Review: Jean E. Pendziwol – The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters
Jean E. Pendziwol

Morgan is going to spend some time repainting the wall she put graffiti on at a Retirement home. Instead, she also finds herself reading old journals to Elizabeth, a Lightkeeper’s daughter. Those journals may hold the secrets to Elizabeth’s past – and maybe help Morgan work towards her future.

I’ll admit, it took me a bit of reading to really get into this novel. I’d picked it up before, but just hadn’t been in the mood for reading alternative character perspectives interspersed with journal entries. I got into it though, and it was seamless transitions after that. They all had a distinct voice and it kept me reading constantly until the end.

Morgan tries to be a hardened foster kid, but really struggles. It just takes a few little pokes for her attitude to change. Honestly, I expected more drama from Morgan’s boyfriend. He didn’t seem like the type to let go easily. But I was so proud of her!

Well, I’m not sure about whether the ending should be considered a twist or not. I didn’t find myself surprised by the way things worked out – this is a novel after all, and things just usually happen to fall that way! Maybe if you pay really close attention, the details will click early for you as well.

I’m giving this 4 stars. Fantastic writing that made for fantastic reading. This novel reminds me of the novel that took an alternative perspective on the Titanic’s sinking – The Midnight Watch. If you enjoy boats, water and an intriguing story line, this novel is for you.

Hachette Australia | 1st July 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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Interview with JG Dow

An Interview with JG Dow, author of Jane of Manchester

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

I basically started writing chick lit type novels as a new venture and so under my pen name, J.G. Dow, Jane of Manchester is my debut and Jane Once More the sequel. I have written other novels under my own name a few years ago however but these are very different and so I like to separate the two by having a pen-name for the chick-lit ones. As for a personal favourite, I don’t know if I have one as I like aspects of them all but if pushed, maybe I’d go with a science fiction one I wrote called Head of an Apostle.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

My first novel was actually the one I just mentioned above- Head of an Apostle. It is the first in a trilogy and all are on amazon and so it hasn’t been stored away in a cupboard and forgotten about. I think it is probably my best book so far which is odd as it was the first novel I ever wrote. It is pretty dark and weird and so is worlds apart from my J.G. Dow pen-name books but one reviewer said it reminded them a bit of H.G. Wells which was a lovely compliment!

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

That debut novel I have mentioned, Head of an Apostle, actually took quite a long time in total to write and the planning and research were quite tricky and another few I wrote under my own name also took a long time. One called Symmachia took over a year to write and is pretty long and complicated as well as having an experimental structure that was a real nightmare trying to work out. My J.G. Dow chick-lit novels are much easier to write and plan however and take less time but still a good few months- maybe five or six before editing.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I always write in my bedroom, sat in a blue Ikea armchair, surrounded by piles of books and CD’s with a plant over in the corner and clothes hanging off hangers and stacked up near the books. I never write anywhere else and couldn’t write in a cafe or even a library I don’t think as other people being around is too distracting- I would end up people watching! I write straight onto my laptop as i find that the easiest way to do things I suppose.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

I don’t have beta readers or editors. I plan the novel, write it and then edit it carefully myself and then that’s it apart from these J.G. Dow chick-lit novels where I have gotten my Mum to read them afterwards to see what she thinks and to see if they read well as I’m not an expert in chick-lit…she seems to like them (or says she does which is fine!)

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I do like bookshops and did have a favourite second hand one in the town centre which was an Oxfam one but it has closed down now sadly. I used to love going in there and perusing the different sections and seeing if there were any bargains or hard to find titles among the shelves. I still have a few from there yet to read actually. I do buy books online as well and get some for presents for birthdays and Christmas…there was another good bookshop in Manchester as well when I lived there in a place called Withington that sold lots of philosophy and science books as well as cheap novels, poetry and plays- I liked that one as well- also now sadly gone.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and do you have a favourite author who sticks in your mind?

I like lots of genres of novel I suppose- science fiction, fantasy, experimental, contemporary as well as the odd philosophy book and poetry and plays occasionally as well. A favourite childhood author would be Roald Dahl I suppose as he was so wildly inventive and entertaining. In adolescence I quite liked Tolkien and other fantasy writers as well as a bit of sci-fi and the odd Hardy Boys book. Young adult and adult blends together a bit in my mind, but I love writers like Bukowski, Kerouac, Salinger, Brautigan, Fante, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Queneau, Cheever, Bryson and many others.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. How do you manage it?

 

I do use social media but I’m not great with it and do find it a struggle in a way. I go on Twitter and tryto promote my books but it can feel like yelling into a canyon at times! I am on Facebook and have a separate page for my pen-name- J.G. Dow@homeofJane and post links to interviews like this one I’m doing now on it as well as the odd review and things like that. I also post about my books on Facebook book groups which gets the word out a bit and try to do this every day.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next? 

