New Release Book Review Blog Tour & Excerpt: The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson

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I loved this novel, it truly was a heartfelt and feel-good read. What started off as a sad situation, Norman’s best friend Jax (the Rolls Royce of best friends) has just passed away and Jax and his mum Sadie are trying to cope with this massive loss. Jax was a huge part of their lives, he had such a presence that I could feel him coming off of the page every time Norman or Sadie spoke about him. Jax and Norman had plans to be a comedy duo at the Edinburgh Festival, but now Norman has had to change his plans to get to the festival himself and do a show for Jax. Sadie promises to get him there, along with another promise, to help him find his dad (she actually has no idea who he is).

Sadie’s workmate Leonard, an elderly gentleman, offers to help her with both of these goals, and so starts a wonderful and funny, though at times sad, journey for all three of them to achieve what seems like two unachievable goals.

There were certainly some characters in this story, as well as our three main characters, you have the potential fathers, and the people they meet along the way. My favourite has to have been Big Al, who they meet at their first stop, he was a definite diamond in the rough.

There were so many times I laughed out loud during this novel and so many others where my heart bled for Norman, but I was in the passenger seat on this road trip for the entire journey and when the end came, it was perfect.

Excerpt:

1

SADIE

When I was born my insides lay outside my body for twenty-one days. Which is unexpected but not nearly as unusual as you might think. For every 3,999 other babies that come out with everything tucked in neatly and sealed away exactly where it should be, there’s one like me. Nobody really knows why. Luck of the draw, my father used to say. 

For those three weeks while I lay spread-eagled in an incubator like a Nando’s special, a crowd of doctors gathered every morning to discuss their cleverness and, as my organs shrank to their correct size, bit by bit they gently posted a little more of the me-parts that had made a break for it back inside. 

Well that’s the way my mother told it anyway. The way my father told it, the doctors gathered around the incubator every morning to discuss whether they’d be having my large intestine or my liver for their lunch, and whether it’d be with chips or salad. And that right there might tell you almost everything you need to know about my parents.

On my insides’ final day of freedom the head surgeon pushed the last bit through the slit in my stomach and stitched it closed, presumably with everything in its rightful place. I was declared whole and sent home to begin life like almost nothing had ever happened.  

Except that even when the regular hospital check-ups stopped, and the scar on my stomach that I’d never lived without faded to a thin silver seam, I can always remember still feeling the tugging behind it. Something I could never quite name, nudging at the fleshy edges whenever things were going badly, or too well. Or just for fun. To remind me how easily those parts of me that never really fit could come sliding out. Any time we like Sadie. Any time we like.

It wasn’t until I held my own son for the first time that the constant, dull pressure of keeping the scar together receded. When a nurse placed that slippery, crumpled up bundle of boy on my chest, I tightened my grip on a handful of hospital sheet as my world creaked on its axis, bumped into a comfy spot and was finally facing the right way.  

I didn’t feel the tug on the scar again until a different boy died, and to say I wasn’t ready for it isn’t even the most important thing. Because by then there was a lot more at stake than just my own stupid insides spilling out into the world. I was as scared as hell and I had no idea how to fix any of it. And that right there might tell you almost everything you need to know about me.

2

NORMAN

First rule of comedy: Timing is everything

Timing is everything. First rule of comedy, Jax says. Because when push comes to shove, if you can get the timing right you can get a laugh. He says. Well I don’t really know how to tell when push is coming to shove but I’ll tell you something I do know. That rule works the other way too. Because when the you-know-what starts to hit the fan, if your timing’s wrong there’s pretty much zilcho you can do to stop it from splattering all over the place. 

Stare straight ahead and think about nothing. That’s a world famous Jax Fenton tactic for what to do when you get yourself into a bit of a mess. Works every time he reckons and he should know. Only maybe it doesn’t. Because when I stare straight ahead all I can see is that big shiny wooden box and instead of nothing I’m thinking about everything. And loads of it. Like does any light get in through the joins and did they let Jax wear his Frankie Boyle Tramadol Nights tour t-shirt. And does whoever put him in there know he only likes to sleep on his side. 

The massive scab on my chest feels so tight that I’m scared to breathe too deep in case it splits down the middle and bleeds all over my new shirt. Stare straight ahead. I move just a bit so I almost can’t see the box behind a couple of heads and my arm touches Mum’s. When I feel her, straight away the mess on my chest relaxes and lets me take half an almost good in-breath. Nearly a whole one. Right before it stabs me all the way through to my back and kazams like a rocket down to my toes. I’m pretty sure I can hear it laughing. Timing is everything, sucker.  

And by the way, that’s another thing I know. That you can’t trust your timing no matter how good it’s been in the past. Not even for people as excellently funny as Ronnie Barker or Dave Allen or Bob Mortimer. Or Jax. 

