The Opal Octopus

Reading and reviews by the Indian Ocean

July 15, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Mountain Ash
by Margareta Osborn

Published by Random House Australia
on 2014-03-03
Genres: Australian Rural Romance, Romance
Pages: 416
Review: Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Jodie Ashton is a single mother struggling to find security for her and her rather awesome daughter, Milly. She is wary of passion, having been abandoned by her cowboy lover, and craves stability and predictability. There is a safe offer in the table: older cocky Alex McGregor.

“There was a fleeting touch of possession in that look, which made Jodie’s insides momentarily quiver with uncertainty. But it was shuttered away as quickly as it had come, and an engaging smile was back on his face. A grin she had come to rely on for its ability to brighten her day.
‘Think about it, Jodie,’ he’d said. ‘I can make your and Milly’s life very comfortable.’”

Can Ash overlook the red flags of Alex’s dislike for Milly, and his outbursts of dominating behaviour? She takes off on a rodeo weekend with her friends, telling Alex she’s going to a quilting workshop. There her eye is drawn again by gorgeous cowboy Nate, which sets off a whole other set of her red flags, but Ash finds him hard to resist.

A huge coincidence brings all three of them together, and fireworks ensue (in more ways than one).

This is a novel for those who love flawed characters. Ash can be a bit annoyingly passive, and makes some decisions with very questionable ethics. But her fierce love for her daughter is a delight – this sort of passionate motherhood is a rare thing in books in this genre – and her less acceptable actions can be largely explained by her abandonment trauma and her search for a way to forge a safe future for her family.

Alex is certainly very flawed – I despised him much of the time – but this book manages to find some redemption for him also. And Nate. What can I say about Nate? He makes a pretty dodgy decision also, one with profound consequences, but we end up liking him too.

The best things about this book for me were the examination of single motherhood and financial insecurity, and the ethical dilemmas this can bring to a woman’s life. Minor characters Mue and Clem are great, too.

Recommended to people who like flawed characters.

Content warning for bushfire.

July 14, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Acute Anticipation: July 2014

I can’t be the only one who pores over my list of upcoming titles… here’s some of what I’m looking forward to in the next few weeks: Thirst, Academic Exercises, Dirty Wings, and The Dead the Dead Came to Show and Tell.

Thirst by Kerry Hudson. Release Date: July 17th

Thirst cover - handwriting style font, woman in dress lying on grass, shot from above


The beginning of a relationship is usually all about getting to know each other, sharing stories far into the night, comparing experiences, triumphs and heartaches, until we know one another inside out.

Not so for Dave and Alena. He’s from London, she’s from Siberia. They meet in a sleek Bond Street department store in the frayed heat of high summer, where she’s up to no good and it’s his job to catch her. So begins an unlikely relationship between two people with pasts, with secrets, they’ve no idea how to live with — or leave behind. But despite everything they don’t have in common, all the details they won’t and can’t reveal, they still find themselves fighting with all they’ve got for a future together.

An unconventional, will-they-won’t-they love story, that takes us from London to Siberia, and from hope to heartbreak, and back again.

I loved Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice-Cream Float Before he Stole my Ma so, so much, despite its bleak setting and content. What a writer Hudson is. I’m expecting plenty from Thirst. Bring it on!

Next up is Academic Exercises, by K. J. Parker. Release Date: July 31st

cover of Academic Exercises. Sepia tone closeup of hand writing with quill on illuminated manuscript, with maps around

Academic Exercises is the first collection of shorter work by master novelist K.J Parker, and it is a stunner. Weighing in at over 500 pages, this generous volume gathers together thirteen highly distinctive stories, essays, and novellas, including the recent World Fantasy Award-Winner, “Let Maps to Others”. The result is a significant publishing event, a book that belongs on the shelf of every serious reader of imaginative fiction.

The collection opens with the World Fantasy Award-winning “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong,” a story of music and murder set against a complex mentor/pupil relationship, and closes with the superb novella “Blue & Gold,” which features what may be the most beguiling opening lines in recent memory.[…]

Taken singly, each of these thirteen pieces is a lovingly crafted gem. Together, they constitute a major and enduring achievement. Rich, varied, and constantly absorbing, Academic Exercises is, without a doubt, the fantasy collection of the year.

