Review: Once Lost by Ber Carroll

Once Lost Book Cover Once Lost
Ber Carroll
Fiction

Are some things better left unfound?

Best friends Louise and Emma grew up next door to each other in a grim inner-city suburb of Dublin. Now Louise, an art conservator, is thousands of miles away in Sydney, restoring a beautiful old painting. She meets Dan, whose family welcome her as one of their own, but she will always feel lost until she finds her mother who walked out when she was just eight years old.

Back in Dublin, Emma is stuck in a job where she is under-appreciated and underpaid, but her biggest worry is her ex-partner, Jamie. Emma has lost so much because of Jamie: her innocence, her reputation, almost her life. Now she is at risk of losing Isla, her young daughter.

So where is Louise's mother? Will Emma ever be free of her ex? Both women frantically search for answers, but when the truth finally emerges it is more shattering than they had ever expected.

Just over a year ago, I read Worlds Apart by Ber Carroll. That book told the story of Erin and Laura, in Ireland and Australia – I loved it. It was so honest, and I was hooked from the beginning, completely wrapped up in how their stories were unfolding.

So, when I got an email about reviewing Carroll’s latest book, Once Lost, I was excited. On it’s face, it seemed like it would be just as good as Worlds Apart – two women, half a world away from one another, dealing with life, and everything it throws at them. I wasn’t disappointed!

Emma and Louise are both very well written, and the reader immediately sympathises with their situations, even though they may not have experienced anything similar themselves. It’s not easy to write characters that are so realistic, so Carroll should be commended for that. The characters were quite reminiscent of Erin and Laura in Worlds Apart though; even insofar as they had the same initial!

Also beautifully written are the descriptions of life in Ireland and Australia. Being an Aussie girl myself, I always love it when Australia features in a story, and I’ve visited Ireland too, so I was happy to be reminded of my adventures there.

This is definitely a book I’d recommend. A little more serious than ‘chick lit’, this is fiction that is worth reading in a cozy chair with a warm cuppa. Now, please excuse me, I’m off to hunt down some of Carroll’s other books!

Amazon

I received a copy of Once Lost by Ber Carroll from CLP in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

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Review: Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

Center of Gravity Book Cover Center of Gravity
Laura McNeill
Fiction
309

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It's temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.

Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill is not for the faint of heart. Although the blurb is pretty clear that this isn’t a happy, sunshine-and-birds story, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional this book made me. I can read/watch pretty much anything – gore, thrillers, blood everywhere – but this story of domestic abuse was hard to stomach.

McNeill’s writing style was fast-paced, and almost jerky at times. Statacco thoughts. Short sentences. Frenetic. This suited the story, which was high in tension from the get go. The narrative switched between several characters – Ava, the loving mother; Jack, her wary young stepson; Mitchell, her husband, and Graham, Ava’s lawyer/friend. I particularly liked the inclusion of Jack’s perspective; even though he was only eight, he knew something wasn’t right with his dad, but was still desperate to please him.

Some reviews I’ve read have painted Ava as weak, for not being ‘strong’ enough in the early part of the book. I disagreed. Strength is subjective; it takes strength to stay in a difficult situation and it takes strength to leave. I never saw her as a weak character. Desperate to please, maybe. Scared to disappoint anyone, probably. Willing to do anything to protect her kids, definitely. I don’t see how that makes her weak.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who has encountered domestic abuse – it’s pretty heavy reading. I had to put it down several times and walk away because I was so angry and upset for Ava. I suppose that made for good reading, but it was also very draining. Although I liked the characters, and the story was definitely engaging, it was hard to get through in some parts.

That said, it’s a well-written, poignant story about a topic that too often goes unspoken. Perhaps people should read Center of Gravity for the warnings it gives, or the message it’s sending. Really, I think it will be up to each individual to determine whether this book would be a good idea for them – if you think you can make it through, it’s definitely worth a read.

Amazon

I received a copy of Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.

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REVIEW: ‘The Imaginary Life’ by Mara Torres

The Imaginary Life Book Cover The Imaginary Life
Mara Torres
Fiction
179

What goes through your head when the person you love leaves you? What do you do with your life when you have to start it all over again? Do you make it up? Nata’s world fills with unanswered questions when Beto leaves her. But time doesn’t stop, and the stories that Nata begins to tell herself about her own life lead her to a place where everything becomes possible again. 

I received a copy of The Imaginary Life by Mara Torres in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

It took about three pages to fall into the world of this book. For a moment, I was confused – who was talking to who, where were we, what was going on? But then everything clicked into place, and my heart broke for Nata.