Because even if you nick a little bit of money for sweets every week-day morning from your mum’s purse, even if you accidentally-on-purpose leave your stepfather’s car door open so the cats get in and wee on the seats, and even if you’re the naughtiest kid in the whole school by a long shot, when you’re eleven years, 297 days and from what the paramedics can tell anything between twelve and sixteen hours old, it’s definitely not a good time to die. 

Stare straight ahead and think about nothing. 

3

SADIE

Squashed into the end of the pew with my body leaning into the shape of the space that Norman’s made, I could feel the tense and release of his arms as his small boy hands curled in and out of fists. The buttoned down cuffs of his sleeves rode up ever so slightly with every movement to reveal the trail of psoriasis that spread triumphantly down to the second knuckles. His face was blank as a brick. Dry eyes staring straight ahead. 

‘Just hold on. Hold on son. You’ll get through this.’ I murmured reassuringly. Telepathically. But Norman’s hands kept on curling and flexing and then I noticed his chest was keeping time, rising and collapsing with the movement of his hands. I knew what was lying in wait underneath the thin fabric of his shirt, so then I had another thing to worry about. 

I had to admit it looked like he wasn’t getting my message, possibly because my best telepathic motherly voice was being all but drowned out by the other, very much louder one that lived in luxury inside my head. Fuck you Sadie. You can’t even get this right. As usual it wasn’t pulling any punches.

The priest who had never met him declared the end to Jax’s life and people began shuffling out of the pews as fast as they could, as if death might still be hanging around looking for company. They knocked our knees, murmured apologies and spilled their overflow of sadness all over us. Like we needed it. The moving huddle in the aisle parted from the back as Jax’s parents set off on their million mile walk, and without turning my head I felt more than saw Josie Fenton hesitate ever so slightly as they passed us. But then they were gone. And my son’s eyes remained fixed on some invisible point that I could only hope lay somewhere far, far beyond the awfulness of the moment. 

 

A good forty minutes after the last person had left, I reached for Norman’s nearest hand and closed it gently between mine. The chill of the empty church had sidled deep into my bones and I was shocked at the heat of his raw knuckles on my palms. The voice in my head began stage whispering nonsense louder and louder and Norman’s hand stayed rigid in its fist. But I didn’t need that voice to tell me what I’d already figured out about thirty-eight minutes before. I wasn’t going to be nearly enough for this. 

4

There’s a good chance Norman’s father is one of four people. Now I know how that makes me sound, but it’s a fairly reasonable alternative to the other scenario, which is that he would quite possibly have been one of several more if circumstances had allowed. 

But anyhow, who provided the champion Y chromosome that coasted up a lager and lemonade river to victory in my ovaries never really came up in Norman’s first twelve years of life. Mainly because I’d pretty much convinced myself that I was all the parent he needed. I was enough. And, to be fair, Norman had never given me any reason to question my conviction, no matter how many mistakes I made on the job. And there’s been a lot, believe me. Which you probably do based on first impressions. 

I never knew a thing about boys until I became the mother of one, even though in theory a boy is just a smaller version of a man and clearly I thought I knew quite a lot about them at one point. As a general rule I’ve found men don’t really require any complicated directions, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get exactly what’s on the tin when you bring one home. And serves you right most of the time. But it turns out a boy is nothing like a man at all, because they could definitely do with coming with some directions. And when you bring one of them home, before you even get him through the front door he’s already got your heart scrunched up in his fat baby fist like a bad betting slip. And he’s starting to squeeze.  

I named my son Norman because there was nobody to tell me not to. And because I liked it. That could have been my first mistake and who knows, maybe I would have listened if someone had told me that Charlie or Harry or Freddie might be a lighter load for a kid to swing onto his back and carry around for an entire lifetime. That other children, and even adults who should bloody well know better, might find a thousand cruel ways to use a name chosen with love to try to bring your boy down. That maybe, just maybe, naming a post-millennial baby after a 1950s comedian was not the best idea I’d ever had. Although you should know that it also wasn’t the worst. 

The fact that his name had to attach itself to the caboose of our surname was probably my second mistake. And although I’ve always thought that Norman Foreman has a certain resonance to it, I’ve yet to find someone that wholeheartedly agrees. Except Jax of course. 

‘Coolest name ever Normie boy!’ Coolest kid ever.

Norman never had a best friend before Jax. In fact, if I’m honest, he never really had a proper friend at all. But when Jax showed up at Alverton Community Primary wielding a truncheon of six-year-old East London bravado over his shell-shocked Cornish classmates, for Norman it was love at first sight. Just like he always does though, even when he wants something really, really badly, he sat back politely and waited his turn. 

