Heartthrob (#1) by Belinda Williams

Published: 10th November 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 BWrite
Pages: 346
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary Romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Can an average girl survive Hollywood? 

Ally Valenti doesn’t belong in Hollywood. Not like her friend and actress, Lena Lyons. Lena’s convinced Ally to pursue her dreams of fashion design, starting with some gowns for the awards season. 

Which Ally will get around to creating as soon as she can stop looking at Jacob Swan, Lena’s latest co-star. Not that she’s staring. Ally’s skeptical of anything celebrity and it’s not like she’d be pathetic enough to fall for a Hollywood heartthrob. 

Then Ally learns there’s more to Jacob than his good guy, all-American persona. She finds herself torn between the desire to get to know him better and her determination to stay out of the limelight. 

Of course the media has other ideas—and someone doesn’t like all the attention Ally’s getting. When threats aimed at destroying her fashion career go too far, Ally’s convinced she’s living in crazy town. 

The sensible thing would be to retreat home before it all ends in spectacular fashion. But will Ally be leaving more than her dreams behind if she says goodbye to Hollywood? 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review via Netgalley

When I saw Belinda Williams had a new series I was so excited. I loved her City Love series and the chance to fall in love with four more wonderful ladies was too good too pass up.

Not that I went in to compare, but one thing that I noticed immediately was that the writing seemed slightly more stilted than I was used to. I wasn’t caught up in the flow of Ally and her Hollywood life. It was something I don’t remember noticing in Williams’ other work. Thankfully it settles into a natural rhythm about a third of the way through and a more natural flow of writing style comes through.

I love William’s series which follow the same group of friends through their lives. The story is filled with regular drama, Hollywood drama and of course, romance. It is a tight story but manages to achieve conflict, mystery and a decent exploration of who the characters are. Being the first we are only seeing things from Ally’s point of view but William’s does a good job in establishing the players without having to wait for their own narratives. You get to see who they are as people through the eyes of the main character. Knowing more books will come though, your interest is piqued about the secondary characters and what secrets of their own they may be hiding.

Characters with insecurities, doubt, fabulous friendships, and big dreams shine through as we get to know who Ally is and what she is trying to gain from her life and her career. Ally’s innocent “Bambi” trait rings true early on as she struggles with being start struck and being teased by celebrities. Her big brown eyes widen at the media coverage, the attitude of those around her, and the general environment of Hollywood. Williams does well to show Ally out of her depth but also with the ability to achieve.

Once you get passed Ally’s knee-jerk reactions anytime someone mentions a woman’s name in relation to Jacob and constant worry and doubt over hearsay you realise it’s a reflection of her own insecurities. She is a down to earth person, feisty, honest but insecure. I would have loved more about Jacob, you get a lot of his backstory but I still felt like he was a closed book, I knew the facts of his life but felt like he needed more depth. But he remains a warm, cheeky character who had a lot of charm in other areas.

In true Williams’ style she had me gushing and gasping and grinning by the end with her romance and genuine moments that while fit a certain mould, are wonderfully sweet.

From a clunky first third the writing settled into a good rhythm and Williams’ takes us on a journey of emotional growth, doubt, romance, and family. A great read.

You can purchase Heartthrob via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Published: 1st May 2007 (print)/3 December 2015 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Algonquin Books/Lamplight Audio
Pages: 335/11 hrs and 26 mins
Narrator: David LeDoux, John Randolph Jones
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her. 

After years of having this book on my shelf and after even more years of wanting to read it. I have finally read Water for Elephants! I actually chose the audiobook and it was a good listen. There are two narrators, one for young Jacob and one for elderly Jacob and both gentleman did a great job.

The story jumps through time from the present day to Jacob’s early life in the 1930s when he runs away and joins the circus. While the present day begins the story, most of it is told by Jacob’s younger self but there is a constant back and forward, especially in the early chapters. I loved present day Jacob, his thoughts are sardonic and admittedly a bit depressing but there is hope and it is so easy to fall in love with him. He worries about his mind, his memory and while a lot frustrates him, he is a darling.

It was definitely a curious contrast because I loved present day Jacob but twenty three year old Jacob annoyed me a few times. He is a fool but I guess that what comes from being young and naïve, especially in a world he knows nothing about.

The story is heartbreaking at times and tough in terms of content. With an audiobook I definitely had to turn the volume down while I was driving on occasion with some of the animal abuse but thankfully you could tell it was coming and Gruen is restrained in her descriptions so they don’t last long. A lot of it reinforces character development and while it is tough, it was also a reality of the time and the treatment of animals in the circus.

There is diversity of the characters and Gruen sets up the class system well for the train layout and the circus employees. And while it was not essentially part of Jacob’s story, I enjoyed that Gruen manages to casually slip in the prejudices against the African-Americans and other folk as they travelled the various American towns.

