Guest Review: Colombiano – Rusty Young

Colombiano

Rusty Young

Havelock & Baker Publishing

ISBN: 9780143781530

 

Description:

In Colombia you have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for you . . .

All Pedro Gutiérrez cares about is fishing, playing pool and his girlfriend Camila’s promise to sleep with him on his sixteenth birthday. But his life is ripped apart when Guerrilla soldiers callously execute his father in front of him, and he and his mother are banished from their farm.

Swearing vengeance against the five men responsible, Pedro, with his best friend Palillo, joins an illegal Paramilitary group, where he is trained to fight, kill and crush any sign of weakness.

But as he descends into a world of unspeakable violence, Pedro must decide how far he is willing to go. Can he stop himself before he becomes just as ruthless as those he is hunting? Or will his dark obsession cost him all he loves?

Colombiano is an epic tale of rural villages held to ransom, of jungle drug labs, cocaine supermarkets, witch doctors and buried millions, of innocent teenage love, barbaric torture and meticulously planned revenge.

Superbly told and by turns gripping, poignant and darkly comic, Colombiano is the remarkable story of a boy whose moral descent becomes a metaphor for the corruption of an entire nation. Both blockbuster thriller and electrifying coming-of-age story, Rusty Young’s powerful novel is also a meditation on the redeeming power of love.

Brenda’s Review:

As fifteen-year-old Pedro Gutierrez was forced to watch his father being murdered, he vowed he would do everything in his power to get vengeance against the men responsible. Grieving, angry and determined, Pedro and his best friend Palillo joined the Autodefensas – opposition to the powerful and brutal Guerrilla, the group that the men he would kill belonged to. Pedro had been a naïve teenager whose love for his girlfriend Camila, his mother and father, as well as fishing with his Papa had kept him innocent. His life would change dramatically in the two and a half years he was with the Autodefensas.

Pedro’s obsession with finding his father’s killers overrode any common sense he might have and Palillo did all he could to keep Pedro from doing crazy things. But would the world of violence he had descended into turn him into a killer as well? Would he turn into one of the monsters he was pursuing?

What an incredible tale, told by Aussie author Rusty Young after his seven years in Colombia where he interviewed special forces soldiers, snipers, undercover intelligence agents and members of the brutal gangs which were at war in the country. The child soldiers were the ones who tore his heart apart, and so, in telling their story, Colombiano was born. Blending fact with fiction, this story – at 820 pages – is a long one, but one well worth reading. Pedro was an excellent character as was Palillo and I was captivated by the story; by the heartache and poignancy which saw a coming of age story along with a thriller like none I’ve ever read before. A superbly told story, Colombiano is one I highly recommend. 5 stars

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: The Orange Grove – Kate Murdoch

The Orange Grove

Kate Murdoch

Regal House Publishing

ISBN: 9781947548220

 

Description:

Blois, 1705. The château of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies. The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in love and domestic politics strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

 

Brenda’s Review:

The Duc Hugo d’Amboise had a wife, the Duchesse Charlotte and several mistresses who all lived together in his chateau which was surrounded by beautiful gardens and the orange grove. It was 1705 in Blois, France and the politics of the household was rife with petty jealousies, anger and enemies. When a new mistress arrived, the young and beautiful Letitia, Charlotte was intensely jealous. The duc wanted a son; Charlotte was unable to produce one therefore the duc’s mistresses felt the pressure to give him what he wanted. The problem was, the duc’s affections for Letitia overtook his affections for anyone else, including his wife.

Henriette and her daughter Solange lived quietly in the chateau, with Henriette high up in the realm of mistresses. But that was to change when she befriended Letitia. Charlotte was bitter and angry, looking for anything that would remove Letitia from her husband’s affections. What would happen in the chateau as tensions escalated and rivalries flared? And how was tarot card reader, Romain de Villiers involved?

The Orange Grove by Aussie author Kate Murdoch is set in France in the early 1700s where it was normal for men to have mistresses, for wives to know and even approve in some cases. What a horrible time to bring up your children! As a woman, you’d need to be on your toes, fully aware of what could – and probably would – go wrong any time, day or night. And as a young woman, to be sold to ease your family’s financial woes, to a duke who was willing to pay money for a pretty young face and body – I’m glad I wasn’t born back then! Filled with intrigue, The Orange Grove is one I recommend. 4 stars

With thanks to the author for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: The Viennese Girl – Jenny Lecoat

 

The Viennese Girl

Jenny Lecoat

Allen & Unwin AU

ISBN: 9781760877927

 

Description:

Inspired by the true story of a young Jewish girl – Hedy Bercu – who fled to Jersey from Vienna only to find herself trapped on the island during the German occupation.

