Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: Royally Romanov

Title: Royally Romanov
Author: Teri Wilson
Publisher: 17 July 2017 by Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books.
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:
In this charming modern day retelling of the 1956 classic Anastasia, a museum curator falls for a mysterious man who may or may not be a long lost heir to Russia’s imperial Romanov dynasty.

Finley Abbot is organizing the most prestigious art exhibit of her career at the Louvre museum—a retrospective of art from the House of Romanov. But the sudden appearance of Maxim Romanov threatens to turn her into the biggest laughingstock of the art world. When she finds herself falling in love, she realizes there’s even more at stake than her career. How can she trust a man with her whole world when he can’t remember a thing about his past?

After suffering a violent blow to the head, Maxim’s only clue to his identity is a notebook containing carefully researched documentation in his own handwriting indicating that he is the sole surviving descendant of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, previously thought dead in the murder of her family during Russia’s Bolshevik revolution. His struggle to put the mysterious pieces of his past back together leads him to Finley. At first, she’s convinced Maxim is nothing but a con artist. But there’s something undeniably captivating about the beautiful, brooding man who claims to be searching for his identity—something Finley can’t quite bring herself to resist. When he reveals a secret about one of the imperial FabergĂ© eggs in the collection, she accepts he may actually be telling the truth. But as soon as Finley and Maxim act on their feelings for one another, Maxim is confronted with evidence that calls into question everything he’s begun to believe about himself.
My Thoughts

“Everyone’s into the Romanovs. Their story is one of history’s most famous unsolved mysteries.”

“What if there was more to the story?”

I admit to always having been fascinated by the Romanov’s, the last ruling family of Russia before the revolution. The intrigue continues over the supposed survival of Anastasia. Therefore I readily sign up for any new, fictional or otherwise, read regarding this. Knowing this is a ‘chick lit’ (after my last few heavy reads, I was in need of some ‘light and fluffy’ as I like to call it!) I was pleasantly surprised to discover this book contains so much more than romantic escapism.

In equal parts this is a romance AND, importantly,  a rewrite of the classic story, ‘Anastasia’. This is the second book in the Royally series, but the books are in no way related and this most definitely reads as a standalone. What a delightful surprise to discover that there were bonus and legitimate historical references.

‘July 17, 2018 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the execution of the Tsar and his family ... the Century Rule was instituted here in France after so many claims were made on notable pieces.’

So on the one hand you have this simmering romance but at the same time, this engaging mystery that could possible change history! What fun! A  mysterious, exciting, romantic love story!!!! I was hooked. Add to the usual recipe of romance, an assortment of clues and it proves a fun adventure. The inclusion of things such as the famous Romanov FabergĂ© eggs, and the female lead working at the Louvre make for some credible facts.

‘The Louvre was the biggest museum in the world. The tour guides and docents were fond of telling visitors that the museum was so immense that it would take one hundred straight days to see every piece of art in the Louvre’s extensive collection. And that would leave a mere thirty seconds to look at each one.’

The tragic end to this famous Royal Family has always intrigued and produced many ensuing legends. What the author has done here is create a credible storyline of a man who may indeed be the grandson of the Archduchess Anastasia. It’s a great to journey along with Maxim and Finley as together they seek to investigate and discover the truth behind who he really is.

‘what about the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, who’d been the Tsar’s mother’

Does the combination work? I believe it does. Yes there is some humour but instead of detracting from the story it provided lighter moments:

‘...meeting a man who gave her serious Mr. Darcy vibes.’

In conclusion, Royally Romanov is a good romantic story with a most worthy and interesting twist on a classic tale - that little bit of  mystery that will engage you through to the very end.

‘She ate, drank, and slept the Romanovs twenty-four hours a day. She’d been chasing them through decades of history’




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, July 19, 2017

Review: Beneath a Burning Sky

Title: Beneath a Burning Sky
Author: Jenny Ashcroft
Publisher: 29 June 2017 Little Brown Book Group UK Sphere
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:
When 22-year-old Olivia is coerced into marriage by the cruel Alistair Sheldon, she leaves England for Egypt, his home and the land of her own childhood. Reluctant as she is to go with Alistair, it's in her new home that she finds happiness in surprising places: she is reunited with her long-estranged sister, Clara, and falls - impossibly and illicitly - in love with her husband's boarder, Captain Edward Bertram.

