Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Million Love songs

Title: Million Love Songs
Author: Carole Matthews
Publisher: 4th January 2018 by Hachette (Australia), Sphere
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit
My Rating: 4.5 cups

After splitting up with her cheating ex-husband, Ruby Brown is ready for a change. She's single again for the first time in years and she's going to dive into this brave new world with a smile on her face and a spring in her step. The last thing she's looking for is another serious relationship.
Mason Soames represents everything Ruby wants right now: he's charming, handsome, and perfect for some no-strings-attached fun, and yet Ruby can't help feel that something is missing. Joe Edwards on the other hand is also lovely and handsome but he comes with the sort of baggage Ruby wants to avoid: an annoyingly attractive ex-wife and two teenage children.
Ruby soon has some very tough decisions to make. Is she ready for a relationship of any kind, and what type of life does she really want? Because while Ruby may think she knows what she wants, is that what she needs to be truly happy?
My Thoughts

‘Life should get easier once you leave the playground, but it doesn’t. Then you think you’ll have it sorted in your teens and you don’t. So you hurtle into your twenties when you’re sure you’ll crack the meaning of life. Yet here I am in my late thirties and I’m still all at sea.’

When you are looking for a solid, reliable read with some quality escapism, then Carole Matthews will always provide. This is a highly entertaining read with many a humorous moment. As Matthews says, it’s just about an ordinary woman trying to discover what is right for herself with lots of bumps along the way. You have to admire the lead character Ruby as she tries to work through things:

‘I was a little bit frightened of change. That’s no reason to stay anywhere, is it?’

I always enjoy Mathews humour, there is much to smile about whilst reading - everything from Ruby’s friend pursuit of the boy band, to her search for potential hobbies, their ‘muffin top’ laments and just some great one liners that really resonated with me, thus making the characters and story relatable:

‘I’m fretting about catching pneumonia or pleurisy by going out with damp hair –the things that your mother tells you leave scars for life .’

‘I try to pull it down at the sides. ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it,’ Charlie instructs.
‘I don’t think I have got it. I’m pretty sure it went a long time ago.’

The two love interests for Ruby could not be more different - but I guess that was the point. Whilst I appreciated her indecision, sometimes her decisions were perplexing. But again, standing at the side, it’s easy for me to draw rational conclusions - this was Ruby’s journey I guess and she had to go through all the highs and lows. I also loved the whole 80s boy band saga but at times this too was drawn out just a tad too much for my liking.

Overall this is a fun book with much to endear itself to the reader. Do yourself a favour, take a break from the craziness of life and spend some time getting to know Ruby and the gang.

‘I’m content for the first time in a long time. Sometimes we hurtle through life, don’t we? I’m rushing off to work or racing round the supermarket, doing a dozen other things that I really don’t want to be doing and it’s easy not to stop and simply take a breath.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: The Alice Network

Title: The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Publisher: 22 May 2017 by Harper Collins Australia
Pages: 503 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, world war
My Rating: 5 cups


In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth matter where it leads

My Thoughts

“I don’t want to just be pretty when I grow up. I want to do something different. Write a book. Swim the Channel. Go on safari and shoot a lion ....”

I have been eager to sample a Kate Quinn novel and finally I  know why. Wow! Books like this are the reason why I love historical fiction so much. This is one compelling and powerful story that confronts you with war and the role of women in espionage roles based on actual people and events. Quinn effortlessly takes you from 1915 to 1947 as she recounts the story of one of the most successful spy rings called the Alice Network.

“She slipped her hand through Eve’s elbow. “Welcome to the Alice Network”.

Both stories are strongly told through riveting female leads and are shockingly confrontational in both honesty and vigour. The research is faultless as is the backdrop of the French countryside - whether you be in war torn Lille in 1915 or driving across the French countryside in 1947. Incredible female leads in both time periods, supported by an amazing cast of supporting characters. You will be shocked. You will be horrified. And your heart will break with all that unfolds. Given the strong factual base, Quinn is amazing in the life she brings to both fiction and non fictional characters. Seamlessly she takes you from events in 1915 as the suspense builds, to 1947 as you await to see just how this will all be played out. The way the chapters symmetrically reflect time and location is spellbinding.