I confess to not having read any K. J. Parker yet, but I keep hearing recommendations, so this seems like a great opportunity to rectify that.

And then… Dirty Wings! By Sarah McCarry. Release Date: July 15th

Dirty wings cover. Sideways girl's face in half shadow, red vines, all moody and dark reddish colours


A gorgeous retelling of the Persephone myth, Sarah McCarry brings us the story of Cass and Maia–the mothers from All Our Pretty Songs–and how their fates became intertwined.

Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game.

I had a mixed reaction to the first book in the series, All Our Pretty Songs, as I felt that the realistic component and the fantasy component didn’t mesh very well together, leaving it all a touch muddled. But Sarah McCarry can write – oh boy, can she write! – so I’m really looking forward to this.

And lastly – The Day the Dead came to Show and Tell, by Mira Grant. Release date: July 14th! Today!


A new Newsflesh novella from the New York Times besteslling author that brought you Feed, Mira Grant.

Outside the classroom walls the Rising was spreading, but inside was a carefully protected sanctuary against the growing threat.

Or so the teachers and students thought.

On what will be the last day in the teaching career of Elaine Oldenburg, who fans of the series know as Foxy, she must fight to survive and protect her students when the zombie outbreak shatters the safety of her school.

I’m gonna tell you right out that I’m an unabashed Mira Grant fan. Anything in her Newsflesh or Parasite worlds, or her Incryptid worlds (as Seanan McGuire), I just inhale. So more Newsflesh? Sign. me. up!



What are you looking forward to? Any of these? Something else?

July 13, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Quotes from Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

I haven’t finished it yet, but Goddess by Kelly Gardiner is an utter delight. It is a novelisation of the life of notorious queer swordswoman and opera singer Julie d’Aubigny/Mademoiselle de Maupin, told as a narration (I would say “confession”, but regrets seem to be few and far between!) on her deathbed.

Today I’d just like to share a couple of brief quotes that tickled my fancy:

He takes a few steps back and draws more slowly. ‘My dear, you really must learn to be more careful. You shouldn’t unsheathe a blade unless you know how to use it.’

Julie wonders if this will be the moment when she kills for the first time. It could be worth it. ‘You shouldn’t unsheathe words unless you’re willing to die for them.’

The truth of an orchestra is heard when they try to find their common notes before the show. All those strings and tubes and odd plunking things straining in different directions; an orchestra is merely a mob of single-minded maniacs who every so often condescend to work together, and then, mostly, they soar – they ascend – they give us wings.

Then they finish and bow and grumble and stomp off to their grotty little hovels muttering to themselves. Honestly, music is a miracle. You have no idea.

cover of Goddess - painted nude woman, turned to the side, arms over her breasts. she is looking straight at you

July 11, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Drowned by Nichola Reilly

by Nichola Reilly

Published by Harlequin
on 2014-06-24
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Review: Drowned by Nichola Reilly

Drowned is set in a surreal postapocalyptic world, in the end days before the floods completely cover the planet. At first I thought this was a fantasy book – and it’s categorised as Fantasy on Goodreads – but slowly I came to realise that it is actually probably maybe cli-fi science fiction, set on Earth, with some magicalish biological elements, but not necessarily fantasy as such. Or something. It’s a fun thing to puzzle out, so I’m looking forward to the next book!

Several hundred humans remain in the known world, dubbed “Tides”. A wooden platform is the only refuge for (most of) the people at high tide. The society is heavily socially stratified, with every individual having their own set place in the spiral formation on the platform. Those considered the most expendable in the society are on the outside; children are in the centre, the safest spot. The outer echelons of the spiral are frequently washed off by waves or eaten by scribblers, which are terrifying carnivorous eel/sandworm critters. The scribblers shriek, not hiss, but I’m still getting a Priness Bride vibe!

At low tide, the people come down to the island to scavenge and fish. The world remains dangerous at low tide, however – the danger being not just from scribblers, but from other humans. This is a society in a death spiral (hrm, sorry) of despair, as the waters ever so slowly rise higher, and the platform becomes more rickety, with not enough salvage to fix it properly. There is a desultory programme of sending people off in boats on an “Explore” to find other survivors, but no-one really expects them to return.