It can take a while doing interviews but I don’t recycle answers and just answer as well as I can. The questions here are quite specific which is a good thing as you can give a focused answer and that often brings responses that you won’t see somewhere else…thanks!

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Review: Samira Ahmed – love, hate & other filters

love, hate & other filters
Samira Ahmed

Maya hides behind a lens, capturing life going by her. With her strict Indian Muslim parents guiding (and watching) her every step, is there any way she will be able to follow her own passion?

Hmm, where to start with this novel. Maya had a unique viewpoint, but one that anyone could relate with. We all have friends that our parents hate, or hobbies that they don’t approve of, and of course bullying to contend with. I started empathizing with Maya so much that at one point of the novel I was really worried for her safety!

This reminded me strongly of the vegan warrior with the butcher living next door (again, I can’t remember the name of this…). Maya should never fall for a non-religious football jock… But she does, of course! I wanted her to get the things she wanted out of life, even if it seemed impossible

If you loved 10 Things I Hate About Me or When Michael Met Mina, you will likely also love this novel. This novel is a worthy addition to the fears that Muslim people face around the world when they are constantly, unfairly, being tagged with the title of ‘Terrorist’. If you would rather read slightly less non-fiction, but still with a Muslim protagonist, may I also suggest The Truth About Peacock Blue or A Different Kind of Daughter?

I’m giving this 4 stars. Not enough intrigue for 5 stars, but an enthralling one nevertheless.

Allen & Unwin | 24th January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

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Review: Deborah Ellis – Parvana

Parvana
Deborah Ellis

After her father is jailed for no reason, Parvana must take over the man’s role in her family. In a world ruled by men, can one small boy even still do anything? Or is the only power the ability for a woman to marry into a powerful family?

Generally I don’t read graphic novels. But because this one was based on a novel, it seemed like there would be a decent storyline to follow. Everyone knows I’m all about the words, not the art. Not to say the art in this was bad – it was actually nice and clear. I felt like I wanted to know more after reading/viewing this. It left me with more questions than answers. For example, why was Parvana’s friend so willing to give away his father? Why did Parvana’s mother not do anything more? How can she be so calm?

I’m not really sure what audience this is aimed at. My 8 year old female reader wouldn’t want to read about the violence, even thought the moral of the story is an amazing one. She’s scared of everything though. So perhaps a boy would enjoy it? What a sexist thing to say… Is the storyline compelling enough to keep a beginning reader reading? I’m going to say yes, because the protagonist is risking her life every day, and you don’t want her to get hurt.

I think it is unfair for me to star this. I’m giving it 4 stars, because I did actually pick it up and read it, and kept reading it, which is unusual for me.

Allen & Unwin | 24th January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback graphic novel

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Review: Eka Kurniawan – Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
Eka Kurniawan

After witnessing a violent rape, Ajo Kawir loses his ability to have sexual intercourse – even with the woman he wins for himself. His dingwallace just won’t come to the party, despite the efforts of his best friend. Will his bird ever wake up?

I can’t believe I read a novel all about one man’s inability to raise his dong. At the beginning I almost stopped reading, in fact I moved the novel into the ‘will not finish’ pile. But for some reason I then came back and finished it off. Maybe my curiosity about how Ajo Kawir was possibly going to get his pecker working again did me in.

Maybe the title lost something in translation. Yes, it’s the name of his truck, but uh, in the end, he doesn’t actually reach vengeance. And uh, most of the time no-one pays cash? Anyway, the rest of the prose was still pithy, and I commend the translator on a fantastic job.

I could have done without the ‘short cinematic bursts’. I much would have preferred if there was a nice linear story line. I expected that I would not enjoy a novel tagged pulp fiction, but it wasn’t too bad.

If you like novels where the main character is basically a Lollypop (if you know what I mean), this could be a novel for you. In hindsight, I think I shouldn’t have started reading it at all, but I did, and I finished it, so I’ll give it 3 stars.

Text Publishing | 31st July 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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Review: Scot Gardner – SPARROW

SPARROW
Scot Gardner

Sparrow has been consigned to prison, sent out on boot camp with a bunch of crazies. When the boat just happens to explode, Sparrow makes his break for shore and freedom. But is freedom and isolation what he wants?

Flicking back and forth between Sparrow’s present and past, this novel had the potential to endlessly entertain a reader. Not me though. I couldn’t finish reading it. Sparrow’s constant internal monologue that was supposed to take the place of a spoken voice set me on edge.

It reminds me of Lord of the Flies, except it is just a wordless boy who has escaped into the forest with basically no survival skills. Sorry Sparrow, but I don’t feel sorry for you. I don’t empathize with you as a character. I much preferred Thirst, although it also lacked reality.