It took Jax less than a week to alienate every kid in his class, and most of the teachers as well, before noticing Norman and deciding that he could well be his last chance in the best friend saloon. That was six years ago, and from the moment the deal was sealed over a shared two-week detention for switching around the contents of the entire Year 3’s school bags (verdict: Jax guilty as hell, Norman guilty of being an inexperienced and therefore ultimately unsuccessful lookout), you couldn’t separate those two with a scalpel. I’d lay money that there weren’t two more different boys on the planet and yet somehow they just clicked. They were, ‘The bloody Rolls bloody Royce of bloody best friends,’ as Jax so eloquently put it.

But Jax died. And so it came to be that on the kind of day sons should be out in a park kicking a football, or chasing dogs down on the beach with their mates, I sat next to my good boy in a church full of damp cheeks. Trying hard not to think about that other rude, grubby, magnificent bad boy lying just a few metres away. And even though there was no chance in hell of it coming true, I’d still half expected to hear a kicking at the lid of that coffin at any moment, and a wild-haired laughing kid to splinter through and shout, ‘Gotcha suckers!’ 

Because that was Jax’s approach to life, the universe and everything really. Feet first, break the door down and damn the consequences. He’d arrive at our house nearly every day like that, body lengths ahead of Norman, bullying our front door handle nearly off its thread and following up with a totally unnecessary karate kick to make sure the job was done. Then he’d charge straight down the hallway on a direct route to the biscuit tin, leaving Norman to catch hold of the twanging door and close it softly as he brought up the rear. 

It used to drive me crazy every time I’d catch sight of the mortally injured wall where the front door handle bounced, day after day. But in the weeks after Jax died I saw the way Norman glanced over at that crumbling hole in the plaster as he passed, and it made me give silent thanks for lying, no good, unreliable tradesmen that don’t know their four o’clocks from their fourth of Junes. 

That hole is all that’s left of Jax in our house now, and it’s eating away at the wall like it’s got teeth. 

5

NORMAN

First rule of comedy: Always know where the joke is going 

Jax says that if you don’t know where you’re going you’re never going to know when you get there and you can’t argue with that, Normie boy. Not that I’d want to because it makes pretty good sense when you think about it. I mean imagine if you just walked out the door every morning without having any idea of where you’re on your way to. How would you know to stop walking when you got to the bus stop and not just keep going to the beach? Or even further? Or if you didn’t know you were supposed to get off at school how would you know not to just sit on the bus all day doing loops around Penzance and Newlyn? 

Jax reckons it’s the same with a joke. Because you’ve got to know where the punchline is before you set off otherwise you’re just going to end up going around and around in circles looking for a way out. And there’s nothing too funny about someone wandering around and around in circles, although there are probably some exceptions to that and I think maybe Dave Allen is one of them. 

Mum says there isn’t anyone else on the planet whose brain works the way that Jaxy’s does and I’m pretty sure she’s right. I reckon it’s because he’s the coolest guy on this or any other planet, but he says it’s because the inside of his head is just like a big old ideas factory and he wouldn’t be able to stop them coming out even if he tried. Which luckily he never has or else we wouldn’t have had some of the most excellent fun ever. 

Like when I suggested we should have a comedy DVD marathon so we could work out once and for all who our favourites were. Jax said that if we were going to do it then we had to make a plan and do it right and that’s how he invented DVD Dynamite Saturday Night. We made a proper folded up paper programme with a list of the DVDs we were going to watch and in what exact order we’d play them, and even the times for when it was intermission so we could go for a wee and make cheese on toast and hot chocolates and stuff. Then we got dressed up in our comedy outfits because Jax said that was called getting into character and we even made a ticket with ‘Admit One: DVD Dynamite Saturday Night’ on it so we could invite Mum to come as well. And she did and it was the best Saturday night ever, even though we had so much fun we totally forgot to decide who we liked the best and now I’m never going to know who would have got Jaxy’s vote.  

Another time we were just sitting in my room talking about what cheese we reckoned was the best for melting and kapow! Jax came up with the Ultimate Cheese-Off Experiment plan. We made a banner out of an old pillow case with U.C.O.E 2017 on it because the whole name didn’t fit, and Mum took us to Tesco’s and we bought loads of different kinds of cheese. Even the expensive ones. Then Jax made a list with the names of them and five columns labelled gooey, gooier, gooiest, rubbish and totally rubbish to put our ticks and crosses in. It turned out he needn’t have bothered with the last two because they stayed totally empty, but then we ended up writing a really cool joke about never meeting a cheese we didn’t like. So that was like two ideas out of the factory for the price of one.  

A lot Jax’s best ideas pop into his head when he’s supposed to be doing other things like homework or sleeping or taking out the bins for his mum. Or watching the One Show Children in Need special, which is when out of nowhere he goes, Norman I reckon we need to make a mega genius super supreme comedy plan so we know where we’re going. And all I knew was that if Jax was going somewhere I wanted to be with him when he got there. 