“I wanted to say to the figure hunched in the backseat, I’m sorry - but words were just air, useless after a tale like that.”

I dare you not to be chained to your chair as your fate seems intrinsically linked to Charlie’s journey and growth in 1947 as she desperately searches for her cousin, to the slow revelations of Eve’s role in the Alice Network in 1915 - how the stories are linked is just too good to be true. Eve, so bitter and damaged, driven by revenge, is truly magnificent. An ‘Author’s Note’ clearly accounts for who and what occurred in real life and you will be truly surprised on just how much truth lay in this incredible tale. The story is fascinating and riveting as you learn of real life heroines who risked it all in a display of true strength and courage, Quinn going to great lengths to ensure their tale would not be forgotten.

“If I were a man you’d be calling me patriotic for wishing to continue in my duty to my country .... a woman wants the same thing and she’s suicidal”.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough and commend Quinn in her thorough and rich portrayal of the sacrifices and injustices that war delivered to these people that were, ‘The Alice Network’.

“War. Such a small, hopeless syllable to cover so much loss”.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: The Naturalist's Daughter

Title: The Naturalist’s Daughter
Author: Tea Cooper
Publisher: 18th December 2017 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 356 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, Australia
My Rating: 5 cups

Two women, a century apart, are drawn into a mystery surrounding the biggest scientific controversy of the nineteenth century, the classification of the platypus.
1808 Agnes Banks, NSW
Rose Winton wants nothing more than to work with her father, eminent naturalist Charles Winton, on his groundbreaking study of the platypus. Not only does she love him with all her heart, but the discoveries they have made could turn the scientific world on its head. When Charles is unable to make the long sea journey to present his findings to the prestigious Royal Society in England, Rose must venture forth in his stead. What she discovers there will change the lives of future generations.
1908 Sydney, NSW
Tamsin Alleyn has been given a mission: travel to the Hunter Valley and retrieve an old sketchbook of debatable value, gifted to the Mitchell Library by a recluse. But when she gets there, she finds there is more to the book than meets the eye, and more than one interested party. Shaw Everdene, a young antiquarian bookseller and lawyer, seems to have his own agenda when it comes to the book but Tamsin decides to work with him to try and discover the book’s true provenance. The deeper they delve, the more intricate the mystery becomes.
As the lives of two women a century apart converge, discoveries rise up from the past and reach into the future, with irrevocable consequences…
My Thoughts

Having been impressed with Tea’s, ‘Currency Lass’, (review HERE) I was happy to see her new tale, ‘The Naturalist’s Daughter’, tackling strong female historical figures once again. This truly is such a heartfelt story and I thoroughly enjoyed both dual time narratives that were so very cleverly linked.

Set one hundred years apart, both Rose in 1808 and Tasmin in 1908 have much to offer the reader with their courage and tenacity. Rose’s story is heart wrenching as she travels to England to represent her father and not only face humiliation but also conflicting familial connections (the secondary story is in itself is quite fascinating - Tea gives us a little gothic mystery on the English moors - I mean truly - this tale has it all!) Tasmin in 1908 and her pursuit of discovering the truth, is both admirable for a woman of that age and the intrigue and mystery will grip you to the very end.

Then there is the historical story behind the platypus - I learnt so much, it was fascinating to read about this unusual Australian mammal. The way Tea interweaved fact and captivating fiction with both the historical debate over its existence right down to its extraordinary habits and characteristics is highly commendable. Rich in both intriguing historical and scientific facts, you will cheer for both the discoveries and lament the setbacks.

This is really a clever story that will have you piecing together all the puzzle pieces that have been masterfully crafted by Tea. I was captivated by not only the strength and determination of the two women, but the cast of secondary characters that range from their respective beau’s, to the parentage and familial relationships - both being deep and meaningfully conveyed.