Then Clara is abducted from one of the busiest streets in the city. Olivia is told it's thieves after ransom money, but she's convinced there's more to it. As she sets out to discover what's happened to the sister she's only just begun to know, she falls deeper into the shadowy underworld of Alexandria, putting her own life and her chance at a future with Edward, the only man she's ever loved, at risk. Because, determined as Olivia is to find Clara, there are others who will stop at nothing to conceal what's become of her....

My Thoughts

"Beneath a Burning Sky" is Jenny Ashcroft's debut novel, and what a debut it was! Initially I was interested in this book because it takes place in Egypt and I love to learn about this ancient place - fact or fiction. This story was set mostly in Alexandria during the end of the 19th century, when Egypt was still under British rule. Not really knowing what to expect from a debut, I was transported to another place and time in this beautifully written tale.

Jenny Ashcroft has written a wonderful story, a fabulous historical romance in colonial Egypt, one that is full of intrigue and mystery, love and hate. There is an interwoven plot that will keep you guessing right to the very end. There are wonderful descriptions of Egypt at the turn of the century, but this book is really all about the characters and their relationships. This is most definitely the driving force - the life of an expat during the 1890s.

There are many characters and each have their contributions to make. From the disappearance of the main character’s sister - who did it? How? Why? Where? - to the brutality of a violent marriage (you will really despise Alistair). But at the heart of this tale is a love story and what a classic it is. Edward is the personification of the dashing hero and his relationship with Olivia will most certainly pull at your heartstrings.

‘I’m trying to keep you safe.’ His soft voice was baffled. ‘You cannot know the dangers of this land, the things people do.’

The flip story of Nailah, whilst a little difficult to follow at times, helps provide the voice of the Egyptians, demonstrating the contrast between the ruling British and the downtrodden Egyptians. However, this is such a well crafted mystery that at the end, when all the puzzle pieces start to come together, you will understand more and more her role and those of her family and friends.

Jenny Ashcroft is to be congratulated on how easily, and seemingly effortlessly, she brings to life the tense atmosphere of colonial rule. She evokes such a range of emotions through her characters  that their stories will stay with you long after the final page is turned. It’s fast paced and addictive with characters that will grow on you - you will want to despise Alistair, slap Jeremy, swoon over Edward and rally behind Olivia - just to name a few.

'Life wasn’t long enough to waste with unhappy decisions.'

Am I gushing? Yes I am - it was absolutely brilliant. Whether or not historical fiction is your thing it doesn’t matter for this is so much more than that. The harsh brutality of life at times, the intriguing mystery and the quest for true love will sweep you away to a time and place long gone.

'For lies were all she had to give. The truth, always terrifying, had never felt more impossible than now.'


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, July 14, 2017

Review: Beneath the Apple Leaves

Title: Beneath the Apple Leaves
Author: Harmony Verna
Publisher: 27 June 2017 Kensington Books
Pages: 516 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:


From the author of Daughter of Australia comes a sweeping, heartfelt historical novel that follows a family of German immigrants who trade city living for the harsh realities of Pennsylvania farm life.
In 1914, Andrew Houghton s family is one of hundreds eking out an existence in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania. Though he longs to be a veterinarian, he s fated for a life underground, picking rock alongside his father.

That destiny changes when his aunt, Eveline Kiser, arranges for her husband to secure Andrew an apprenticeship on the railroad. Wilhelm Kiser, a German immigrant, has found his American dream in Pittsburgh, with a well-paying job as a brakeman, and a secure pension. But on Andrew s first week, an incident goes tragically wrong, leaving him severely injured, his dreams shattered. Wracked with guilt, Wilhelm finally agrees to his wife s pleas to leave Pittsburgh s smog behind. With Andrew in tow, they swap their three-story row house for a rough-and-tumble farm.

Life in rural Pennsylvania is not as idyllic as Eveline imagined. The soil is slow to yield and their farmhouse is in disrepair. But there is one piece of beauty in this rugged land. Lily Morton is quick-witted and tough on the outside, but bears her own secret scars inside. Andrew s bond with her will help steer them through all the challenges to come, even as anti-German sentiment spreads across America with the outbreak of World War I.

Beneath the Apple Leaves is a vivid, deeply moving portrait of family its hardships, triumphs, and passions and a powerfully authentic evocation of life on the land and the hearts that sustain it.