When we finished Jax and Norman’s Five Year Plan Jax goes Norman Foreman you are the bees knees and I am the dog’s bollocks and there’s nothing in the world that can stop us now. And I knew straight away that he was right, because not only did we know for absolute sure where we were going, we also knew exactly when we were going to get there. Which was 7:15 pm on the first Friday in August after two changes on National Rail. 

Excerpted from The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman @ 2021 by Julietta Henderson, used with permission by MIRA Books.

About the Book:

Little Miss Sunshine meets Wonder in this delightfully charming, uplifting book club debut about a twelve-year-old would-be comedian who travels across the country to honor his dead best friend’s dream of performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—the only problem being that his friend was the funny one of their duo.
Twelve-year-old would-be comedian Norman has got a lot going on, including a chronic case of psoriasis, a distinct lack of comic timing and a dead best friend. All his life it’s just been him, his single mum Sadie, and Jax, the ‘funny one’ of their comedy duo. So when Jax dies not only is Norman devastated, it’s also the end of the boys’ Five Year Plan to take their comedy act to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when they turned fifteen.

But Norman decides to honor Jax by performing at the Fringe, on his own. And not when he’s fifteen—but rather in four weeks’ time. But there’s another, far more colossal objective on Norman’s plan that Sadie wasn’t quite ready for: Norman wants to find his father. Eager to do anything that might put a smile on her boy’s face, Sadie resolves to face up to her own messy past and track down the father who doesn’t even know Norman exists, and whose identity Sadie herself isn’t quite sure of.

Thus begins a road trip from Cornwall to Scotland, featuring a mother and son who will live in the reader’s heart for a long time to come.

 

About the Author:

Julietta Henderson is a full-time writer and comedy fan who splits her time between her home country of Australia and the UK. The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman is Julietta’s first novel.

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Social Links:

Website: https://juliettahenderson.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/juliettajulia1 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/juliettahendersonauthor/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19633416.Julietta_Henderson 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Funny-Thing-About-Norman-Foreman/dp/0778331954 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-funny-thing-about-norman-foreman-julietta-henderson/1136909248 

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IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778331957 

Libro.fm: https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781488210693 

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Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/ip/The-Funny-Thing-about-Norman-Foreman-Original-ed-Hardcover-9780778331957/588572104 

Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-funny-thing-about-norman/9780778331957-item.html 

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-funny-thing-about-norman-foreman-3 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Julietta_Henderson_The_Funny_Thing_About_Norman_Fo?id=EG3eDwAAQBAJ&hl=en 

Audible: https://www.amazon.com/Funny-Thing-About-Norman-Foreman/dp/B089ZN5RXJ 

 

New Release Book Review: Matilda’s Wish by Beth Prentice

This was a delightful read, I always enjoy a novel by Beth Prentice and this one was full of such wonderful characters, humour, romance and a mystery, that I was sad to part with the characters at the end.

Down on her luck, Tilly inherits half of a farm and a farmhouse, while not exactly what she was expecting, she is determined to make a go of it and meet the challenges she is faced with head-on.

The other half of the farm is owned by the McKenzie men. Noah, the gorgeous man that he was, is always there to help Tilly out. There were some fabulous moments between these two and plenty to keep a smile on my face.

Noah’s granddad Wally was a right character and forever getting himself into trouble and when Tilly and Wally got together, watch out, there’s plenty of fun times.

I enjoyed seeing Noah’s dad slowly come out from under his grief after each interaction with Matilda, she certainly brought out the best in him. Cooking really was the way to his heart and happy memories. Mind you, Tilly’s cupcakes were happily devoured by all the men and they were more than happy to take them as payment for any help they gave her. I personally am glad Tilly does live near me, I’d be on a diet every other week if she did.

Apart from the delightful characters, there are of course the less delightful, and in such a small town, it seems everybody has an agenda.

Somebody wants Tilly out and there are plenty of potential suspects for all the bad things that are thrown at Tilly. It was interesting uncovering the truth that had been hidden for many years.

The animals in this story play just as much of a role as the people and provided plenty of laughs, especially one scene with Goatie and her attorney. And Clifford the dog turns out to be a real hero.

I really hope I get to catch up with Till, Noah, Wally and….. Again soon.

AWW 2021

New Release Book Review: How to Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael Johns

How to Mend a Broken HeartI loved this novel, I was a little bit wary about whether I would feel I’d missed anything by not having read The Art of Keeping Secrets, but Rachael put enough information into the story that I didn’t feel I was missing anything, I would like to read it at some point though, it’s been on my shelf since it was published back in 2016.

New Orleans is one of the few places in America that I am interested in visiting and it was great to be able to experience it with Flick and Zoe. I wish someone would offer me the opportunity to work someplace wonderful for a few months like Flick is able to do. I found learning a bit about taxidermy quite interesting, I have a friend who practices the art of taxidermy, and while it’s definitely not my thing, it is very interesting.