Our main character, Coe Kettlefish, is a teenage girl who lost a hand to scribbler attack when she was a small child. Coe is alone, her father being one chosen for an Explore in the past. Other people call her “Scribbler Bait”, because they consider that her disability makes her useless to their society, destined for the outer spiral and certain doom. For now, however, being below the age limit, she stands near the middle of the high-tide formation. Coe admires Tiam, the gorgeous, kind boy who stands next to her in the spiral, but she never really expects him to admire her back, especially since she always smells like poo. You can probably figure out the rest there.


There is one other dry area at high tide, apart from the decaying wooden platform. It is the very top of the castle tower, when the royal family live. Royal family, you say? Huh? Me too! But there they are, the dying king and Princess Star, lording it over everyone in their cushy castle. What is the secret of the royal family? How are they living so well? What lies past the horizons? What lies within the castle? And why isn’t “Scribbler Bait” dead yet?

I weirdly loved Drowned, though I didn’t expect to at first. The initial vagueness of the description of Tides ended up being a positive, not a negative: the gradual unfolding of the world held my attention, with new mysteries introduced along the way. Coe’s courage and curiosity buoys up a narrative that could be a bit bleak otherwise, and the way she deals with and feels about her impairment feels realistic. Best of all, this book doesn’t feel like every other YA dystopian/postapocalyptic book out there. The reveals near the end sank their hooks into me, leaving me looking forward to more. And since I can’t say any more about those reveals… Go read!

[yellow_box]Nichola Reilly is Cyn Balog’s post-apocalyptic fantasy-writing alter-ego. She can be found at, on Twitter, and on Facebook.  [/yellow_box]

I received this book from Netgalley for review consideration.

July 10, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary
by Julie Murphy

Published by HarperCollins
on 2014-03-18
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Warning: This is not The Fault In Our Stars! In many ways, it is the anti-tFioS.

Dying people aren’t saints. But neither are the living.

Alice is manipulative, dying, and harbouring an unpleasant secret. Her mission is to sort things out before she goes: to cross experiences off her list and do good deeds, sure, but mostly to settle old scores.

Harvey is completely in thrall to Alice, with all that that entails. Alice knows this, and uses it.

And things do not go according to plan. Not even the “dying” part.

I strongly, strongly recommend this to people who like deeply flawed characters. People who can take a complicated, awkward, sometimes baffling journey with people whose issues and shortcomings run deep. I’m not necessarily always the audience for those sorts of books, but Side Effects May Vary had me well and truly along for the ride. Julie Murphy is to be congratulated for that achievement.

Side Effects May Vary is beautifully messy, and just real enough that you still sorta kinda root for the characters while wanting to scream at them. (This wouldn’t help.)

[yellow_box]Julie Murphy lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. Side Effects May Vary is Julie’s debut novel. She can be found at[/yellow_box]

July 7, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Breaking The Drought by Lisa Ireland

Breaking The Drought
by Lisa Ireland

Published by Harlequin Enterpises AU
on 2014-07-01
Genres: Australian Rural Romance, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 175
Review: Breaking The Drought by Lisa Ireland
Synopsis: When a smooth-talking, sophisticated city girl comes striding into town on her stiletto heels, he's the last person who wants to notice... When Jenna McLean gets roped into attending a matchmaking ball in a small country town, she holds no illusions of meeting the man of her dreams. A no-nonsense magazine editor, Jenna doesn’t believe in leaving love to chance, which is why she’s developed Marriage Material – a fool-proof framework for husband hunting. Shearers and farmhands need not apply. Sheep grazier Luke Tanner has met women like Jenna before, and knows not to waste his time. With the drought dragging on and bushfire season around the corner, the last thing he needs is a spoiled city girl like Jenna adding to his problems. He'll help out with the ball because it's good for the community, but he won't dance, he won't flirt, and he definitely won't be matched. It's been a long dry season, but everyone knows when it rains, it pours.