In June 1940, the horror-struck inhabitants of Jersey watch as the German army unopposed takes possession of their island. Now only a short way from the English coast, the Germans plan their invasion.

Hedy Bercu, a young Jewish girl from Vienna who fled to the isolation and safety of Jersey two years earlier to escape the Nazis, finds herself once more trapped, but this time with no way of escape.

Hiding her racial status, Hedy is employed by the German authorities and secretly embarks on small acts of resistance. But most dangerously of all, she falls in love with German lieutenant Kurt Neumann — a relationship on which her life will soon depend.

A remarkable novel of finding hope and love when all seems at its darkest.

 

Brenda’s Review:

When her employers escaped the island of Jersey, Hedy Bercu decided to stay put. Her parents and siblings were still in Vienna and she hoped that Jersey wouldn’t be occupied. But two years after her escape from Vienna, the Nazis arrived on the island and gradually took over, using their power to dominate and terrify the inhabitants.

Hedy was Jewish but kept it to herself. Her best friend Anton and his new girlfriend Dorothea kept her secret, but the hunger and deprivation caused Hedy to take a risk, gaining herself a job as a translator for the Germans. She was only earning a little, but the food coupons helped stave off starvation. Falling for the German lieutenant, Kurt Neumann wasn’t part of her plan, but soon it became apparent he felt the same way. Hedy’s acts of resistance were dangerous and could mean the end of her life, but still she continued. What would happen to Hedy in the months and years which followed?

The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat is based on the true story of a young Jewish girl, Hedwig Bercu, and what happened to her during the German occupation. Heartfelt, heartbreaking but also filled with hope, the determination of Hedy was phenomenal. Starving, thin and weak, she gritted her teeth and kept on going. What an amazing young woman. Jenny Lecoat has written an excellent historical fiction novel of one more aspect of World War II and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended. 5 stars

With thanks to Allen & Unwin for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: The Year the Maps Changed – Danielle Binks

 

The Year the Maps Changed

Danielle Binks

Hachette Children’s Books

ISBN: 9780734419712

 

Description:

‘I was eleven when everything started and twelve by the end. But that’s another way maps lie, because it felt like the distance travelled was a whole lot further than that.’

Sorrento, Victoria – 1999

Fred’s family is a mess. Fred’s mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop is at the Rye Rehabilitation Centre recovering from a fall; Luca’s girlfriend, Anika, has moved in; and Fred’s just found out that Anika and Luca are having a baby of their own. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

But even as the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, a crisis from the other side of it comes crashing in. When 400 Kosovar-Albanian refugees arrive in the middle of the night to be housed at one of Australia’s ‘safe havens’ on an isolated headland not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family, as she navigates one extraordinary year that will change them all.

A middle-grade coming-of-age story about the bonds of family and the power of compassion for fans of The Bone Sparrow, Wolf Hollow and The Thing About Jellyfish.

 

 

Brenda’s Review:

Winifred was eleven and living with her adoptive father Luca – a policeman – and until recently her Pop. But then Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son Sam moved in and suddenly Winifred (who was called Fred, Freddo and Winnie) felt her house was crowded. She’d lost her mother Maria when she was six and still missed her terribly and didn’t want Sam or Anika in her house. Pop was at a Rehabilitation Centre recovering from the fall he’d had, and Winifred visited him every weekend, and Wednesdays after school.

Winifred had a few friends at school and was close to Jed who lived next door. Aiden was another friend and soon Sam joined the group. Their teacher, Mr Khouri taught geography and maps which Winifred was fascinated by, and he always told them “Not all those who wander are lost” which stuck in Winifred’s mind. But more was to take their interest when they found out 400 refugees were to be arriving and housed in a “safe haven” nearby. As events changed around them, Winifred felt cut adrift. But she felt inside that she had a purpose and when a particular person made an impact on her life, she went with what she felt was right. What would be the result of the year that changed everything for Winifred?

The Year the Maps Changed by Aussie author Danielle Binks is set in the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and gives us a look at one turbulent year in a young girl’s life in which things change, family merges, sadness and tragedy occurs, and she begins to mature. A story of family, love, compassion and right from wrong, The Year the Maps Changed is a powerful middle grade novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. Highly recommended. 5 stars

 

With thanks to Hachette Children’s Books AU for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: House of Wishes – Jenn J McLeod

The House of Wishes

Jenn J. McLeod

Wild Myrtle Press

ISBN: 9780648570806

 

Description:

A story for mothers, daughters, fathers and sons: about the choices we make, the connections that matter, the secrets we keep, and the power of wishes.