I completely understood Flick’s need to take off from her life, while everyone around her was moving on, even her ex-husband, she felt stuck and lost. Flick’s ex-husband, now a transgender female, Sofia, would have been a hard person to continue being close with after all they had been through, but I could see how hard it was for Flick to admit that even to herself.

I really enjoyed seeing Flick come alive again and find herself. It certainly helped that she met Theo, the owner of the jazz bar next door. As well as helping her to learn to have fun, their blossoming relationship also forced her to really take stock of her feelings and her hangups and determine what was important in her life. Theo was gorgeous (I want to meet my own Theo), he had a secret that caused a big issue, I got a bit nervous at one stage that things weren’t going to work out the way I wanted them to (I nearly scrolled to the end to make sure lol).

Zoe suffers heartbreak from her ass***e husband and follows her mother to New Orleans. I have to admit to not liking Zoe much to start with, I completely understood her heartbreak and the grief she was going through, but she treated Flick awfully in the first week of being there, I thought her spoiled and self-indulgent. She did grow on me though, especially after she met Mrs Harranibar(Miss H). After literally knocking her over.

Miss H’s story is a sad one and in the end, being knocked down by Zoe changes her life completely.

I really liked ghost hunter Jack who bumps into Zoe when she first arrives in New Orleans. He was a lovely warm character and I liked how much of a gentleman he was. I hoped Zoe would wake up to herself, and though her marriage had just ended, who is to say when is too soon to meet another person.

New Orleans itself is a big character in this novel and it is definitely high on my travel list when we are able to travel freely and safely again, in the meantime, I’ll continue to travel vicariously through the wonderful characters in novels.

A wonderful heart filled read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

AWW 2021

New Release Book Review: The Polly Principle by Davina Stone

The Polly PrincipleIn the second book in this series by Davina Stone, we get to meet Polly properly and learn all her quirks and hangups about life and love. Love it seems is only for other people, not for her, definitely not for her, of this, she makes it abundantly clear.

When Polly meets Solo at a wedding, a quick one night is all she is wanting, but things don’t go to plan and Polly’s world begins to be turned upside down, forcing her to feel things she doesn’t want to feel, and Polly is awfully good at denial.

I really liked Solo, and I actually felt very sorry for him when it came to his relationship, or lack thereof with Polly, due to her hangups about love, she really treats him quite badly and I don’t know that I’d have stuck around the way he did if someone blew that hot and cold with me. Obviously, he saw deep inside just what Polly was trying to hide and his feelings towards her were very strong.

Solo comes with his own issues and a past that he too needs to deal with, oh this story is a complicated web of feelings for our main characters.

Polly’s family, especially her father, plays a big part in what has shaped Polly into being who she is and how she is and with her dad’s 70th birthday coming up, we get to find out more about her past.

Polly also has a complicated relationship with her body, and on this, I can completely empathise with her. Polly has beautiful curves, but she doesn’t see them, and constantly wants to change how she looks, while self-sabotaging that at the same time. Oh, Polly, my heart was with you on this one.

This was a novel of self-discovery, for both Polly and Solo, a story of healing for them also, and for Polly’s dad Ted. A really enjoyable novel, I’m looking forward to book 3 where we get to see if Carts, Polly’s friend and Solo’s housemate finds true love.

AWW 2021

New Release Book Review: The Jam Queen’s by Josephine Moon

The jam queensI thoroughly enjoyed Josephine Moon’s previous novel The Cake Maker’s Wish, so I was thrilled to receive a copy of her new novel The Jam Queen’s and this novel did not disappoint. At nearly 400 pages, I read it well into the night two nights running because I just had to know how this group of five women (Dolce being an honourary family member), faired from their trip away together.

With secrets galore, clashing and challenging personalities, traumas, romance and more this made for a fabulous read. Josephine manages to cover several topical issues, IVF, grief, transgender issues, still-birth, US shootings and a few others, but they all fill this story in a very organic way.

The personalities of Great Aunt Myrtle, Valeria, Holly, Dolce and Aggie were all so different, some more likeable than others, and they all had lessons to learn and demons to slay if they wanted to move on with their lives.

I really liked Harry, the younger man who is also taking a trip on the Ghan at the same time as Aggies and her family, there was something about him that drew me to him, I can understand the pull Aggie felt towards him when she first saw him and then actually met him. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two and held onto hope all the way to the end that things would work between them and it wouldn’t just be a fleeting romance. There was so much going on in Aggie’s life though, that I couldn’t be sure that my hopes would be met.

I wasn’t a fan of Valeria, Aggie’s mother, though I did feel sorry for her at times, to be that judgemental towards people would take a great deal of effort I imagine. Great Aunt Myrtle was a great character and I enjoyed her interactions with everyone.