City magazine worker Jenna can’t figure out for herself that Jimmy Choos aren’t appropriate footwear for a weekend in farm country. Grazier Luke Tanner is wracked with guilt over a past tragedy, and doesn’t feel he deserves love. And dying country town Barlow needs new blood, so they decide to get themselves some wives. The solution? The Barlow Bachelors’ Ball Weekend.

– She hates country music, he’s in a country band.
– She wears a hot pink bikini, he cools off in a swimming hole.
– He think she’s spoiled, she thinks he’s a hick.
– He thinks he has nothing to offer in the love department because Tragedy, but of course he’s really the salt of the earth nicest guy who ever lived.

At this point in the book it was just all sounding far too familiar – I’ve read this story over and over, and I’ve read those that show-not-tell more effectively, with meatier subplots and more intriguing characters.

Breaking The Drought was a cute enough romance, but what felt to me like a paint-by-numbers approach and lack of deep engagement left me a little cold. I just felt like I’d read it all before.

“He turned back and looked at her. ‘Look, it’s clear that there’s some type of chemistry between us; I don’t think either of us can deny that. But it doesn’t change the fact that we are from different worlds.’
She looked back at him with big, glassy eyes, but said nothing.
‘We’re playing a dangerous game and it has to stop before one, or both of us, gets hurt.’”

This wasn’t my favourite book, but it might be yours! Check out this review by Roz at My Written Romance, and this one by Sally906 at Goodreads.

[yellow_box]Lisa Ireland was born in Melbourne, has lived and taught in rural Victoria, and now lives on the south coast with her family. You can find her at and on Facebook and Twitter.[/yellow_box]

July 5, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Library Loot

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.


This Week’s Library Loot:

This week I picked up two reserves hot off the presses, both by Australian women writers.

two books - head of the river and the fictional woman


Head of the River is by Sydney ocean-swimmer, coffee-lover, lecturer, and writer Pip Harry, who also wrote YA hit I’ll Tell You Mine.

cover of Head of the River - silhouetted rowers


It’s the most elite school sporting event in the country. Nine rowers, 2000 gruelling metres and one chance for glory in the ultimate team sport. Sit forward … ROW.

Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River.
With six months until the big race, the twins can’t lose. Or can they?

When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build.

As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who’ll plummet from grace?

Ooh, a contemporary YA sports novel set in Australia. Interesting!

Pip Harry can be found at, and on Facebook and Twitter.


Tara Moss’s The Fictional Woman has been gaining a bit of press about the place. Moss is a novelist, TV presenter, blogger and journalist. Her writing has run the gamut of horror, crime, journalism, and nonfiction. 

closeup of woman's face with words written all over it - dumb blonde, bossy, bimbo, feminist, model, mother, gold-digger, party girl, bitch, inspiration, bleeding heart


Tara Moss has worn many labels in her time, including ‘author’, ‘model’, ‘gold-digger’, ‘commentator’, ‘inspiration’, ‘dumb blonde’, ‘feminist’ and ‘mother’, among many others. Now, in her first work of non-fiction, she blends memoir and social analysis to examine the common fictions about women.

She traces key moments in her life – from small-town tomboy in Canada, to international fashion model in the 90s, to bestselling author taking a polygraph test in 2002 to prove she writes her own work – and weaves her own experiences into a broader look at everyday sexism and issues surrounding the underrepresentation of women, modern motherhood, body image and the portrayal of women in politics, entertainment, advertising and the media.

Deeply personal and revealing, this is more than just Tara Moss’s own story. At once insightful, challenging and entertaining, she asks how we can change the old fictions, one woman at a time.


Moss can be found at (not as it says at Goodreads!), and on Facebook and Twitter .

July 5, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Time After Time by Wendy Godding

Time After Time
by Wendy Godding

Published by Harlequin Enterpises AU
on 2014-04-01
Genres: Contemporary, Historical, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 247
Review: Time After Time by Wendy Godding
Synopsis: She has died countless times before, and she is not going to let it happen again. Abbie Harper dies just before her eighteenth birthday. It has happened before, more times than she can remember — and always at the hands of the same man. Her dreams are plagued with past lives, cut short. But this latest dream feels different. Her past life as Penelope Broadhurst — an English pastor’s daughter in 1806 — keeps bleeding into her present life in ways both sinister and familiar. As Penelope meets and falls in love with the dashing Heath Lockwood, so too does Abbie meet the brothers Marcus and Rem Knight. One wants to love her; the other to kill her. Time is running out for Penelope, but as Abbie mourns her inability to change the past, she chases the slim chance to save her future. To survive, she must solve the puzzle of an ancient love story...and Penelope just might be able to help.

