Books and more books!

Website: www.sonyaspreenbates.com

Hi and welcome to my review site! I’m Sonya Spreen Bates, and this is where I share my thoughts on books.

I’m a writer myself, and I know how hard it is to get the word out about a book. So I’m hoping this might help a few authors spread the word about new publicationsssbates-author-photo-2014. But mostly I just like to share. Books have always been a part of my life, and if I like a book, I want to shout it from the rooftops. This is the digital equivalent.

I like all sorts of books, so you’ll find all sorts on this site. From crime/thriller and mystery to romance, fantasy and sci-fi, children’s and YA, contemporary and historical. Some are new publications, many are not.

If you’re a reader, I hope these reviews help you choose some books for yourself, perhaps try out a new author, or a new genre.

If you’re an author, and you’d like your book reviewed, contact me. I don’t promise it’ll make it up on the site, but if it does, I promise an honest review and my best wishes for your success.

If you’d like to know more about me and my books, visit my website. Happy Reading!

 

Favourite books for 2018

IMG_1605Here it is, almost the end of the year again. There have been some highs this year, primarily the shortlisting of my adult mystery manuscript When Secrets Come to Light for The Banjo Prize, and subsequently being offered a contract for its publication. That was very validating and I was on a high for weeks following. I also received a contract for a middle-grade novel, He’s My Brother. They will both be forthcoming in 2020.

On the other hand, I didn’t get as much new writing done this year as I’d hoped. Ideas have been percolating for a new adult novel, though, so that is progress of a sort.

I did read more than last year, which was one of my goals, so here are some of my favourites. I’d recommend any of them if you’re looking for something new to read.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham – Loved this psychological thriller that kept me turning pages well into the night. The story follows two women, Meghan who seems to have it all, and Agatha, who works part time at the local grocery store, and idolises Meghan from afar. When pregnant Agatha learns that Meghan is also expecting, she finally plucks up the courage to start a conversation with her. An unlikely friendship evolves, centred around the trials of pregnancy and the ordeal of the upcoming births. Meghan has no idea that that simple exchange would alter her life forever.

Michael Robotham has done a brilliant job of portraying these women, their mental states, and their relationships. The suspense is dripped out as we learn more about their lives, and follow them into the dark realms of their secrets.

Beneath the Mother Tree by DM Cameron – Debut author DM Cameron has woven together a tale of intrigue and mysticism that pulls the reader into the tiny island community where the story is set. Right from the beginning of the book, there is a sense of unease, of something not right, and Cameron plays it out beautifully, drawing out the suspense and increasing the tension right through the book.

Ayla is a young woman who grew up on a small island off the coast of Queensland, fed by the Irish folk tales told by her grandfather, Grappa, and surrounded by the Indigenous history of the local community. When she meets a mysterious flute-player on the beach, Grappa fears it is the Far Darocha, dark servant of the Faery Queen, come to lure her into the faery realm.

Riley and his mother have moved to the island to escape their past. A stranger in a tightly-knit community, he is drawn to Ayla, as she is to him. What unfolds is part love story, part mystery, and a little bit of magic. Would appeal to both older teens and adults.

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield – This YA book has everything you could want. Mystery, suspense, secrets, intrigue, and a touch of the supernatural. Add to that well-drawn characters, great prose and an Australian setting and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a daredevil. She’s not afraid of anything, and will do anything for a laugh. Until she tries to defend her record for ‘Walking the Pipe’ across the disused quarry and something happens that she can’t explain. Not to herself and not to anyone else. Her search for an explanation leads her into a twenty-year-old mystery that has never been solved and despite the well-meaning advice of family and friends she can’t seem to let it go. Is it really the ghost of Hannah Holt come to exact her revenge? Or is Grace going a little bit mad?

This is a novel that keeps the reader turning pages. The characters are well-developed, the voice authentic and edgy, the suspense well drawn, and the mystery intriguing. Vikki Wakefield brilliantly portrays Grace’s anxiety and fear as she battles with what is real and what is imagined. Highly recommended.

The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning – A compelling tale of friendship, love and the hardships of war, this story is set in two time periods.

In 2016, Alexandra flees London with a broken heart and returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather falls ill. With only weeks to live, they begin to reveal the mystery of their early life together in Shanghai during WWII. Intrigued, Alexandra goes to Shanghai to discover the truth of what happened, leading her to question who she is, and where her family really came from.

In 1939, Romy flees Vienna with her family, landing as a refugee in Shanghai, where she meets the beautiful Li. Romy and Li become fast friends, but as the war in Europe escalates, their friendship is tested, and Romy begins to doubt Li’s loyalty.