Dandelion House is ready to reveal its secrets.

Dandelion House, 1974

Two teenage girls—strangers—make a pact to never tell their secret.

Calingarry Crossing, 2014

For forty years, Beth and her mum have been everything to each other, but Beth is blind-sided when her mother dies, and her last wish is to have her ashes spread in a small-town cemetery.

On the outskirts of Calingarry Crossing, Beth comes across Dandelion House Retreat. With her stage career waning, and struggling to see a future without her mum, her marriage, and her child, Beth really hopes it’s a place where she can begin to heal.

After her fateful encounter with a local landowner, Tom, Beth is intrigued by his stories of the cursed, century-old river house that was once a swank summer residence for arty eccentrics and a maternity home for unmarried mothers. The more Beth learns about the place and the reclusive owner, Gypsy—whose mother, Maeve was a fortune-teller in a travelling carnival—the more she questions her mother’s wishes.

Tom has the answers, but will the truth help Beth?

Or should Dandelion House keep its last, long-held secret?

 

 

Brenda’s Review:

Beth had never heard of Calingarry Crossing but here she was, driving the long journey from Sydney to a tiny bush town in NSW, not far from the border of Queensland, to fulfil her beloved mother’s last wish. The spreading of her ashes in a particular section of Calingarry Crossing’s cemetery puzzled Beth, but she would do as her Mum wanted then leave once again…

After an inauspicious introduction to the town, Beth found herself in front of a sign which read Dandelion House Retreat – but it wasn’t the relaxing B&B she’d hoped for. The intriguing old place on the river would be central to Beth’s healing, although she didn’t know it yet. The meeting of a local farmer, Tom Dawson found Beth laughing more than she had in some time; but also Beth was fascinated in his stories about Dandelion House and its owner Gypsy.

Beth found herself confused; she didn’t understand her mother’s wishes – but would she find the answers she sought in this small out of the way place? There were secrets long buried; a story that began in 1974. Beth was grieving, lost and lonely – what was the truth to her past?

I thoroughly enjoyed House of Wishes by Aussie author Jenn J. McLeod with its loose links to two of her previous books, House for all Seasons and Simmering Season. Dandelion House has a life and heart of its own, and the author brings it to life as it wraps itself around those living there. Great characters fill House of Wishes; my particular favourite is Don. An emotional, heartfelt novel that kept me involved from start to finish, House of Wishes is one I highly recommend. I must mention the beautiful cover too. 5 stars.

With thanks to the author for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: Cotter – Richard Begbie

Cotter

Richard Begbie

Longhand Press

ISBN: 9780975232958

 

Description:

Early in 1822 an illiterate nineteen year-old peasant in County Cork took part in a ‘Whiteboy’ action in the hope of fairer rent and more land for his struggling family. Instead, he was transported to NSW for life.

The story that follows will subvert popular notions of the convict experience. Cotter’s alliance with a fierce Aboriginal leader conspired with his second ‘crime’ to introduce him to a world understood by few Europeans.

The novel points to a haunting moment in Australia’s story, when white humility and aboriginal knowledge might have combined to produce a kinder stewardship across the ancient land. Few invaders experienced that fleeting possibility as intimately as Garrett Cotter.

This is a story of power and exploitation, of betrayal and uncertain redemption. It offers a vivid reimagining of real events in the far wilds of a high country ‘beyond the limits’.

 

Brenda’s Review:

Irishman Garrett Cotter was only nineteen years old in 1822 when he was caught with a group of “Whiteboy” rebels (so called because of the white shirts they all wore when protesting) and although initially sentenced to hanging, it was changed to transportation to New South Wales for the duration of his natural life. His journey with other male prisoners on the “Mangles” was long and arduous, but because of a kindly doctor who oversaw the men, they were reasonably healthy on their arrival in Sydney Cove.

After a period of a few years with a farmer near Parramatta, Cotter was then moved to new land on Weereewa (Lake George) where the land was lush with plenty of feed for the cattle. It was there that Cotter proved himself a hard worker and a dab hand with animals, especially horses. And it was also where he had his first encounter with the Aboriginal leader Onyong. Cotter and Onyong formed an alliance – at first uneasy – that would last many, many years, with Onyong helping Cotter find fertile land for cattle; their friendship meant he also met Onyong’s family and learned many Aboriginal ways.

Cotter received his ticket of leave, which was then revoked after an incident. His days with the darkness inside fortunately were less than the contented and happy days. His life wasn’t easy, but he was a well respected and liked man – by most. His use of land which Onyong referred to as “my country” was a privilege that Cotter appreciated; the men who didn’t understand the Aboriginal people were many and it saddened Cotter.