My Thoughts


Having read and LOVED Harmony’s debut novel, Daughter of AustraliaI did not hesitate to embark on another journey with her. Would it, however, live up to her first inspiring saga? I can say without the shadow of a doubt, it was right up there beside her first amazing novel. As Harmony states in her acknowledgements,


‘The seeds of this book came from my mother ... who shared the stories - the sorrows and the joys - of growing up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania ... I am humbled and proud of the strength and sacrifices of my German ancestors’.


‘Beneath the Apple Leaves’ is another emotional roller coaster ride, that is the epitome of what good historical drama is all about. This will undoubtedly pull at your heartstrings as Harmony takes you on a journey to another place and time. Yet another powerful drama that incorporates not only the plight of German immigrants during World War I, but topics ranging from the hardships of life on the land, family love and loss, terrible tragedies and great moments of hope and joy.


“It’s too much for any of us. We’re all drowning. Like the whole world is drowning!”


This book is indeed most beautifully scripted from the enduring love story to the emotional heartbreak of unbearable losses. There will be times when you feel, surely fate will cut them some slack for these much deserving characters; but as the war ensues and deliberate harassment and persecution is rife, you begin to wonder if you will get a happy ending. If things could go wrong, invariably they seemed to.


“They’re good people. Love this country as much as the Simpsons. Except they don’t have to attack people to prove it.”


Yet despite, or in fact because of this, these characters will pull at your heartstrings. You just have to read through hoping against hope that life will be kinder to these deserving souls. Will love endure ‘beneath the apple leaves’?


‘With ax in hand, Andrew stared at the enormity of the ancient apple tree. The limbs, old, had witnessed too much suffering. And they seemed to ask to be relieved, to say good-bye. A wind blew and rustled the branches, the leaves waving in surrender.’


This is another amazing journey that Harmony takes you on and you will be swept away as becoming emotionally invested in these characters, especially the stoic Andrew. Such a finely crafted story I cannot recommend highly enough - historical drama of immigrants in early 1900s Pennsylvania.


‘For life began anew, grew again, beneath the apple leaves.’


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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: Leopard at the Door


Title: Leopard at the Door
Author: Jennifer McVeigh
Publisher: 13 July  2017 Penguin Books (UK) 
Viking
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  historical fiction, cultural Africa
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:
Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.

But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley Road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently.

Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?

My Thoughts

Having spent time living in Africa, I am always on the lookout for any books that capture the real essence of this amazing continent. Jennifer McVeighs first book, ‘The Fever Tree’ was very good, so I was open to trying her new novel. WOW! What an amazing read, she has really lifted the bar on this one. So much happens (and I don’t want to spoil a thing for those of you going to read it) that you will be left speechless. This is a truly riveting read through a complex time in Kenyan history. There will be love and loss, hero’s and villains to capture even the most determined reader. 

I was captivated from the moment I opened ‘Leopard at the Door’ with McVeigh’s lyrical prose detailing the harsh yet beautiful reality of this story and landscape. It clearly played out in my mind’s eye. The amount of research undertaken here is truly commendable - 1950s British Mau Mau Rebellion - and McVeigh leaves no stone unturned in her, at times graphic portrayal, of this period in history. In fact, you cannot help but commend her for the enlightening and thought provoking story that I felt was handled in a truly realistic and mature fashion. 

‘there are still men who look at the fight against injustice and call it savagery.’

Yes, the book includes violence but you cannot sugarcoat what went on here - it was indeed horrific and a truly ugly period in British Africa. But it was real and seen through the eyes of a vast array of characters and sides that leave the reader seriously contemplating many of the actions undertaken. Isn’t that what good historical fiction is all about? Complex characterisation that truly capture and reflect both time and place - some you will love and some you will hate. So in many ways, it is not an easy read, but expertly handled to give the reader a realistic snapshot of what it might have been like for those who witnessed so much. 

‘I have been hoping all this time that the farm would be the same, but no gentle fairy has built a forest of thorns around my home; or made sure that those I love would be waiting for me, unchanged, just as they were when I left them. I have come home to find the farm ransacked by a future I don’t yet understand.’

Seen through the eyes of Rachel, she discovers that nothing is ever simple, whether it be politics of a country seeking to free itself from colonial shackles, to confronting a home that will never return to the days of her childhood. It’s a tense situation for her, from dealing with her father and his new lover, to Kikuyu friends of times past and present - she will be tested and her loyalties called into question. I think McVeigh did a fabulous job at presenting both sides of this conflict, especially the stereotypical ‘evil’ stepmother. She was the necessary epitome of all the ‘old rule’ stood for and believed. She was truly horrible but there for a purpose. 