Manning brings the streets of Shanghai to life, especially in the historical sections of the book: the sights, the sounds, the smells. It was a fascinating read, not only for the characters and their personal circumstances and trials during this harrowing period of history, but also for the history itself – of Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – A beautiful and passionate historical novel by Jacki French that explores the power and courage of women in a time where women were considered anything but powerful and courageous.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of an Australian businessman, and thus not entirely accepted when she arrives at Shillings Hall in the English countryside. Nevertheless, she makes tentative friendships with the other ‘lovely ladies’ who are there to partake in Miss Lily’s lessons in etiquette and high society. Sophie, however, suspects that there is more to Miss Lily than meets the eye, and that she has an alternative purpose in her training of the girls.

It is 1914, and when war breaks out, women the world over are required to abandon etiquette and take on roles they were never prepared for. Sophie finds herself embroiled in a plot to stop a devastating tragedy, and must employ all the skills Miss Lily taught her to ensure a successful outcome. Still, the question of Miss Lily’s true identity never leaves her.

Jackie French is a master of historical fiction. She is able to bring history to life, so that the reader is immersed in the time and place the story is set and this book is no exception. Sophie is a likable character, strong and independent with a mind of her own, and her story is compelling. And I, too, found myself wondering who Miss Lily really was and what motivation truly drove her. I’ll be looking for the other two books in this trilogy. Recommended for anyone who likes historical women’s fiction.

The Centre of My Everything by Allayne Webster – A young adult book for older teens, this is a confronting but passionate read. The story is told from the perspective of four teens living in a small town in South Australia. As the blurb on the back says:

‘Justin’s back, and wants to put the past behind him.

Corey’s a footy hero and high-school dropout who can’t even find work picking fruit.

Tara wants to be loved. But if her mother doesn’t care, why would anyone else?

Margo wants out, and she has a plan to get there.’

Webster holds nothing back in showing life in this small community. The good, the bad and the ugly. It deals with real issues, hard issues that no one wants to talk about. It is raw and honest. Not all the characters are likable, but they are compelling, and I couldn’t stop reading. And by the end of the book I really cared about them. All of them.

A book that won’t easily be forgotten.

The Right Place by Carla Caruso – A romance novel rich in the history of 1950’s Adelaide, this novel is written in two timelines.

The main story line follows Nella as she arrives at Torrente Blu, one of the few surviving market gardens in Adelaide, left to her by her nonna who recently passed away. Intent on packing away her grandmother’s things and selling the property, she is drawn into the history of the place when she discovers her nonna’s hand-written cookbook. When she realises her childhood friend and neighbour, Adrian, who is managing the market garden, needs help on the property, she offers to assist, and soon his passion for life on the land starts to rub off on her.

Interspersed with Nella’s story are snippets of her nonna’s life as a new immigrant in 1958. Esta and her husband and young daughter move to Adelaide from a small village in Italy to escape the ravages of WWII. But life in South Australia is not at all what Esta expected, and she struggles to come to terms with the harsh reality of life in an alien country.

This is a heartfelt story of two women trying to find their place in life.

Book Review: Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Ballad for a Mad Girl has everything you could want in a book. Mystery, suspense, secrets, intrigue, and a touch of the supernatural. Add to that well-drawn characters, great prose and an Australian setting and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a daredevil. She’s not afraid of anything, Balladand will do anything for a laugh. Until she tries to defend her record for ‘Walking the Pipe’ across the disused quarry and something happens that she can’t explain. Not to herself and not to anyone else. Her search for an explanation leads her into a twenty-year-old mystery that has never been solved and despite the well-meaning advice of family and friends she can’t seem to let it go. Is it really the ghost of Hannah Holt come to exact her revenge? Or is Grace going a little bit mad?

This is a novel that keeps the reader turning pages. The characters are well-developed, the voice authentic and edgy, the suspense well drawn, and the mystery intriguing. Vikki Wakefield expertly portrays Grace’s anxiety and fear as she battles with what is real and what is imagined. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Romy Silvers has had an unusual upbringing. She was born on the spaceship Infinity, bound for a new planet, brought up by her parents until the age of eleven. And then she was alone. The sole surviving crew member with only ghosts and memories for companions. Until she receives word that a second ship has been launched from Earth, scheduled to rendezvous with the Infinity in only twelve short months. The commander of the new ship is a boy named J.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a Y/A science fiction story positively brooding with tension and suspense. Romy and J begin communicating via 32601841-_uy630_sr1200630_.jpgemail as Romy discovers that all is not well on Earth. He is her only link to the human race, and she finds herself drawn to him, despite the months it takes for their transmissions to cross between the two ships. Romy comes to depend on J’s emails for emotional support as her situation on board the Infinity becomes more and more precarious, and she finds herself falling in love with the voice at the end of the emails. All that is keeping her going is the thought of J’s arrival.