Continue Reading →

July 4, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Chasing the Valley – Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner

Chasing the Valley 3: Skyfire
by Skye Melki-Wegner

Published by Random House Australia
on 2014-07-01
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Review: Chasing the Valley – Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner

“People accepted us. Believed us. Just confidence and costumes, and the willingness of others to believe in what they see. But midnight is over, and it’s time for unmasking.”

Skyfire is the third book in the wonderful Australian YA fantasy trilogy, Chasing the Valley. Skye Melki-Wegner pulls off a very satisfying sequel in Skyfire. Danika and her team of refugees, fleeing dystopic Taladia, finally make it through the treacherous borderlands to the legendary safe haven of Magnetic Valley.

The Valley turns out to not quite be a green paradise of harmony and joy and Morris-dancing, unsurprisingly! Their first encounter is seeing a girl brutally shot down by her countryman. Danika hears Tindra’s cryptic dying words:

 ‘Fire,’ Tindra whispers. ‘Firestones.’
I shake my head, confused. ‘I don’t know what –’
‘Hourglass.’ This time, the word is so faint that it feels more like a memory. ‘Midnight …’
Tindra gurgles.

This and more leads to Danika’s musing:

But the people of this country have devised alchemy beyond anything we’ve seen. If they can crossbreed hawks and foxaries, and set fire to the sky, what else have they created in the centuries since they broke contact with Taladia? What other weapons?

What if King Morrigan’s obsession was born not of greed, but of fear?

Dun – dunn- dahhhhh!

But our band of fugitives has no choice – they must try to fit in to this new society somehow, because there’s nowhere else to go. Their integration into Lord Farran’s bizarrely segregated society does not go smoothly, and they just keep on stumbling over secrets they cannot ignore.

Skyfire is a ripping adventure with excellent pacing. The lively stakes-raising gives momentum to the story that persists to the last page. I love the worldbuilding in this series, and the slow elaboration of the magic system, starting with the individual magical Proclivities, and extending to – well, spoilers, sweetie. The mashup of technology, alchemy, and magic sets the series apart from most other fantasy I’ve read – it’s not quite steampunk, not quite medieval fantasy, and not quite urban fantasy. I also like the elucidation of how people’s characters are entwined with their proclivities, sometimes in quite unexpected ways. Plus, a magical supervillain who hangs out in a volcano? Sign me up!

Skyfire also offers some real-world ideas and implications for young readers to mull over: there are two very different dystopias (and hints of a third) at war, with none more evil than the next; and the ordinary people of the societies end up being the victims. Should people obey, keep their heads down, and try to stay safe, or put themselves on the line to rebel and maybe enact change? There are meaty discussions to be had here about individualism, collectivism, and rebellion, should any high school teachers decide to use this rich material.

I’m mostly just sad that this ride is over. And am very much looking forward to whatever comes next!


[yellow_box]Skye Melki-Wegner lives in Melbourne, Australia, and also at and on Facebook. The first two books in this series are Chasing the Valley and Borderlands.[/yellow_box]

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badge

June 30, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Through the Cracks by Honey Brown

Through the Cracks
by Honey Brown

Published by Penguin Group Australia
on 2014-04-23
Genres: Suspense, Thriller
Pages: 288
Review: Through the Cracks by Honey Brown

Firstly: DON’T READ THE PUBLISHER’S BLURB! It’s spoilericious.

I just can’t put a Honey Brown book down. As my partner found over family dinner last night, yesterday I just kept on gobbling this book until I was done.

Through the Cracks is sort of an inverted thriller: it starts with the turning of the tables, the escape. An increasingly strong teenage Adam fights back against his abuser, and makes his escape into a bewildering, threatening wider world. Adam’s escape from the locked backroom, led by streetwise Billy, is only the beginning.