When her boyfriend decides that they need to go ‘on a break’ after drifting apart, Nata’s friends consider her single – after all, she hasn’t heard from her Alberto in months, and they’re pretty sure ‘on a break’ has become ‘broken up’. So, having exhausted her shoulders to cry on and people to vent to, Nata retreats to her journal and her imagination. Imagining what Alberto might be doing, writing him letters, trying to fall for another man, trying to rejoin the single social life…

Written in a deliciously quirky way, The Imaginary Life felt like an indie movie in words. Nothing is lost in translation for Spanish author Torres – in fact, I think a hint of Spanish flair added to the overall zest of the novel. Perhaps one reason I liked this book so much is because I could so easily put myself in Nata’s shoes… I, too, struggle to let things go, and can hold on to people too long. I know all too well what it’s like to exhaust your list of people that you can talk to about someone, and be left inside your head, imagining what could have been if only this or that had been different.

This book is definitely all about Nata, so if first person, introspective, somewhat self-obsessed books aren’t your thing, then give this one a miss – but for lovers of quirky romance stories, this is definitely worth a read!

Amazon

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REVIEW: Worlds Apart by Ber Carroll

Worlds Apart Book Cover Worlds Apart
Ber Carroll
Fiction
368

Two women worlds apart ... 
one secret that changes everything. 

Erin and Laura are cousins and best friends who share a love of languages and travel. 

Erin, a French teacher in Dublin, reaches crisis point and drops everything to move to Australia. In Sydney, not only does she land the perfect job, but she meets the perfect man. Finally, her life is falling into place. Except Sydney isn't home, and never can be. 

Back in Ireland, Laura is struggling. Her husband appears distant, her work life is spinning out of control and her daughter's strange new nanny is undermining her at every turn. She longs to travel in Erin's footsteps, to drop everything and run far away. But these are dangerous thoughts for a mother and wife. 

As Erin and Laura desperately try to find their place in the world, a shocking family secret comes to light, and nothing will ever be the same again. 

I received a copy of this Worlds Apart by Ber Carroll in exchange for a review and my honest opinion.

Worlds Apart captivated me from the first page. Written from the perspectives of cousins Erin and Laura, the girls are struggling to find their place in life.

When Erin begins to crumble under the pressure of what ‘could have been’. What if her mother and father hadn’t fallen ill, and she hadn’t spent the last decade putting her life on hold? She takes a leap of faith, moving to Australia in the hope of finding where she is supposed to be in life. Laura, who loves her company and her little family, is surprised and ashamed to feel desperate to escape too. Overwhelmed by the hectic demands of busy life, her relationships start to suffer and she struggles to find balance and happiness.

Their stories are told in parallel, Erin in Australia and Laura in Ireland. Both women share a love of languages that influences their actions throughout the book; in many ways, their lives echo that of their mothers, who once escaped Ireland to live in the glamour of Paris, but are now both back in Ireland and have an intense impact on the girls. Herself a transplant from Ireland to Australia, Carroll captures the essence my home perfectly. I love it when Australia makes an appearance in a novel!

Beautifully written, Worlds Apart is a captivating novel; the characters are brought to life and immediately the reader feels a connection with them. As their stories unfold, and more of their past is brought to life, we see the girls make decisions that will shape the rest of their lives – I felt a kinship with both of them, myself being unsure of exactly what it is that I should be doing with my life! It was reassuring to read about these two women, after some heartache, working it out.

I would definitely recommend this book to those looking for a more mature version of chick lit; a bit deeper, a little longer, and a tad more thoughtful.

Book Depository | Amazon

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PS. In case anybody was wondering (as I was), Ber is short for Bernadette – but only her mother calls her that.

REVIEW: The Legacy by Melissa Delport

The Legacy Book Cover The Legacy
Melissa Delport
Dystopian Fiction
430

One man obsessed with power. One woman prepared to sacrifice everything to stop him. One war that changed the world.

"World War Three lasted twelve days. Twelve days was all it took for mankind to devastate the planet and almost eradicate the human race. No victor emerged from the ashes and billions lost their lives. We survivors lived through the bleakest of winters. A primal existence became the new order, and the little that remained of our humanity hung in the balance. Then one man stood up and changed the world.

I believed, as did everyone else, that he was the hero of our time, the man who had saved us from our own demise. His name is Eric Dane and he is the President of the New United States of America. He is also my husband, and my greatest enemy.