James creates a vivid and believable world on the Infinity, and expertly builds the tension throughout the novel to the explosive conclusion. She creates suspense and intrigue by dripping in Romy’s backstory, as well as dropping in small clues as to what is to come. Romy’s is an authentic and believable voice, which evokes empathy and support in the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it not only to science fiction fans but any young adult and adult readers who love suspense.

Book Review: Beautiful Messy Love by Tess Woods

I don’t usually read romance, but I heard so many good things about this book from people I know that I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed.

Beautiful Messy Love is the story of two couples, Nick and Anna, and Lily and Toby, whose lives are interwoven in multiple, complicated ways. Nick and Anna meet in the café where Anna works, and seem an unlikely match – a football star and a refugee. Lily and Toby meet in a hospital cafeteria with the most awful timing – while Toby is supporting his wife through the end stages of cancer. Each character is struggling with their own tragedies, disappointments and failings, and must overcome prejudice and heartbreak to make things work.

BML image

The story is told from the point of view of each of the characters, alternating between chapters, and it works well. Each character has a distinct voice, and the reader gets an insight into each person’s perspective of the situations that arise. The reader feels for each and every one of them. As evident by the title, their lives and loves are not simple. But it seems destined to be.

 

If I had any criticism for this book, it is that, while the characters are well drawn, they are somewhat larger-than-life. Nick is not just a professional football player, but the star of the team upon who the Premiership depends. Anna is not just a refugee, but the daughter of a strong female presidential candidate from her homeland, and a world champion swimmer as well. It makes the characters a little less relatable initially, but as the story unfolds, the reader still becomes invested in the characters and feels their pain.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it, not just for romance readers, but for anyone looking to escape for a while. A great holiday read.

Favourite Books for 2017

Two thousand seventeen was a busy year, personally and professionally, and while I am happy with what I have accomplished – notably the completion of my adult crime thriller, re-writing a middle-grade science fiction novel and publication of my hi-lo YA novel Running on Empty (official release date Jan 23 2018) – I ha20180102_122245ven’t read as many books as I’d have liked. One of my goals for 2018 will be to make reading a priority, along with writing, and to post more reviews. But there are, as always, a few stand-outs, so here, in no particular order, are my favourite books for 2017.

Not necessarily published in 2017, but ones that I read in 2017.

 

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L Webster – This emotional story for younger readers is set in a shantytown in Paris. Eleven-year-old Jorge is part of a gang who survive on the streets by begging and thieving – with their profits going directly into the hands of their controller, Bill. He lives day by day, not knowing when or if he will next eat. Within this harsh environment, Jorge shows conviction and tenacity as he dares to dream of a better life. But it is his courage and loyalty to his friends that endears him to the reader as bigger problems arise. His home (such as it is) is under threat, his friends in danger, and Jorge will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.

Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale – A historical saga spanning three generations, Palace of Tears is set in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and follows the life of Adam Fox, his wives, his children, and his grandchildren. In 2013, Fox’s granddaughter, Lisa, seeks the truth about her mother’s past before she slides into the clutches of dementia and loses it forever. Told from multiple points of view and multiple time periods, gradually the past is unveiled, along with its tragedies, its secrets, and its lies. Until the mystery of the elusive ‘Angie’ is revealed.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon – A thriller set in post WWII East Berlin, this gritty novel depicts life in Soviet-held Germany after the war. Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer who fled to America before the war, returns to Berlin as an agent for the CIA in a desperate attempt to avoid deportation and the loss of his family. He is embroiled in an intrigue far bigger and more dangerous than he could ever have imagined. I picked this book up for its atmosphere and depiction of post-WWII Germany, but was thoroughly enthralled with the story.

With Malice by Eileen Cook – A fast-paced, intriguing YA thriller, With Malice was a fun read. Eighteen year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital bed after being involved in a fatal accident on a school trip to Italy. A trip she can’t remember. Not the trip, not what happened between her and her best friend Simone, and not the accident, in which Simone was killed. There are lawyers involved, media chasing her, and the question that hangs on everyone’s lips. Was it really an accident?