Congratulations Tea on once again producing such a spellbinding and masterfully crafted tale of mystery and intrigue that will see the reader  journeying side by side with Rose and Tasmin to firstly uncover and then piece together the puzzle that is, ‘The Naturalist’s Daughter’.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review: Child of Africa

Title: Child of Africa
Author: T.M.Clark
Publisher: 20th November 2017 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 381 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Africa, fiction
My Rating: 5 cups

After returning from Afghanistan, ex-British marine Joss Brennan embraces living as a double amputee, but he finds life at his safari lodge near Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe, not quite as idyllic as when he left.
Peta de Longe is a big game veterinarian and no stranger to hard decisions. Working in the messy political society of Zimbabwe, she’s engaged in a constant struggle to save the national parks. When she nearly drives over Joss, the reunion isn’t joyous – Joss let down her dying sister eighteen months before, after all. But once she uncovers the terrible ordeal that Joss has gone through, can she learn to forgive and move forward?
When a corrupt and dangerous businessman with close ties to government threatens all he holds dear, Joss realises he doesn’t need to save strangers in a faraway land. But will he fight to save his own country and the people he considers his family?
My Thoughts

‘Today you have proved you are a child of Africa. I will see you now-now.’

Having lived in Africa I have a great affinity for the wondrous continent. However, even if you don’t have personal experience, there is nothing like a well written tale that can truly transport you to far off places. T.M. Clark’s novel is one such tale. This is brilliant! I was fully engaged from beginning to end in this mind riveting story.

This tale has a little of everything, from intrigue and mystery that goes on to build tension and drama. If the individual tales of Joss and Peta (and her father) are not enough, the whole emotion surrounding corruption and poaching is heartfelt and real. The violence is confrontational, but it’s meant to be. On the flip side of this, is the beauty and majesty of the wildlife, especially elephants. The tale of Ndhlovy is truly touching and I just love how Clark followed through with her tale right to the end.

‘Poor guy. We’ll settle him down and get him used to his guards before he’s let out. He’ll never be alone again. Two teams of men will watch him twenty-four hours a day; it’s the only way I can keep them alive.’

I particularly appreciated the ‘Fact vs Fiction’ at the end, that detailed and debunked many of the core issues covered in this book. For example, ‘It is estimated that wild elephants will be extinct within twenty-five years’. A sad fact and this book helps highlight that more action needs to be taken now.

‘This country is so full of corruption, I do not know if we will ever get out from underneath the tyranny that is our leadership.’

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially for those of you interested in delving into this exciting genre. The writing is compelling as Clark weaves tales of corruption and traditions, ravages of war, poaching and preservation. Add to that a cast of characters - both human and animal - that demonstrate real depth, whether it be leadership and compassion, to being evil and sadistic - you have a story here that is worthy and totally engaging.

‘He had been so determined to go and fight against the injustice of the world with the commandos that he hadn’t noticed how messed up his own country had become.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Review: Come Rain or Shine

Title: Come Rain or Shine
Author: Tricia Stringer
Publisher: 23 October 2017 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, contemporary, women's fiction, Australia
My Rating: 3 cups


A wedding and a will, a bushfire and a baby: who said the country was quiet?

Paula knew when she moved to the country that the life would be tough. Nearly a year into her marriage with farmer Dan, and now pregnant, she is proud of her ability to feed shearers, bake a pasty and fix a fence while still running her accountancy business from home. With a wedding to plan, the farm to run and neighbours to help out, life is busy but good.

But there are clouds on the horizon. Dan is increasingly tired and distant. He promised he would always tell her the truth, so why is he being so mysterious about his late father’s will?  And why is his abrasive Aunt Rowena suddenly so interested in the sex and due date of Paula’s baby? As bushfires rage, Paula makes a discovery that shocks her and threatens all she holds dear.