I grew up oblivious to the truth, until my father found me when I was nineteen years old. He told me about the many horrifying facts that our new leader kept hidden from us. And he told me that beyond the borders the Resistance grew and fought for freedom from the oppression that Eric Dane had imposed on us. My name is Rebecca Davis. I am twenty-six years old, and in me the Resistance has found the ultimate weapon.

I received a copy of The Legacy by Melissa Delport in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

Although the book world has been flooded with Dystopian books of late, thanks in part to the overwhelming success of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (and subsequently, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy), many book lovers are getting a little sick of the genre. However, from the moment I dove into The Legacy, my faith in the genre was restored.

Delport quickly sets the scene; World War 3 saw the United States decimated by nuclear attack. Cleverly, she writes with enough detail to paint a picture that could be hard to imagine – a world power reduced to helplessness overnight. Once the worst of the fallout has passed, humanity begins to rebuild society. However, one man has a vision and a thirst for control. Eric Dane, soon-to-be President of the New United States of America, fences off several prosperous states, and convinces the inhabitants that only deformity and starvation lie outside of the boundary. Longing for stability, nobody questions him. That is, until Rebecca’s father, believed dead for the last twenty years, arrives to tell her the truth.

The story grabbed my attention immediately. Within the first few chapters (granted, I’m feeling particularly emotional today), I was stressed about the rebels getting the upper hand, Rebecca’s cover being blown, and her relationships panning out. Delport did a great job at walking the fine line between using too much description and boring me, and using enough detail to flesh out the characters and setting.

I whipped through the book (I won’t give away any of the plot twists!), and was stoked to find both The Legacy, and the sequel already available on Amazon. After devouring the first, I’m on tenterhooks to find out what happens in the second – I’m just holding my breath for a happy ending, because I can’t stand a love triangle gone wrong!!

I don’t know about you, but often the music that I listen to while reading a gripping series often becomes its soundtrack, and forever reminds me of the story whenever it comes on the radio. It seems like the lovely Melissa Delport knows what I mean, and has been kind enough to send me her Legacy writing playlist to share with you! Here’s what she had to say about the soundtrack to this book.

I am a big lover of music – I always have been, and remember the very first tapes my mom bought me when I turned 11 – The Best of Dolly Parton & Kenny G! Personally, I think she underestimated my desire to own my own music and thought it was simply a childish whim, so she bought music she could listen to when I moved on to my next obsession. That didn’t happen – in fact, in the absence of anything better, I stretched those tapes from playing them so much that they were no use to anyone within a few short months.

Everybody knows that music inspires emotion, and a movie’s soundtrack is almost as important as its casting. I have my own ideas as to what music would go well with certain scenes in The Legacy, but as I do not want to disclose any “spoilers” I will simply list my Movie Soundtrack, in no particular order. 

See if you can guess what song matches which scene:

Imagine Dragons                  Radioactive

Florence & The Machine      Never Let Me Go

Depeche Mode                       Precious

Madonna:                               Die Another Day

Jason Walker                         Down

Plumb                                     Cut

Taylor Swift                            The Last Time

Linkin Park                            Burn it Down

Damien Rice                          9 Crimes

Creed                                      My Sacrifice

Ben Howard                          Oats in the Water

Sam Smith                            Stay With Me

A few of these songs definitely match up with the scenes that were playing out in my head during the book. Are you a reader (or writer!) that always has a soundtrack?

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Mental Health Awareness Month: You’re Never Alone with a Book

Mental Health Awareness Month

Have you ever read a book that just stays with you for years, no matter how many good books you read in between? Today, I’m going to share one of those books with you, that’s stuck with me for nine years now (gosh, it’s scary to think that I discovered it in Year 10!). Why am I sharing it with you now? Well, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and Uncorked Thoughts and Blog of Erised are hosting a blogger event, where we share our experiences and thoughts about Mental Health.

Earlier this month, I shared about an interview I saw with a successful lawyer who battles depression. It inspired me, in that it helped me to see that success and mental illness aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, it might make success a little more difficult, but not impossible!

Now, I’m going to tell you about one of my favourite books – and it just so happens that it revolves around depression.

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta is the story of Francesca, as she navigates the treacherous waters of Year 11 in a school that only recently opened it’s super-traditional doors to girls. For most girls, leaving your best friends to go to a school your outspoken mother has chosen, and being surrounded by arrogant and/or smelly boys, would be enough to make high school difficult. However, when her beautiful, loving, loud mother suddenly stops getting out of bed in the morning, the usual high school woes pale in comparison to Francesca’s sudden new life.