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee – The story starts out as social worker, Jessica Campbell is sorting through her mother’s belongings after her death and discovers the bodies of two dead girls in the freezer. But despite its macabre beginning, this is not a thriller. Set in Vancouver, Canada during three time periods – 2016, 1947 – 1959 and 1984 – 1988 – the story follows Jessica’s emotional journey and readjustment of her sense of self and family, as she discovers that her mother was not who she thought she was. Outwardly an ‘earth mother’ who fostered many children during Jessica’s childhood and beyond, Donna is not what she appeared to be, and Jessica is forced to look within herself and what she knew of her childhood as Donna’s past is revealed, along with the past of the two foster girls who Jessica had been led to believe had run away.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – This is my current read, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  Set in London, and then Sydney in the early 1800s, this historical novel follows the journey of William Thornhill, riverman and thief, as he is transported to Australia and struggles to carve out a life there for himself and his family. Once free, he settles on a piece of land up-river that he thinks is vacant. But the land belongs to the Darug people. An inspired look into Australia’s history.

Book Review: The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

I was provided with an ARC copy of The Mercy of the Tide, by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Debut novelist, Keith Rosson, has delivered a riveting character-driven tale that crosses the line between mild horror and alternate reality. Set in the small seaside town of Riptide Oregon, the time is late 1983. The town is grieving the loss of two women killed in a head-on car crash, leaving siblings Trina and Sam Finster motherless and Sheriff Dave Dobbs a widower. The blame for the accident is firmly laid on Melissa Finster, after beer cans are discovered in the back of the wreck, causing more anguish for her devastated family.

The story is told from the point of view of four characters in alternating chapters: eighteen-year-old Sam Finster, his nine-year-old sister Trina Finster who is profoundly deaf, Sheriff Dave Dobbs, and Deputy Nick Hayslip, a Vietnam veteran who grieves for Melissa Finster in secrecy, unable to reveal their affair in light of the tragedy.

Rosson’s characters are well-drawn and believable, each dealing with their grief in their own way, each with their own personality and their own voice, and the addition of several interesting secondary characters only makes the narrative stronger. I thought each of the characters was relatable, although I probably felt the least connection with Trina Finster, who deals with the loss of her mother by obsessing about the possibility of nuclear war, which seems an unlikely reaction for a nine-year-old, even a gifted one.

As the story unfolds, mutilated corpses of birds and animals are found about town and fear grips the tiny community, wondering what sort of animal or human could be responsible. However the discovery of a hundred-year-old skeleton of a Native American girl leads Deputy Hayslip to suspect that something darker and much more ancient is at work.

The descriptions in this novel are vivid. Rosson paints a picture of the town that is dark and cold and windswept, a fitting backdrop to the grief and melancholy that dominates the characters’ thoughts. I did feel the book was a bit of a slow burn, as the tension didn’t really build until the second half, the first half dedicated to setting the scene and building the characters. However, this didn’t seem to detract from the narrative. I kept turning the pages, and when the suspense rose to the ultimate climate, I was invested in the characters and genuinely anxious for their fate.

Overall, a highly enjoyable read. Recommended for readers who enjoy alternate reality, supernatural themes and mild horror.

Book Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People by Hannah Kent takes us to a remote valley in south-west Ireland in 1825. Times are hard, crops fail, people sicken, babies die, and despite the insistence of the local priest that the old ways are pagan and forbidden, many attribute their misfortunes to the Good People, the fairies.

It is in these hard times that three women come together. Nóra Leahy, who, within the space of a year, has lost first her daughter and then her husband, and now is burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál, who has changed from a lively energetic two-year-old to a helpless child unable to walk or speak. Mary Clifford, a fourteen-year-old girl who Nóra hires to help care for Micheál, and becomes her eyes and ears in the village, where people whisper of otherworldly interference in his condition. And Nance Roche, a herbalist and a healer, who is reputed to be able to commune with the Good People, and is Nora’s only hope in her quest to get her grandson back.

This book is utterly absorbing. Kent has built a truly believable world, where the hardship and turmoil of the times immerses the reader and draws them into Nóra’s life. Her tragedies are very real, and her obsession with finding a cure for her grandson heartbreaking. The dynamics between the villagers is expertly exposed and the suspicion and mistrust of this closely bound community, whose fear of the unknown is fuelled by the priest, Father Healy, is countered brilliantly by their desperate need for answers to their problems and a cure for their ailments. Told from the point of view of each of the three women, the story unfolds at a natural pace, the rising tension keeping the reader on edge and burning the midnight oil.

Highly recommended.


wordpress statistics

Find me on:

Follow Sonya Spreen Bates on WordPress.com