Honey Brown does an amazing job with Adam’s voice. This is a boy who has been caged for his entire life – he has no idea about the absolute basics of Australian society, like how to handle money or get around, or how “normal” relationships work. This naive voice must have been very difficult to write, but it comes across as utterly authentic to me.

Through The Cracks examines the nature of caging and freedom, victimisation and escape, trust and corruption. It shows us that not all cages have bars, and it asks the questions: “Is it worth escaping from the cage if the escape only results in a short period in the sun?” It also urges us to look at what is going on around us behind the lawns and flowerbeds, but it does this without ever feeling like an “issue book”. And it ends on an ultimately hopeful note.

I can’t wait for the next Honey Brown book.

[yellow_box]Find Honey Brown on Facebook here. Read her short piece The Accidental Author at The Weekend Australian magazine, and this interview with her at Australian Women Writers.[/yellow_box]

This book needs ALL THE content notes: child abduction, child abuse (physical and sexual), church-based CSA, family violence, animal abuse, racism, suicidality, fire.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badge

June 28, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

by Marianne de Pierres

Published by Angry Robot, Limited
on 2014-05-01
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Urban Fantasy, Western
Pages: 415
Review: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Virgin Jackson is a ranger at one of the few wild places left in Australia’s conurbation – Birrimun Park, a tourist-drawing Western-themed desert national park. And Virgin’s having a bad week. She finds an impossible corpse in her park, she is attacked in her home, her co-worker is spying on her, and she’s been saddled with US Marshall Nate Sixkiller. Why is she being blamed for the park murder? Why can Sixkiller also see the wedge-tailed eagle only she has been able to see before? And what does all this have to do with the mystery of her father’s death?

Peacemaker’s blend of genres – noir, paranormal urban fantasy, western, action – echoes in its blending and blurring of cultures and folk lore. Fast paced and set in a nearish-future Australia, I don’t know what to compare this to. It’s its own thing. And I love it.

“I just don’t get it. One tiny amphetamine bust in the park a week ago and suddenly I’m being lumbered with a hotshot cowboy from the other side of the world. I know my own territory, Bull. Been doing a good job of looking after it. So what the hell’s going on?”

“Something’s been flagged at the top levels. I can’t talk about it yet but I need you to make him welcome and help him in anyway you can.”

My horse was the most grounding thing in my life, the warmth of her skin and the faint tang of hay that clung to her.
I paid for the real thing; had bales of it flown in from New Zealand every month. It was freaking expensive, but the Land of the Long White Cloud produced a good part of the raw produce that sustained the Southern Hemisphere these days.
When Benny finished drinking, I led her through to the Interchange– several interlocking gates, identity protected and monitored. Red dirt became cement and a wall rose unexpectedly out of the desert in colours that graded from golden yellow up to sky blue. From this angle, the top of it blocked the sight of even the highest downtown skyscrapers.
I slapped the DNA sampler so the gate would open and led Benny through into the stables.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badge

June 28, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Losing Kate by Kylie Kaden

Losing Kate
by Kylie Kaden

Published by Random House Australia
on 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 368
Review: Losing Kate by Kylie Kaden
This mesmerising debut novel is part love story, part mystery, telling the captivating story of two lovers torn apart by tragedy and the secrets they kept of one devastating night.

I'm the most authentic version of myself when I'm around Jack. We've known each other since we were kids, and our relationship was always one of mudpies and mocking. Then everything changed. Beautiful Kate, my best friend, disappeared on a moonlit beach after Jack dumped her for me. Jack was a suspect and, sure of his innocence, I lied to protect him. I know Jack didn't kill her. Our betrayal did.

Thirteen years later, I am thirty, childless and single, attempting to renovate my life rescuing a rundown worker's cottage. All is as it should be in my safe little world - until Jack buys the vacant lot behind my housea and the feelings that we buried all those years ago - the guilt, the love and the pain - resurface.

We can't keep running away from the past - and to move forward we have to know what really happened to Kate.

Fresh out of a relationship with a cheating Merc-driving lawyer, social worker Frankie is desultorily doing up a weatherboard cottage in Brisbane. She is shocked to find her estranged childhood friend Jack Shaw buying the vacant block behind hers, with his partner and toddler. They quickly re-establish their intimacy, but between them always is the mystery of what happened while camping on the beach at schoolies – the night they lost Kate.