You want a nice novel with selective mutism? Perhaps the infamous So Much to Tell You, or the more recent A Quiet Kind of Thunder will take your fancy. Don’t bother with this novel. 1 star.

Allen & Unwin | 26th July 2017 | AU$19.99 | paperback

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Review: Anne Cassidy – NO VIRGIN

NO VIRGIN
Anne Cassidy

Stacey Woods has been emotionally raped by someone she trusted. She has also been physically raped by his brother. After the perpetrators try to write it off as ‘adult fun’ she knows that she needs to do something to prevent others being hurt. This novel is her story.

Most people will know Anne Cassidy from Looking for JJ, which I gave 4 stars. The second in the series, Finding Jennifer Jones, I gave 3 stars to. I feel like such a betrayer for not really loving all of the writing, and not loving NO VIRGIN either. I can’t believe that this has a second novel. Perhaps the fact is that Anne Cassidy’s writing style doesn’t agree with me, no matter how compelling a circumstance she puts her characters in.

Shouldn’t I have more respect and love for a character who decides to get off her butt (eventually) and do something about having been raped? Rape is still something where the statistics are woefully under-reported. What I hate is that it’s almost always men raping women, and very few cases of same sex, or female perpetrator abuse. This novel doesn’t fail there for me, it fails because I never connected with Stacey or her best friend and I always felt distanced from the situation. Distancing yourself from reality is often a response to rape, and this could have been a deliberate choice by the author, but for me, it just didn’t work.

I am sure this is the third time I have reviewed NO VIRGIN (WordPress seemed to eat the other two?!?). I now can’t remember nearly enough details to properly review the novel. However, what I do remember is that it felt unsatisfying and upsetting, but not in a redeeming manner. 3 stars because I finished it, but it will be leaving the house ASAP.

Allen & Unwin | 3rd January 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

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Release Day Blitz of A Way with You by Lane Hayes

Title:  A Way with You

Series: A Way With, Book 2

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Amazon

Release Date: January 18, 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 30K

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Humor, Office Romance, New York City

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Synopsis

Reeve Nelson is determined to make it in Manhattan. He’s hardworking, dedicated and willing to put in the extra hours required to be successful at his new job at a prestigious real estate firm in the city. There’s no way he’s going back to small-town living and an ex-girlfriend who won’t let go. But his boss isn’t making it easy. 
Leo Rodriguez enjoys his reputation as a ruthless businessman. He’s a lone wolf who’s scraped his way from the gutter to rebuild his life and launch a distinguished career on his terms. When an opportunity to expand in the market comes up, Leo wants the eager new agent with a sense of wonder on the project. But nothing goes quite as planned. Reeve expected to be intimidated and overwhelmed by Leo, however, the explosive mutual attraction and fierce desire between them is a big surprise. Neither man is looking for love and yet, something special just might happen if they can find their way…together.

Excerpt

Yeah, this was my idea but I wasn’t prepared to be this close to Leo again. His mere presence overwhelmed me. He smelled so good. I wanted to bury my nose in the collar of his button-down shirt and just…breathe. I told myself Leo was a regular guy like every other guy here, but truthfully, he wasn’t the least bit ordinary. Even in executive chic, Leo turned more heads than the shirtless bartenders. And when he smiled at the young man next to me who offered him his stool, he added another admirer to his list.

I’d never been around anyone who changed the temperature in a room simply by entering it the way he did. It wasn’t his appearance either. His height and sharp sense of style might garner a second glance, but his true appeal was innate. It was in the way he spoke and moved. He didn’t mince words or waste time. He was concise and direct and acted with purpose. I got the impression Leo Rodriguez had a reason for everything he did, including wanting to meet with me.

Leo perched on the vacated stool and then hooked his thumb at me when I didn’t reply. “He’ll have a martini too.”

“No. I mean, yes. But with olives, please. No onions.” I thanked the bartender then swiveled to face Leo, accidentally bumping his knee.

I muttered a quick apology and cautioned myself to pull it together. Leo wasn’t my boss anymore, for fuck’s sake. I just wished he didn’t make me so anxious.

Commence the nervous chatter.

“Onions? No one orders onions,” I snorted. “And vodka-soaked onions are especially gross.”

Leo’s lip curled on one side like a pirate. “When was the last time you had a vodka-soaked onion?”

“Uh…well, never,” I admitted with a frown. “But it sounds gross.”

“Chocolate covered scorpions and braised frog legs are gross. Onions aren’t in the same zip code.”

I made a face and shivered. “Have you actually eaten those things?”

“Yeah, and actually, they’re not so bad. Chocolate hides the taste of anything, even insects, and frog legs taste like chicken. But you never know unless you try.”

“No thanks.”