Cotter by Aussie author Richard Begbie is outstanding – up there with my favourite books for 2019. Although a fictional recounting, it’s heavily based on fact and with the Cotter Dam and Cotter River in Canberra, and many places mentioned in the book – Queanbeyan, Murrumbidgee River (the lifeblood of the country), Yass, Goulburn and many others – it felt familiar and was easy to visualize. The harshness of those early days in the colony was well told; the hatred by some whites of the Aboriginals; the exploitation and betrayal by many – Cotter was a likeable Irishman, smart and compassionate (he loved his dog Jimmy), and Cotter is a book well worth reading. And I wouldn’t have found it, let alone read it, if I hadn’t needed one for a challenge, which was set in Australia’s capital. A great win for me! Highly recommended. 5 stars.

Guest Review: Kick the Dust – Rhonda Forrest

Kick the Dust

Rhonda Forrest

Valeena Press

ISBN: 9780994535665

 

Description:

‘If I close my eyes, it’s easier to hold onto a memory. When I open them, I think it might really be there in front of me.’

After three tours of duty in Afghanistan, Liam Andrews is home safe in Queensland. His weekly life drawing class, full of colourful local artists, helps him manage his post-traumatic stress disorder. But he’s struggling to open up about a past that still haunts him.

Belourine ‘Billy’ is an Afghan refugee who lost everything before arriving in Australia as a child. She finds joy in her daily swims in the lake. After years of upheaval, she’s still searching for a place to call home. But her past makes it hard to trust people.

When Liam and Billy meet, they form an instant connection. But will they ever overcome the past? And will it be together?

A moving story of love, loss and resilience from the author of Two Heartbeats.

 

Brenda’s Review:

Liam Andrews had done three tours of Afghanistan and was suffering PTSD which he was trying to overcome. He was an artist, specializing in life drawing and his twice weekly classes meant he met a lot of different people. He also lived by the lake and his mornings consisted of exercise and swimming, before he started his work for the day. He was mostly content.

When the beautiful young woman turned up to model for the class one evening, she sat with her back to the group. She was filling in for another model who’d been unable to attend and was uncomfortable in front of Liam’s particular group. But he was sure he recognized her and worked out it was the other swimmer in the mornings; the one he called ‘butterfly girl’.

Billy and Liam found an affinity with one another and gradually became friends. Billy was mistrustful because of her past; a refugee from Afghanistan who’d arrived in Australia at age six, and with no family of her own, she didn’t trust easily. Billy found pleasure in working with plants and loved the outdoors. Would Liam and Billy become more than friends?

Kick the Dust by Aussie author Rhonda Forrest is an exceptional read, one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Rhonda first published as Lea Davey; this is her second under Rhonda Forrest. Kick the Dust is poignant and emotive, covering topics on refugees, boat people, the struggle of integration into the Australian way of life, and the want and need to be accepted. The main characters, Liam and Billy are written with depth and integrity, are likeable and relatable. Highly recommended. 5 stars.

With thanks to the author for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

 

Guest Review: The Stationmaster’s Cottage – Phillipa Nefri Clark

The Stationmaster’s Cottage

Phillipa Nefri Clark

Self Published

ISBN: 9780648013815

Description:

“There are secrets in that cottage. Questions needing answers.”

Those words gave Christie Ryan a reason to stay in River’s End, when she should have gone home after Gran’s funeral.

Inheriting a rundown cottage, far from her jet-setting life, she is drawn into a fifty-year-old mystery.

Who wrote the letters hidden in the attic, an outpouring of love to a woman Christie suspects she is related to? What is the significance of a damaged painting kept by Gran but clearly painted in this seaside town?

Local artist Martin Blake may have the answers she seeks, but refuses to help. His dog adores Christie, but Martin keeps his feelings locked away.

As Christie faces difficult decisions about her own future, will the consequences of righting old wrongs be too high a price to pay?

 

Brenda’s Review:

The death of Christie Ryan’s grandmother was the beginning of a profound change in her life. As she headed to the small country town of River’s End to meet Angus, Gran’s long-time employee, it was much against her fiancé Derek’s wishes. He was scornful of her need to go to the funeral, and Christie’s heart broke a little at his words. But she needed to do this; Derek would have to wait.

River’s End was only a few hours from Melbourne, but Christie had never heard of the place. She and her Gran had never been close; a seemingly hard-hearted woman, Christie was about to learn a lot of things about secrets from her Gran’s past – about her family’s past. The stationmaster’s cottage in River’s End was now hers, having been left to Christie. It was run down and in a bad way, but it had a certain charm and Christie knew almost immediately that she wouldn’t sell it. The ocean was near, the peace and tranquility perfect.