Come Rain Or Shine follows on from Chance of Stormy Weather.

My Thoughts

‘Come Rain or Shine’ by Aussie author Tricia Stringer, is a follow-on story to ‘A Chance of Stormy Weather’. I had not read the first, however, this was not an issue - it can be read as a standalone. This book continues on the life of Paula and Dan after their marriage and it would appear the same type of themes exist from book 1 to book 2 - life on the land and loads of secrets!

Having read Tricia Stringer before, I knew that her portrayal of life on the land would realistically capture the essence of what it would be like - everything from battling the elements, to the benefits of being part of a close knit community. A strong theme of the many worries farmers face and the effect on those around them, was true and on point as Stringer accurately captures drought, fire and all else that them at the mercy of the weather.

Apart from that, I just found this book to be incredibly slow - nothing really  happens (until the last fifty pages and by then it’s too late). It is very repetitive because little occurs. The same lines are repeated time and again and the characters are too one dimensional for me.  I was increasingly frustrated with them, especially Dan and his tiresome mood swings - I get he’s a worried farmer and father-to-be, but really!

If you read the first book then you will enjoy this sequel. It’s not a bad book by Tricia, just an everyday account of life on the land that doesn’t really go anywhere.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Carnegie's Maid

Title: Carnegie’s Maid
Author: Marie Benedict
Publisher: 1st January 2018 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

From the author of The Other Einstein comes the mesmerizing story of love, power, and the woman who inspired an American dynasty
In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady's maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie's search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie's Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie's transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world's first true philanthropist
My Thoughts

“You have taught me that I should carve out a different path. Pedigree, that accident of birth, does not give a man the right to public respect. Only good deeds can do that.”

What a fabulous premise for a story, that being, two like minds came together and set about making fundamental changes that would have a lasting impact on society. Could a relationship such as this have been a possible catalyst that turned this infamous businessman into a philanthropist? Marie Benedict has written this fictional account of one such possibility - such an interesting concept. Andrew Carnegie built free libraries, providing the gift of books and from that, an education, regardless of rank or money. Once a poor immigrant himself, he fully understood what it was to be a factory worker but went on to become one of the richest men in the world at that time.

“I cannot describe to you the impact that library had on my life and my success. It quite literally made me who I am today.”

This tale incorporates this and so much more, ranging from American industrialisation to class differentiation. Benedict has done her research from Ireland to America, from rural to urban living standards, to the clear division of the ‘haves’ and have nots’. The undisputable historical details are fascinating and will have you checking Google to learn more of not only Carnegie but other recorded facts from this time in American history - from the Civil War to railroad expansion, a fresh insight was superbly integrated. The blend of fact and fiction is seamless.

Am I fully convinced of the author’s theory? Not entirely. With the romance feeling a little bit too ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ for me, I therefore found it difficult to commit to the profound effect Clara reportedly had on this magnate. I would have preferred more investment in the friendship between Mr. Ford (African American) and Clara for example, to provide more depth. It is also a short read, so there is not much time to cement such a strong assertion.

‘I sat back and watched him wield his “words” like a painter wields his brush, each a masterly stroke in the creation of a seamless whole. Except I was not witnessing the creation of an average painting, I realized. I was watching a masterpiece in progress.’

I cannot, however, dispute the quality of Benedict’s writing - it is an interesting and informative read, shining a light on the the historic details and social mores of the time. So put aside your doubts and immerse yourself in a fictional characterisation:

If Andrew still believed that I was the Anglo-Irish tradesman’s daughter Clara Kelley—the woman who had inspired him in business and affection and who challenged him to carve a different, better path than the one driven solely by avarice—the chance existed that my influence might remain.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Coming Soon!

