times. I liked that complication, that uncertainty in my head. I was never sure on turning the page what she was going to reveal. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Fiona Barton’s next novel....more