Jam making was an interesting topic to learn about and I loved how much love they poured into the making of it. I was surprised at the passion and competitiveness between the family members, especially Valeria.

I absolutely enjoyed this novel and the Ghan trip through the outback definitely put itself firmly onto my bucket list.

Thanks to Better Reading Previews for a copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

AWW 2021

New Release Book Review: Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald

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The start of this novel packs a punch, the description of the wall of fire bearing down on Fran as she runs to find her daughter is so visual I was there with Fran, running from this insane firey inferno.

This was a very emotional read, at the beginning, I found the first chapters a little hard to follow, but soon I was absorbed completely in the story. It jumps back and forth between the past starting 30 years before, and present, back to when Fran was a teenager and her experiences that played a major role in her future. This small town has a dark underbelly, which we get a real feel for as the story unrolls. The back story slowly works its way toward the present day and to where the story begins.

Fran and her family could be any one of us, getting by, dealing with what life throws at us the best we can. The family relationships were complicated and Fran’s return to Ash Mountain dregs up many feelings.

There were several scenes in the story, ones that involved the boarders from the catholic boys’ school, that had me shaking with fury, and with what has been going on in our media lately, it makes me wonder if some boy’s and men’s attitudes will ever change.

The devastating impact of fire is well known in Australia and Helen’s depiction of the fire itself and the devastation is extremely real. Both for the environment itself and for the people.

I posted after finishing this novel that this book was unputdownable and it certainly was, the ending, well, I won’t spoil it, but you are in for one hell of a ride.

Thanks to Better Reading Preview for a copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

AWW 2021

New Release Book Review: Ulara by Leesa Bow

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This was a really good read, with a very novel storyline. A story of travel, of soulmates, forbidden love, forbidden journey’s, secrets and ultimately finding out who you are and what you want from life; a journey of self-discovery.

I loved the way Eden and her friends went off travelling, each wanting different experiences from the trip and each having a go at what the other wanted to experience regardless of whether they thought they would enjoy it or not. It makes me want to do a lot more travelling, to go out of my comfort zone and find out what is underneath.

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One of the taglines states Even if it meant doing the one thing my father warned me not to do—enter the jungle. I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me.
And I won’t come out the same.” And that is certainly true for the journey that Eden finds herself on after meeting Samuel and deciding to hunt him down because her connection to him is that strong. While at first, I felt Eden made many mistakes after arriving in the jungle, especially when not listening to Samuel and taking what he said seriously, I felt that Eden’s growth really happened after Samuel left her there alone while he went on his own journey. But Eden isn’t the only one changed by her meeting with Samuel, Samuel is also changed and they both end up questioning where their paths are heading and if what they thought they wanted still holds true.

Samuel and Eden’s connection was on a soul level, but they both had issues they struggled with when it came to forming a relationship. I enjoyed seeing the relationship develop and morph into something deep.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of life for the Ularan tribes people, I found it fascinating and an interesting way of life. I can see why they would want to stay hidden and continue their ways. It’s a shame that the environment in which they live and survive is being decimated by the greed of humanity.

Eden’s family had some interesting dynamics, some that shift as the story progresses and some that you get more enlightenment about once Eden returns from her trip. There were some secrets uncovered which may have unknown outcomes down the track for everyone.

I can’t wait for book #2 Wild at Heart due to be released in August.

To read an excerpt click here

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AUTHOR BIO

Leesa Bow is a romance author who began her writing journey years ago when her daughter fell ill. After writing for therapy Leesa now can’t imagine doing anything else. Thankful to be following her passion for romance, she is living out her own happy ever after with her husband in Brisbane, Australia.

In her spare time Leesa enjoys watching sport, having beach days with the family, catching up for coffee with girlfriends, and taking long walks. Most importantly the cinema dates with her husband to watch all the Marvel movies.

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New Release Book Review: The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair

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I finished this book just before midnight, I couldn’t make myself put it down, to be continued another day just wasn’t going to happen, this book just had to be finished. It was brilliant, it left me with tears in my eyes, both happy tears and sad tears. What a remarkable story Alli Sinclair has weaved together in The Codebreakers. The amount of research that has gone into this novel is monumental and as with another wonderful Australian historical fiction novel, The Land Girls by Victoria Purman, this is a story about women and their courage and adaptability during the most trying times. A story that needed to be told, of secrets that have been kept for far too many years. Of the women who helped win the war and save countless lives.

The characters in this novel were so fully realised that it was easy to believe they were real people, to forget that it was fiction, that the author was telling the real story of these men and women is easy to believe.

Ellie, already working for the war effort as an engineer at Qantas, is recruited by Central Bureau to help crack codes, this is a highly secret division, especially for the women who work there and I could feel the internal war that Ellie waged trying to keep her job from her friends and family, it is not a situation I ever hope to find myself in.