From the author of The Other Einstein, the mesmerising tale of what kind of woman could have inspired an American dynasty. Clara Kelley is not who they think she is. She’s not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She’s a poor farmer’s daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other woman with the same name has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home.
If she can keep up the ruse, that is. Serving as a lady’s maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie requires skills she doesn’t have, answering to an icy mistress who rules her sons and her domain with an iron fist. What Clara does have is a resolve as strong as the steel Pittsburgh is becoming famous for, coupled with an uncanny understanding of business, and Andrew begins to rely on her. But Clara can’t let her guard down, not even when Andrew becomes something more than an employer. Revealing her past might ruin her future—and her family’s. With captivating insight and heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one brilliant woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Conversations with the Author

Andrew Carnegie is a well-known historical figure who many may feel they
already know. What challenges did you face when writing Carnegie as a more well-rounded character? What preconceptions did you have to overcome? Many people are familiar with Andrew Carnegie’s reputation as a ruthless businessman, especially the role he may have played in the Homestead Strike of 1892, which grew out of a conflict between the Carnegie Steel Company and the iron and steel workers’ union. And while that reputation is certainly deserved and I do delve into the questionable practices behind the astonishing growth of his
businesses— his insider trading in particular—I hope I fleshed out other aspects of the man behind the icon: his relationship with his mother and brother, the singular nature of his intellect and ascent, the kindnesses of which he could be capable, and, importantly for my story, the sense of obligation he developed to immigrants less fortunate than himself.

How would you describe Carnegie and Clara’s relationship? 
I envisioned Clara as a female version of Andrew, in some ways. Like Andrew, she is a very bright but uneducated immigrant who is searching for ways to climb above her allocated station at a particular moment in American history when such ascent is possible. This similarity attracts them to each other, but ultimately, it is the differences in their drives—avarice and greed for its own sake (and his mother and brother) motivates him as a young man, while she is propelled by her duty toward the family she left behind in Ireland—that creates a wedge between them.

Which character did you connect with more, Carnegie or Clara? Which was the greater challenge to write? 
I definitely connected more with Clara, particularly because I felt like I knew women like her. The grandmothers and great-aunts that I knew were all intelligent and outside-the-box thinkers, determined to advance themselves and their families by any means necessary. Scrappy, just like Clara. Carnegie was more of a challenge because I’d always thought of him in his guise as an older, esteemed industrialist, not as a young man. I enjoyed digging his younger self out of the past and trying to discover what made him into the unique person he was— finding the man instead of the myth.


Praise for Carnegie’s Maid

"[an] excellent historical novel." -Publishers Weekly

"Feels like Downton Abbey in the United States...Benedict demonstrates the relevance of history to the present day in this impeccably researched novel of the early immigrant experience. Deeply human, and brimming with complex, vulnerable characters, Carnegie’s Maid shows the power of ambition tempered by altruism, and the true realization of the American Dream." -Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of Hemingway's Girl

"In Carnegie’s Maid, Marie Benedict skillfully introduces us to Clara, a young woman who immigrates to American in the 1860s and unexpectedly becomes the maid to Andrew Carnegie's mother. Clara becomes close to Andrew Carnegie and helps to make him America's first philanthropist. Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale of fateful turns and unexpected romance, and the often unsung role of women in history." -Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale

"With its well-drawn characters, good pacing, and excellent sense of time and place, this volume should charm lovers of historicals, romance, and the Civil War period. Neither saccharine nor overly dramatized, it's a very satisfying read."     -Library Journal

"...engaging. The chaste romance will draw readers of inspirational fiction, while the novel is constructed to appeal to those seeking a tale with an upstairs-downstairs dynamic and all-but-invisible female characters who are either the impetus for or the actual originators of great men's great ideas. For Fans of Liz Trenow, Erika Robuck, and Nancy Horan." -Booklist

"Marie Benedict has penned a sensational novel that turns the conventional Cinderella story into an all-American triumph. Young Clara Kelley steps off the boat from Ireland into Andrew Carnegie's affluent world, where invention can transform men and women into whatever they dare to dream." -Sarah McCoy, New York Times and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker's Children and The Baker's Daughter