This book is perfectly depicts how a vibrant, loving woman can turn into a shell of herself overnight – and how she won’t just snap out of it one day. But this book isn’t about Francesca’s mother. Really, it’s about how people’s loved ones cope, when the person they know suddenly isn’t there anymore.

As Francesca battles her way through the school year, she finds friendship in strange places. Sometimes she barely makes it through the school day, and other times she forgets for awhile what is happening at home. In many ways, the way that Francesca feels is also familiar to depression sufferers; sometimes getting through the day seems impossible, and other times you can forget the sadness for awhile.

The friendships that she makes are heartwarming, they literally make my heart ache with the desire to find such connections myself. None of the characters Marchetta writes are perfect; in fact, it’s their imperfections that make you love them all the more. Marchetta really has a talent for writing characters that leap of the page; her other books are equally fantastic and the characters just as riveting. Even better, she has written a sequel to Saving Francesca, called The Piper’s Son – set several years after the first book, and being just as enrapturing.

Not only is this book fantastic, but it’s meaningful on a deeper level – at least to me (and hopefully to other people who have experienced mental health in some way). I’ve never forgotten how it affected me; I’ve read it repeatedly, and each time I pick it up, it pulls me right back in. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Has anyone else read this book? Did it affect you in the same way? I’d love to know!

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REVIEW: Bangkok Transit – Eva Fejos

Bangkok Transit Book Cover Bangkok Transit
Eva Fejos
Travel Fiction
272

Bangkok: a sizzling, all-embracing, exotic city where the past and the present intertwine. It’s a place where anything can happen… and anything really does happen. The paths of seven people cross in this metropolis. Seven seekers, for whom this city might be a final destination. Or perhaps it is only the start of a new journey?

A successful businessman; a celebrated supermodel; a man who is forever the outsider; a young mother who suddenly loses everything; a talented surgeon, who could not give the woman he loved all that she desired; a brothel’s madam; and a charming young woman adopted at birth. Why these seven? Why did they come to Bangkok now, at the same time? Do chance encounters truly exist?

I received a copy of this e-book in exchange for a review and my honest opinion. 

Bangkok Transit by Hungarian blonde bombshell Eva Fejos is the Love Actually of travel fiction. Seven strangers find themselves in Bangkok, searching for something they’re missing; family, happiness, freedom… Fate intervenes, and the paths of these strangers cross amid the humidity and crowds of Bangkok.

I found this book fascinating. It took awhile to get into the swing of the story, as the narrative jumps rapidly between the perspectives of different characters, and they aren’t always identified by name. However, once you have a grasp of the different storylines, everything became much more comprehensible and I was drawn in.

Each character’s story had a missing element, which wasn’t revealed into late in the book, and cleverly kept me hooked. Admittedly, I picked the threads connecting the characters earlier than perhaps the author intended, but this didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book. Despite each story being based on sadness and emotion, Fejos didn’t write a miserable book; she managed to write an uplifting novel of discovery instead.

Fejos truly shines in her illustrative depiction of Bangkok culture. What could have been a shallow and predictable story full of ladyboys and prostitutes instead respectfully identified the deeper issues of poverty and gender identity that lie beneath the bright light of the big city. The culture is seamlessly woven into the story, enhancing the journeys that each character was undertaking.

My one gripe would be that each storyline came to a head and ended very abruptly. After unravelling each narrative so slowly and precisely, the sudden resolution of each was a little off-putting, and I would have liked just a smidge more information.

That said, the sudden ending was not enough to spoil the book, and I was left feeling quite tranquil, as if I myself had undertaken a journey of discovery alongside the other characters. I would definitely recommend reading this book, and will be tracking down some of the other books written by Fejos to see if they live up to the high standard set by her first novel.

This book is a perfect 3.5 stars. If you’d like to ignite your interest in the enigma that is Bangkok, you can get a copy from Amazon here. I’d love to hear what you thought!
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Literary Junkies Review: The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty

The Chaperone Book Cover The Chaperone
Laura Moriarty
Historical Fiction
416

On a summer's day in 1922 Cora Carlisle boards a train from Wichita, Kansas, to New York City, leaving behind a marriage that's not as perfect as it seems and a past that she buried long ago. She is charged with the care of a stunning young girl with a jet-black fringe and eyes wild and wise beyond her fifteen years. This girl is hungry for stardom and Cora for something she doesn't yet know.