There’s hope and triumph through the story but there’s a bittersweet reality to it as well. The stories have always been around about the reality of circuses in those days and while the circumstances were rough, it is also fascinating when you see how many were in operation and makes you realise how amazing it is for those that survived.

This isn’t a history of circuses, but it is a good story about the life of being on a circus, and especially one that isn’t real. The ending was the crowning glory. After hearing Jacob’s life story and seeing his present day circumstances Gruen concludes this story in the best way possible. I barely remember the movie but I know it was a bit different to the book. There is a lot of padding and I was surprised when it was revealed a lot takes place over a few months because it felt like a lot longer as the story was happening. I’m glad I finally read it and while it was enjoyable, I will admit a small part of me found it a tad underwhelming.

You can purchase Water for Elephant via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Tomorrow’s World by Guy Portman

Published: 22nd November 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self-Published
Pages: 220
Format: Ebook
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

The future’s here and it’s great. You can live for a very long time, you can experience the dream in virtual reality, and you can even worship David Hasselhoff. But not everyone is feeling fulfilled …

With the relentlessly increasing mandatory retirement age, Terrence can see no end to his life of drudgery. And then there are the compensation claim drones …

On the other side of the pond, Walter is faring far better. With the assistance of age-defying medication, the kung fu hyper-capitalist plans to prosper indefinitely. However, there are plenty of people who want to see him fail.

Will these two contrasting characters thrive in a future that’s changing forever? Or even survive? And what about the rest of us?

If you like dark humour and scathing satire, then you will relish experiencing tomorrow’s outlandish world through the eyes of its colourful cast of characters.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I read the forward before starting because I thought it would be a good preparation for this story and I was right. The unique format and the short story/chapter style certainly needed some context beyond the blurb.

It didn’t take long to get into the flow of this futuristic world. Initially you can see a semblance to our own society, albeit in the near future, but before long it descends into a strange future where the issues of today are heightened and reflected back on us with strange new technologies and obsessions at the forefront.

The format and writing style is a clever choice and one that works especially well for this kind of story. The short snippets and chapters focus on key characters but also random, often unnamed characters and scenes offering up a rounded view of the wider world and society. Portman also cleverly circles back as we see a few reoccurring lesser characters throughout the timeline.

At times I felt that it was perhaps too long, but I understand that in following Terrance’s life it needed to be long. I enjoyed the satire and the reflection of the society, the only issue is around the halfway mark I felt it had run its course and I was growing tired of a few characters but thankfully it picked up again. One thing that kept me going was the things happening away from the main characters; I enjoyed the subtle reflections of the changing society and the snippets of life from these brief chapters and scenes.

The short chapters are certainly a benefit and the jumps in time allow a lot more narrative to be covered, especially with a plot like this. Terrence’s story is woven throughout alongside these reoccurring and one off characters and an overview of how society is progressing further into the late 21st century and 22nd century.

The story has three main parts, starting with the everyday before coming to the revolution then the inevitable rise of the machines. While not a complete overhaul, there is a demonstration of what the world would look like if everything was automated and the impact that has one humanity and society.

The language is an odd balance of satire and mockery, definitely dark humour. I liked the sardonic tone and the frustration of Terrance in his life, each key character had a definitive voice and there is a lot of humour and reflection that is recognisable in today’s society. One thing I noted was that while the narrative is meant to be inclusive of all genders, sexualities, and religions, there are multiple cases of trans people being referred to as “he/she” which satire or not, sat weirdly with me.

I enjoyed the far future world we see at the end, especially seeing teenagers trying to understand the old world in comparison to their current one was humorous. The impact of virtual reality and other advancements means they’ve ended up in a slightly Wall-E-esque world minus the spaceship.

If science fiction and dark humour are your thing then this will certainly be enjoyable. It is bizarre but there is a charm to it as well. There is a lot to take from it and a lot of little gems to enjoy.

You can purchase Tomorrow’s World via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Chrysalis (#3) by Nikki Rae

Published: 30th April 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self-Published
Pages: 257
Format: ebook
Genre: Dark romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

After Wolf Manor, Fawn vowed to never be weak, broken, or scared again. She has wrenched her power from the Vultures, visiting them under the cover of darkness to deliver the same drug they’d given her. This version has a different side effect: death.

It doesn’t stop the nightmares, it can’t erase what happened, but revenge is the only distraction from Lyon Estate. Tucked in the wilderness, she draws back into herself until Master Lyon demands they make good on their deal. In order to continue her vengeance, he is to be her Owner—really this time.