Kaden’s romance is a solid debut, with convincing tension in the mystery, a great sense of place, and an engaging voice. One to watch!

‘Hope I’m not distracting you from bidding,’ I laugh.
He scratches his head. ‘Er, not me, no.’
I relax a notch. ‘Phew, now that would be freaky,’ I scoff, and a snort-laugh escapes. I lean in close. ‘Besides, the block is a swamp every time it rains …’
‘Is that right?’ A dimple appears on his cheek. Then he’s side-tracked again, looking around the crowd, at the little boy now on hands and knees with his ball at the fence, and it gives me a chance to suss him out. His clothes are different – brand names, ironed. His hair is longer, with an actual style. He’s better groomed now, not a trace of the greasy forehead and nineties’ chambray shirts, but he is still the Jack I knew. […]

‘Are you here gauging the market then?’ I ask Jack, returning my attention to my Class of 2000 reunion for two.
His lips tighten, his grey eyes thin. ‘Not exactly …’
Behind his shoulder, I see the winning bidder hovering near the officials, staring out at the crowd.
Jack turns to scan the crowd too.
That’s when the lady in black smiles and waves. At Jack.
My jaw drops.
He knows her?
And that’s when the baseball-cap-wearing boy spots him, and races over.
‘Daddy!’ his little knee-high voice chirps. ‘I found doggee. He lickded me.’


Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badge

June 28, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin

One Hundred Proposals
by Holly Martin

Published by Carina UK
on June 25 2014
Genres: Chick Lit, Romance
Review: One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin

One Hundred Proposals book is adorable, so long as you’re not too averse to the “just TALK to each other!” style of romantic obstacle. To be fair, Harry and Suzie are the best of best friends as well as being business partners, so the potential fallout should The Talk go wrong would be pretty devastating. And they’ve been devastated quite enough in life, what with Suzie’s brother’s death eight months ago, and Harry’s undisclosed childhood trauma.

Suzie and Harry’s business is, which does what it says on the tin: they arrange tailor-made proposals, from the intimate to the extravagant. After going viral, their “100 Proposals” stunt goes global. Suzie and Harry travel around the world together, with Harry arranging amazing (or naff) ersatz proposals from Alaska to Australia. Or perhaps the proposals aren’t so fake?

There’s a whole lot of swallowed feelings and jealousy in this book, so be prepared for that – but it’s also lovely and well-written, leaving us barracking for Suzie and Harry no matter how inarticulate they may be. All Harry wants is for Suzie to believe that his proposals are real. And all Suzie wants is to say “yes”.

And the firefly proposal is gorgeous.

“Dancing in the pockets of the cave walls were hundreds of fireflies, sparkling like fairy lights.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

The fireflies started to gather together and slowly a shape was formed. I frowned in confusion and then within seconds the words, ‘Suzie, Marry Me,’ stood proud against the cave walls, written by the fireflies.   […]

‘So what do you think?’ Harry said. ‘Is this the perfect proposal?’

‘It’s definitely one of your best, very romantic.’ I focused my attention on the photos I was taking. They were going to look fantastic with the waterfall in soft focus in the background and the fireflies in sharp detail set against the inky blue light of the moon.

‘But still not the perfect proposal?’

‘Not for me, but someone else would love it.’ I watched the faces of the other tourists fall at my callous response.”


I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration.

June 27, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur

Red Sand Sunrise
by Fiona McArthur

Published by Penguin
on 2014-06-25
Genres: Australian Rural Romance, Romance
Pages: 304
Review: Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur

What a cast of characters Red Sand Sunrise has!

Long-lost sisters gather in the western Queensland town of Red Sand after the death of their father. Callie the down-to-earth GP is just out of a bad marriage; Eve the birth-centre midwife is distressed after a serious incident at her high-dependency OB relief job; and Sienna the driven, brusque big-city obstetrician doesn’t want to be in the outback at all.