Leo tsked playfully. “You have big opinions, a big mouth, and a hot temper, Nelson. No wonder I like you.” He nodded his thanks when the bartender delivered our cocktails then raised his glass in a mock toast. “To onions.”

“Onions?”

“We sure as fuck ain’t drinkin’ to olives,” he quipped.

I chuckled at his comedic expression then sipped my martini while I wracked my brain for a non-confrontational topic of conversation to stall the inevitable one.

“What do you have against olives?” Weak. But it was better than nothing, and Leo seemed willing to play along.

“Nothing. It’s a texture thing. I don’t eat them if I can help it but I love olive oil. And tapenade is cool as long as those little suckers are chopped really fine. Otherwise, olives are a hard pass for me. Everyone has a food like that. What’s yours?”

“Kidney beans,” I replied quickly. “I like them in chili but not in salad. I have a great recipe for spicy chili that requires multiple glasses of water on standby. My grandmother made it when we were kids and”—I stopped to take a gulp of my drink before braving a look his way—“I’m sorry. You make me nervous.”

“Why, Reeve?” he purred, leaning into his elbow on the bar next to mine. “Is it because of last night?”

Purchase at Amazon

Meet the Author

Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and won first prize in the 2016 and 2017 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.

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Review: Jennifer E. Smith – Windfall

Windfall
Jennifer E. Smith

Alice buys Teddy a lottery ticket that ends up being worth $140 million!! Surely it is just that Teddy’s luck has finally come through? But Alice loves Teddy, and its likely that they will stick together forever… Or will their trio of friends break apart under the strain of all those credit cards?

This novel has a nice range of character situations, but ultimately all of the characters end up blurring into one. Leo is gay, has relationship problems & isn’t sure about college. Alice is straight, can’t get the relationship she wants & ends up being unsure about college. Teddy is just off the rails and an idiot. Can’t you listen to the adults around you? Your friends? He just made me angry, and I only kept reading for Alice (who ended up being useless anyway).

1: I have to say, I kept putting off reading this novel because the cover just didn’t appeal to me. If you check out the alternative cover on Goodreads, it is much more inviting, not to mention its hint of symbolism. 2: The blurb lied. Teddy doesn’t go on an adventure with Alice. They’re really parallel adventures. Why? Because Teddy is a selfish [redacted], and he doesn’t actually care about anything other than himself unless he wants something. And he wonders why everyone else wants something from him.

Note: Please tell people you love them! Why is it such a big deal? You can love someone, and then fall out of love and its perfectly ok. I knew Alice’s feelings would eventually come out anyway. How could she ever move on otherwise?

Alice, you stupid girl. I know your ‘heart can’t help it’, but why couldn’t you end up with the other boy? He was so much more decent a person, and honestly, better suited for your personality. 3 stars because I felt betrayed and the storyline was ultimately transperent.

Pan Macmillan | 26th April 2017 | AU$14.99 | paperback

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Review: Jenn Bennett – Alex, Approximately

Alex, Approximately
Jenn Bennett

Bailey has just moved in with her dad, in the town that her online heartthrob just happens to live in. After she gets a job at the only local job place, she instead finds herself trying to deal with the most irritating boy alive, with no time to stalk down the enigmatic Alex.

This novel just wasn’t breathtaking. It’s a typical love story where the girl moves cities to near her online boyfriend… without telling him. Then she wants to stalk him to find him in real life. Instead, she happens to meet the most annoying boy in the world. Then of course, it all turns out exactly as you would expect with no cliffhangers or doubt.

I like this novel because it covered some important topics as well as just fulfilling a typical teenage romance. It touched on cyber safety and not giving away your private details online. It also covered sexual activity safety, and the proper (although awkward) interactions to make sure that each partners is ready for sex. That really made up a lot of the humour of the novel since Bailey blushed so easily!

This is firmly in the YA category thanks to its frank discussion of drugs and sex. What I wasn’t sure about was how accurate the depiction of Alex and her father was. I get that he’s not a very strict parent but it seems like she really could get away with murder. Likewise, he’s not very observant. Drug use in this novel has an impact on the two main characters, but it had a satisfactory outcome. A very sad satisfactory outcome, but that was just the way it ended up.

I don’t know anything about California but seems like the weather is awesome and the beaches sound at least a bit like Australian breaches, where there is real sand. However, the West Coast versus the East Coast thing leaves me a bit confused. Anyway for a person who isn’t a beach person, the relevant interactions were great.

Guys, I failed miserably at reviewing this novel in a timely manner. I had jotted down some rough notes for myself, but saved them under the title ‘Alex, Absolutely’! So of course, when I went looking for the novel on GoodReads without my hard copy in front of me… well, I couldn’t find it until now. Past me had given it 3 stars, so I’ll stick with that rating.

Simon & Schuster | 1st April 2017 | AU$17.99 | paperback

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