I loved the friendships and relationships that Ellie developed, I especially loved her childhood friend Louis, what a fabulous friend to have. I loved her landlady Mrs Handley, if there was ever a mother substitute, she is the person you would want, and her friend Florry. The friendships she made with the girls in the Central Bureau were strong ones, that were sadly severed after the war. That would have been hard, losing the only people who knew what you’d been through.

So many people lost friends, lovers, husbands, sons during this time, that the urge to collapse in dispair must’ve been strong, yet everyone soldiered on, doing what had to be done and getting by the best they could.

There is a scene maybe two thirds of the way in where I had to stop and listen to one of my favourite songs.

It fit so perfectly with the story.

This was a fantastic read, which I highly recommend, full of many emotions and uncovering a long hidden history of the women who helped in the war.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for a digital copy of this novel in return for an honest review.

Pre-order Blitz + Excerpt : Ulara by Leesa Bow

PRE-ORDER BLITZ
Title: Ulara
Series: Ulara #1
Author: Leesa Bow
Genre: Contemporary Romance/
Women’s Adventure Fiction
Release Date: March 21, 2021
BLURB

An exciting new adventure romance from best selling author Leesa Bow.
Imagine, Eat Pray Love – meets Avatar – meets Outlander

An exotic holiday with girlfriends sounded like fun. A chance to get away from work and a certain ex.
Before I left, my protective father gave one warning: Stay out of the jungle.

In a culture vastly different to my sheltered upbringing, I find adventure, confidence, and excitement.
In a city of love, and a city of heartbreak, I find both.

I wasn’t searching for the man of my dreams.
He found me.
Then he disappeared…

My father also taught me to never give up. So I set a challenge to find the man who swept me off my feet.
He’s hiding a secret and I’m determined to find answers.
Even if it means doing the one thing my father warned about—entering the jungle.

I won’t come out the same.

Ulara Pre-order Now

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EXCERPTS

#1

The water spray dances over my face like tiny fingers massaging my forehead, temples, and cheeks. After the last two days, a warm shower hands down equals that of a luxury spa treatment. I’m going to make an appointment as soon as I get home, and right now, I don’t give two fucks of the cost.
Home.
My stomach drops.
I owe my family and friends a call.
Lathering soap over my body, I cringe when soap stings the small scratches on my shins.
Securing one towel on my head and another around my chest, I check if my phone is still charged. My room is closer to the reception area than the previous one, and it picks up the Wi-Fi, albeit slow. I flop on the bed and send a text to my friends to confirm my safety. While I’m waiting for the little blue line to cross the top of my screen, I open the last message I sent to my father. It will probably take a while for all the replies from my previous texts to come through.
“Eden.” Knock. Knock.
I spring up to open the door.
Blue eyes lock with mine. A slight breeze carries his freshly showered scent into my room, and it jolts my memory of us together in Ilheus. His Adam’s apple bobs. “May I have a word?”
“Sure.” I widen the door for him to enter.
“I see you’ve showered.” He turns in a slow circle as though assessing my room.
“I did. There was room for two.”
When his gaze shoots to mine, I turn away and casually towel dry my hair. “Are you heading to dinner? I’ll be ready after I call my friends and arrange my flight out for tomorrow.” I hate talking about leaving him, especially not knowing where I stand makes the effort of finding him somewhat pointless. I understand his commitment, but it doesn’t have to be forever.
I push the comb through my hair with extra force. “Ouch.” My knots are glued together since I haven’t used a brush in two days. The wind factor from the river ride was a formula for hairspray.
“Is it what you want?” he questions and takes a seat on the edge of the bed.
I stop combing. “I’m sorry, what?”
“To leave?”
I shake my head. “I don’t have a choice.”
He stands and walks to the door. “I’ll wait in your hammock while you make the calls.”
I’m gaping at the closed door. He walks by the window and slides into the hammock on my porch with the slightest rock. He folds his hands behind his head and stares out at the lake.
I yank open the door. “Don’t put this on me. You said I wasn’t allowed in your village. There are restrictions, and you can’t touch me.”
He flies out of the hammock and pushes me inside. “Yes, we have limitations.” He spins me. His lips caress my bare shoulder. His hands wrap around my waist, so I feel the length of him pushing into my back. “We don’t have any here.”