Cora will be many things in her lifetime - an orphan, a mother, a wife, a mistress - but in New York she is a chaperone and her life is about to change. It is here under the bright lights of Broadway, in a time when prohibition reigns and speakeasies with their forbidden whispers behind closed doors thrive, that Cora finds what she has been searching for. It is here, in a time when illicit thrills and daring glamour sizzle beneath the laws of propriety that her life truly begins.

It is here that Cora and her charge, Louise Brooks, take their first steps towards their dreams.

This month, the book being read by the Literary Junkies Book Club was The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. Who are the Literary Junkies? You can read more about them here, with the lovely Taylor of ‘Pink Heels, Pink Truck’. Basically, we’re a group of book lovers! Each month we read a book together, have our monthly book club meeting on twitter, and have a monthly link up.

I knew nothing about this book when it was posted as our first read of the year. The blurb told me that this was a book set in the 20s, told from the viewpoint of a woman chaperoning a young charge in New York City. I can’t say it grabbed me. However, from the minute I opened the book and began reading, I was hooked.

This book is so much more than the story of a woman nannying a young, incorrigible girl in the Big City. It is about the Cora’s search for her past, in a world where values are changing rapidly, and she’s struggling to keep up. Hem lines are getting shorter, blacks are sitting alongside her in the theatre, and young Louise refuses to understand the dangers of a being a young, beautiful woman alone in a roomful of men.

Being raised in an extremely traditional family, I immediately empathised with Cora’s desire to teach Louise about the importance of keeping up appearances, as much as I understood Louise’s resistance to the idea. As a modern girl raised in an old-fashioned home, I personally have spent most of my life torn between these two extremes, and it’s not an easy place to be. So, I was intrigued by this aspect of the book, and enjoyed watching the dynamic between the two shift, as each came to see things from the other’s perspective (at least to some degree!).

What really made this book special was Cora. The book could have just used her character at face value, as a dignified woman in her thirties, struggling to keep her young charge under control. However, Moriarty gave Cora a backstory that was riveting. I won’t give too much away, but throughout the book details kept being revealed that continuously changed the way that I saw Cora and the reasons behind why she behaved as she did.

Combined with the historical elements of the book, which span from rural Kansas in the 20s with Cora’s friends joining the Klu Klux Klan because ‘everyone is doing it’, to New York City, where Cora and Louise attend the first broadway play entirely written, produced and starring black people, this book is a fascinating and compelling read. 

I don’t often give books five stars; but this book earned my seal of approval and highest recommendations. Run out to your local bookstore and buy a copy right now. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can get a copy from the Book Depository, or Amazon. 

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Literary Junkies

Now, on a lighter and less reverential note, here are my answers to this month’s Literary Junkies questions. You should join us next month! We’re reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Get excited!wers to this month’s Literary Junkies questions

1. What am I reading right now? Tell us about it. 

Right now, I’m reading Life in Plan B by Jennifer Vessells. I can’t tell you too much about it though, because I’ll be reviewing it in just a few days for Chick Lit Plus, and you can read all about it then!

2. Out of the 16 books that will be turned into a movie adaptation, which one are you most looking forward to seeing this year? (Article Link)

Even though heaps of the movies in this article look really interesting, the one I know I’ll have to read before I see it in the cinema is Divergent by Veronica Roth. I know it’s similar to the Hunger Games series, and those books are a definite MUST READ before seeing the movie, so I’m working on the same assumption here!

3. What was the worst book you’ve ever read?

You know, I haven’t got a clue what my answer is to this question… I don’t think I’ve ever not finished a book that I started! I might have to get back to you on this one.

4. What foods or beverages have you spilled on a book while reading? Anything good?

Confession time: Once, I dropped a book in the toilet! I wasn’t using it at the time, but I think I sat it on the cistern while I was doing something else, and it fell in! It was especially awkward, because it was a library book. Whoops!

5. Do you pictures characters as popular film or tv actors? Or do you create a whole new person in your head?

This all depends on whether I’ve seen the movie adaptation of a book or not. If I have, then I usually picture the characters as the actors that played them. But if not, then I imagine what they look like based on the description given in the book, not based on who I think should play them in the movie!

6. Out of all the authors you’ve read books by, who’s brain would you want to pick the most?

Hmm, another toughie… I’ve heard Matthew Reilly talk before, and he was fascinating, so I think I could have a good conversation with him. But if I could, I’d bring J. R. R. Tolkien back from the dead to ask him about creating such a detailed fantasy world for Lord of the Rings, complete with it’s own language! I’d love to do something like that.

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