But wait, there’s more! Blanche McKay, rural grand dame, is sick of the lack of women’s healthcare in the town, and decides to do something about it.
The chalk-and-cheese MacKay brothers, Lex and Henry (who I keep thinking of as the Luthor brothers, because Lex), take an interest in the sisters. Bennett, vet and cabinet-maker, has a past with Callie, and the flame still lingers. Blanche, of course, hires Bennett to fit out the new health centre, meaning he has to work closely with Callie. And then there’s the buttoned-up Sergeant McCabe, the new cop in town.

And the imaginary town, Red Sand, is a character of its own. It is out past the opal town of Quilpie, where the brown cattle-station outback meets the red dunes of the Red Centre. The town is in the multi-braided Cooper Creek Channel Country, near the corner of Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern territory. The red dirt, the distances, the isolation, and the community all imbue this town with a character of its own.

Red Sand Sunrise really delivers on plot: three romantic threads, and the story of setting up the new town medical centre and researching the reason behind the spate of premature births. There is a happily ever after or two, but not after tears. I often get into trouble med-picking books that deal with this field. There was only one tiny hiccup – how did Callie get her Dip Obs having only delivered 2 babies? However, the rest of the medicine & midwifery was solid, leading to a disruption-free read for me. Hoorah!

I have a couple of other nitpicks, the most obvious being the terrible cover, which looks like a bad self-pubbed paste-job. I’m also not sure that I believed all of Sienna’s dialogue (but hey, we’re all different, maybe I just didn’t relate to her as much?). Lastly, where are the Aboriginal people? There is some talk of “brave settlers”, but the white colonisation of Channel Country was the result of bitter, bloody massacre. Mary Durack, early Channel Country settler, wrote that by 1874-75 “many settlers now openly declared Western Queensland could only be habitable for whites when the last of the blacks had been killed out ‘by bullet or by bait’”. I would have liked to have seen a bit of recognition of this, and of the fact that rural towns in Australia generally contain more than just white people. Maybe a mention of native title disputes? The ancient Dreaming and trade pathways that weave through Channel Country? The oil and gas exploitation controversy that is hot in that region at the moment? (Can you tell I’ve been reading a string of rural romances that do tackle the thornier social, political, and environmental issues?)

However! This book does tackle thorny midwifery and obstetric issues, which is wonderful! And there is a likeable cast of different women, hurrah! It’s thoroughly Bechdelicious. I love the way this book honours the strength of women and normality of birth, while acknowledging that when it does go wrong, it is terrifying for women and carers alike. And that it takes a look at the difficult practicalities of accessing high-risk obstetric care from the Outback. I also love the examination of what we bring to caring and birthing as caregivers from our own backgrounds. I’m also glad that Blanche recognised that the town didn’t just need on-the-ground primary medical care, it also needed a researcher to puzzle out why outcomes were suboptimal in the first place.

Could this be McArthur’s move from medical category romance to “mainstream” contemporary fiction, while single-title rural romance is so hot? I think so.

June 25, 2014
by The Opal Octopus

Review: This One Summer

This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki

Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Published by Macmillan
on 2014-05-06
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Review: This One Summer

This beautiful graphic novel is set in the beachside holiday town of Awago. Rose and her “summer friend” Windy stay in cottages with their families, swim, watch horror movies, and hang out at the local store.
car turning off bush track at signposts
As the friends hang out at the edges of the dramas of the local older teenagers and the adults in their families, we also see into the beginnings of Rose’s pubertal turmoil and desire.

two girls on a beach. One says 'That's the problem with being adopted. I have no idea how big my boobs are going to be.' The other:'Breasts.' The first:'Ha ha! Brrrrreasts!', holding her bikini top.

This One Summer is a lyrical show-don’t-tell look at liminal times in girls’/women’s lives – not just preteen and teen years, but also the end of childbearing. This is a book of friendship, yearnings, overhearings, silences, loss, fear, grief, and aftermath.

I love that the book feels authentic. I love the weaving metaphors of stones and water. I love the lush blue & white art. I love that bodies with diverse shapes are shown.

There was just one thing I didn’t love – the way that the slightly chubbier friend was always shown guzzling sugar. This felt judgy and jarring in comparison with the rest of the book. But overall, a big win.