While it is a small sacrifice to make, Fawn isn’t prepared to be pulled back into Elliot’s world, where the rules of the Order exist, but in a new way. Running from him sends her into the arms of others in House Chimera. People who should be off limits, but they also stir something within her wholly different than the emotions Master Lyon can conjure. Marius is patient, and she finds herself clinging to him more now than ever before. People like them don’t believe in love, but can they choose it?

Fawn is no longer the prey, but beyond the trees, a lone Wolf is hunting…

I am honoured to be part of Nikki Rae’s blog tour to help celebrate the release of her new book Chrysalis. This is the third book in The Order series and it continues the story of Fawn and Elliot and the secretive underground society in which they’re forced to live in.

I was surprised by this story but not disappointed. After an impressive start the narrative slows down as we see Fawn try and find out where she fits in the new world she has found herself. I felt this was a much slower narrative than the others, not the same slow burn as we’ve seen before, I think I wanted more events to happen rather than such a detailed focus on the emotional side. That might be my own hangover from the end of the second book though.

The blurb says Fawn will never be weak, broken, or scared again, and yet I felt she spent a lot of this story just that. I didn’t quite see the girl who wanted to burn down the establishment. We’d come from Wilt and while there were recoveries and emotional drain and turmoil, I still thought there’d be less vulnerability. I had to keep reminding myself that it was about her mental stability and recovery and the aftershock of everything that has happened. Elliot mentions that he needs to rebuild her after breaking her but I didn’t see her as broken at the end of Wilt, I saw her as her own renewed person. If we’re to look at her as being broken, I suppose that explains why this novel is focused a lot on her personal journey to be “rebuilt” rather than more external story.

That is not to say it wasn’t filled with wonderful things within this focus. There is a seductive exploration of trust and consent which only enforces the foreign, new relationship Fawn and Elliot have. There are more moments of intimacy between the two but there are also a few new moments with characters both new and familiar. The theme that you can love more than one person is evident and there is a focus on sorting through new emotions from Fawn rather than anything entirely explicit.

I think this is where Rae is clever with her titles. It took a moment for it to click but Chrysalis is the perfect name for this book. It’s that in-between stage, that moment of preparation and while I’d have loved to have it go full throttle into action, we needed that time of preparation. Fawn needed that time. I think remembering that is important in understanding this story and the role it plays in the series. Even though I felt conflicted over Fawn’s actions, I still admired her for her strength and her bravery despite her fear. Her own armour she shrouds herself at the beginning is from necessity and even as it breaks away again I saw it reform in a gentler but possibly tougher way.

I was surprised when I learnt there was going to be a fourth book. I’m so used to Rae having a three act story with her series so I am hoping for my explosive conclusion with the next book and I think based on the final quarter that this is possible. After such intimacy and emotion the focus shifts as the rest of the world intrudes once more and wreaks havoc. The illusion is shattered and reality and the past has come back with a vengeance. Rae brings this book to an exciting conclusion and leads us into the the end. Hopefully this includes an ending where we get to see Fawn bring down the establishment and seek the vengeance she deserves.

Overall I enjoyed the exploration of these characters I have gotten to know, but I will admit it felt separate as well. I am looking forward to seeing how Rae is going to conclude this complicated, emotionally charged story. I have complete trust she will do the story and her readers justice.

Be sure to check out Bloom and Wilt to get the full, fascinating story of Fawn and her life because if you like dark romances with some bite, then this will be right up your alley.

You can purchase Chrysalis via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Follow the links to find out more about Nikki Rae

 

The Easter Bunny’s Helpers by Anne Mangan

Published: 1st March 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 HarperCollins Australia
Illustrator: Tamsin Ainslie
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

From the author of TRUE BLUE SANTA and THE GREATEST MOTHER’S DAY OF ALL, comes a delightful Australian book for Easter.

The Easter Bunny needs help delivering the Easter eggs this year and who better to help him than some Australian animals?

This story puts an Australian touch to Easter and highlights all the wonderful things you can do during Easter time. The Easter Bunny is looking for helpers and each of the Australian animals do their best to try and impress.

The narrative is told in basic rhyme, easy to pick up the rhythm and keep it going, even if you pause to look at the fantastic illustrations from Ainslie. It is a bit wordy but nothing too complicated. I think the rhyme might have benefited from better formatting because some lines felt a bit long.

Each animal uses their skills to help the bunny. I found it so adorable than both koala and kangaroo use their pouches to carry eggs. It is expected of a kangaroo in pop culture but I was impressed Ainslie included koala’s as well.

The illustrations are lovely oil paintings, cute representations of our national animals. There is a lot of detail in the scenes but it’s also focused enough on the story that there are no extra, unnecessary distractions.

The story is sweet and the wonderful message about helping out is clear but not openly directed to the reader. It’s a cute book for the holiday with a great Australian focus that can show off our unique wildlife.

You can purchase The Easter Bunny’s Helpers via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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