But as Christie cleaned the cottage, she came across letters in the attic, a painting, a diary and more. Who were the people involved? Was it a long lost relative or a total stranger? Written fifty years prior, Christie could feel the need to solve the puzzle; to help if she could. Her own life was up in the air; should she investigate the past, or sort out what was happening here and now?

And I have just discovered another author to love! The Stationmaster’s Cottage is my first by Aussie author Phillipa Nefri Clark; it’s also her debut, plus first in the Christie Ryan series. Wow what a debut! I loved the story of Christie, her Gran, Martha and Thomas, Martin and of course Randall. The Stationmaster’s Cottage is filled with rich characters, even the side players; the scenery overlooking the ocean; the small country town and the friendliness of the locals – all makes this a heartwarming and heartbreaking historical fiction novel which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. 5 stars.

Guest Review: The Last Paradise – Di Morrissey

The Last Paradise

Di Morrissey

Macmillan AU

ISBN: 9781760781729

 

Description:

In the ashes of her marriage, she finds the truth about his past and the courage to start again in . . . The Last Paradise.

Grace has the perfect life: a job she loves, a beautiful daughter and a rich, successful husband. But one night, when their world falls apart in a shocking disaster, Grace suddenly sees what she couldn’t admit – her marriage and her husband are a fraud.

With the life she knew in tatters, she takes an assignment promoting the launch of a unique luxury hotel, hidden in a stunning, untouched oasis in the heart of tourist-crazed Bali.

Here, in this last paradise, Grace gathers the strength to take charge of her world. And, inspired by a woman’s story from long ago, she discovers a path to a future she’d never dared to imagine . . .

 

Brenda’s Review:

The night her life shattered, Grace knew it was the final straw. Her marriage was over; the man she wondered if she’d ever loved was cold, cynical and cruel – but charming to everyone else. As Grace struggled to get her life back on track, she and daughter Daisy stayed with Grace’s mum, Tina. She couldn’t have asked for a better support network than Tina and Grace’s best friend Melanie. When she finally went back to work, the position she was offered was too good to refuse. It made her excited again; the assignment was right up her alley and with it being on the beautiful island of Bali, she knew she had to make it work.

Gradually it all fell into place; her visions for the new luxury hotel were accepted, the people connected were helpful, generous and enthusiastic. And as Grace learned more about K’tut Tantri, the Scottish American woman who’d adopted Bali as her own many years prior, she found a strength she hadn’t known she had. But was Lawrence going to allow this to happen? His need to see Daisy – or was it something more sinister? – hung over Grace constantly. What was his plan? He was devious, that she knew…

The Last Paradise by Aussie author Di Morrissey is an intriguing and beautifully written novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. Set in both Sydney and Bali, I found myself cheering Grace on; telling her not to trust Lawrence; wishing some not so nice things for him! Morrissey’s writing is exceptional – I felt I was right there by Grace’s side while she worked, explored the island and K’tut’s memories. Such an excellent read, and one I highly recommend. 5 stars.

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Review: The Lost Ones – Anita Frank

The Lost Ones

Anita Frank

HQ

ISBN: 9780008341213

Description:

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

 

Brenda’s Review:

I have just turned the last page of The Lost Ones and it’s up there with my top reads for 2019! Anita Frank has written an amazing story which kept me enthralled from the very first page.

It was 1917 and England was reeling from the impact of the war; Stella Marcham had returned home from her nursing position at the front after losing her fiancé and her grief was all encompassing. The fact that the family doctor wanted to commit Stella to an institution was partly what convinced her to join her sister Madeleine at the home of her husband, Hector’s family, Greyswick. Madeleine was pregnant; her mother-in-law was an imposing woman, and Madeleine would welcome her sister’s company.

The elderly Lady Brightwell and her companion, Miss Scott, along with the housekeeper, Mrs Henge, Cook and Maisie were the only permanent occupants of the old home. When Stella and her maid Annie arrived to join Madeleine, they immediately sensed the unrest and tremor of dark secrets in the walls, and it wasn’t long before the fear Madeleine felt rubbed off on Stella. But when strange, inexplicable incidents began to occur, Stella knew she had to find answers before her sister was harmed. What were the secrets that the house held – secrets that had been buried for the past thirty years?

The Lost Ones is a blend of genres – historical fiction with a mix of supernatural – and it worked extremely well. Anita Frank is a new author to me, and I’ll be looking at more of her work. Intriguing, breathtaking, heartbreaking, stunning – Some houses are never at peace Highly recommended. 5 stars.

With thanks to Harlequin Fiction AU for my uncorrected proof copy which I won.