#2

“What did you expect when you came searching for me?” His lips are close to my ear, where hot breath caresses my neck.
“To find out if you cared about me as much as I you,” I rasp out.
“You knew I did. I showed you my feelings in Ilheus. You’ve complicated everything in a way I’ve never felt before.” Hands tighten around my stomach and travel down and touch me where heat builds. “I don’t want you to go. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Yes,” I grate out. “Of course, it is.”
“Then, you’ve won. You drive me crazy. I hope you’re satisfied that I’m a mess.”
I attempt to turn because I want to take him in my arms and kiss him. Only he halts my action, his strong arms keeping me still, my back to his front. We’re both peering toward the window to the view of the rainforest beyond the lake and waterfalls.
“You honestly believe you could survive out there?” He raises an arm and points. “Live like me?”
After my short experience—no. I couldn’t do it. If it meant giving us a chance, an instinct tells me it’s a place where I could find myself and truly question my happiness, challenge my abilities, overcome fear, and grow. It’s what this trip is meant to be—a journey of growth. Finding Samuel and love was a bonus. Then it dawns on me why I wanted to find him so much. By finding him, I also found my strength.
“I’d like a chance to try,” I whisper.
He stiffens behind me. His chest expands and releases faster with every breath. His forehead touches the top of my head.
I listen to him breathe for a while before his arms loosen around my waist. “I want to kiss you. We need to be careful, and you haven’t been in quarantine long enough to—”
“Stop talking. If I do this, I’m not living on the outskirts. I’m coming with you into the village.”
“We can’t sleep together.”
“I know. Wait. I thought the chief said no?” I push his arms off me and turn to face him.
“Turns out the shaman sees something in you.” He smiles at me. “He has granted you time, and I’m going to request for you to stay longer.” A dent forms between his eyebrows. “That’s if you want to—”
“Longer, as in the rest of my holidays?” What’s he saying? Shit, I have four more weeks.
Samuel’s expression softens. “If you think you can handle the four weeks, then yes.”
Pfft. If I can handle it. Does he even know me?
I’m smiling like an idiot.
Four weeks.
It’s enough time to form a solid bond and see if we have a future together. Our initial connection can’t be ignored, and now that I’ve made all the effort to bloody get here, I’m not going to walk away wondering what if?
“Yes, of course, it’s what I want. Give me time to make those calls, then we can head over to dinner.”
He shakes his head. “We don’t associate with anyone, only Asoo, as he knows to keep his distance. No handshaking or embracing tourists. We eat in our room. I’ll pick some fruit from Victor’s organic garden and bring it to you.”
I nod. Damn, I was looking forward to a schnitzel or steak and a glass of wine at dinner.
A small sacrifice, really.
His eyes glaze over. “Talking of… you and I have some catching up to do. Less limitations,” I remind him.
When he doesn’t tell me to stop, I untie my towel, throwing it aside on the bed. His eyes bore into mine, then lower and glaze over. I watch him take his fill as I take a few steps toward him.
When I reach him, he spins me, takes my hands, and places them on the bed. “I’ll take it from here,” he whispers in my ear.

COMING SOON

#2 Wild at Heart – Releasing August 30

Amazon US     Amazon UK     Amazon CA     Amazon AU     B&N     Kobo     Apple Books

Copy of Leesa Bow LogoAUTHOR BIO

Leesa Bow is a romance author who began her writing journey years ago when her daughter fell ill. After writing for therapy Leesa now can’t imagine doing anything else. Thankful to be following her passion for romance, she is living out her own happy ever after with her husband in Brisbane, Australia.

In her spare time Leesa enjoys watching sport, having beach days with the family, catching up for coffee with girlfriends, and taking long walks. Most importantly the cinema dates with her husband to watch all the Marvel movies.

AUTHOR LINKS

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New Release Book Review: Forrest’s #Win by Jennifer Cody

Forrest's #WinThis was an emotional read, dealing with two friends, Forrest and Blake, who have to learn to heal after Forrest is raped and Blake feels responsible for it happening.

These guys were gorgeous, Forrest lives his life by an extremely strict schedule and Blake is paid to help him manage everything. The friendship and understanding between these two were really lovely and it made it seem very organic to move from friendship to more when down the track they are forced to look at how they interact and how they really feel about the other.

When Blake sets Forrest up with a hookup, on his request, things go very wrong, and while the scene was graphic, it was short and I think the author did a good job of conveying the terror involved whilst still being sensitive to readers (please be aware this may be a trigger). Forrest doesn’t deal with this well, as you would expect, and neither does Blake, who blames himself. Thereafter follows a long journey of counselling for both of them, I really appreciate how well Jennifer Cody navigated the whole structure of this and how they moved forward, but not always in a straight line and not always without a few backwards steps; to portray anything else would be unrealistic.

Forrest’s way of talking and behaving was what I am guessing would be on the spectrum, as such it didn’t always flow smoothly, but that is how it is meant to be, the author did a good job, I think, of depicting his quirks and different ways of thinking and behaving.

Once again, this is another novel that shows us that sexuality is on a massive spectrum and things can change and emerge over time. When the novel starts, Blake is definitely into women, while Forrest is exploring his sexuality. Blake’s one night with a girl from Forrest’s D&D game has far-reaching consequences down the track and I wasn’t completely sure about this direction of the storyline, but still found it an enjoyable part of the read.

Thanks to the author for a digital copy in return for an honest review.