‘the things which were so important to me as a child, the memories which are seared into my mind, out of which I am assembled, might be meaningless to him. The platform on which my childhood was built has dissolved over time.’

‘Leopard at the Door’ is an extraordinary read for history buffs and I highly recommend this absorbing tale. It will shed light on a dark time and shock you. But for those in any way familiar with this continent, you will understand and appreciate a truthful and realistic portrayal during a momentous time in Kenyan history. 

‘I have forgotten this other side of Kenya: a raw physicality that has no shame in the inevitability of pain.’



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, July 7, 2017

Review: Beneath the Parisian Skies


Title: Beneath the Parisian Skies
Author: Alli Sinclair
Publisher: 19 June 2017 Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 306 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, womens fiction, romance, ballet
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Lily Johansson returns to Paris, the city that broke her heart and destroyed her ballet career, hoping to ease the guilt over her fiance's death and to make amends with her estranged sister Natalie, a ballerina with the Boheme Ballet.

Terrified of loving again, Lily nevertheless finds herself becoming entangled with the driven composer Yves Rousseau. Lily has many reasons for keeping Yves at arm's length but as he recounts the colour, drama and intensity of the Ballets Russes in 1917, the magic of this Bohemian era ignites a spark within her.

Meanwhile, cast in the role of honouring Ballet Russes dancer Viktoriya Budian, Lily's sister Natalie develops an unhealthy obsession. Natalie's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as elements of Viktoriya's tragic life resonate in her own. Lily fears for her sister's safety and sanity so when Natalie goes missing, she and Yves set out on a desperate quest across France to find her and, along the way, battle their own demons.

Could the search for her sister, lead Lily to realise that ballet -- like love and life -- should not be abandoned so easily?

My Thoughts

‘Ballet is medicine in its own way. Think of this—with the world falling apart, isn’t it good to escape reality and go to the theatre?‘

I was happy to read another Alli Sinclair book with her strong focus on dance - I was not disappointed. In fact, I found this one to probably be her best so far. I do however feel, that the synopsis does not do justice in inviting people to this read. Very little is made of the 1917 plot, and to my mind, that was by far the strongest and most compelling story.

This tale is indeed set over two time periods - Lily in the modern day and Viktoriya in 1917. I do love a good dual time narrative and whilst this one was good, as mentioned, the 1917 storyline was by far the stronger. Yes, Lily and her sister had many trials and tribulations to endure (at times getting a little bogged down) and obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately I found both sisters to be petulant and shockingly moody and indecisive. At times I couldn’t wait to return to 1917, it became that uncomfortable. Yves was an absolute saint to put up with Lily as her behaviour was so frustrating.

‘Thankfully, he had the good sense not to question her change in mood.’

Do not let that distract you, however, from the superb story of the ballet world of Paris, 1917. Through a great grandmother and long lost diaries, the link is made between the modern and historical story. Here I was fully engaged with the struggles many of the characters went through. Viktoriya Budian was dedicated and found solace in her ballet. 

‘The only time you fully come to life is when pointes are on your feet and the stage light is shining in your eyes.’

Escaping from Russia and it’s revolutionary period, Viktoriya arrives in Paris to start anew with the famed Ballets Russes. The amount of research Alli has done here, detailing fascinating facts from this time period, is most noteworthy. With World War I still ongoing, ballet did indeed provide a much needed escape and Alli brings many famous faces back to life:

‘Despite the war raging across Europe, Parisians sought solace by immersing themselves in the arts, especially with Picasso, Satie, Matisse and Proust.’

Against this backdrop, Alli brings a story of this Russian girl and all she has worked so hard for, threatening to collapse around her. You will be on the edge of your seat as you witness her life spiral out of control through no fault of her own. There is such sadness and yet moments of pure exhilaration. Overall, I recommend this book, especially so if you are at all interested in ballet. 

‘The storm clouds that had permanently hung over the Paris of her mind had drifted away and were replaced by a magnificent blue now that she had found her home beneath the Parisian skies.’



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, July 4, 2017

Review: Eleventh Hour


Title: Eleventh Hour (Kit Marlowe #8)
Author: M.J. Trow
Publisher: 1 July  2017 Severn House Digital 
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  historical fiction, mystery, Tudor
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:
1590. The queen's spymaster is dead. Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him. Marlowe consults the leading scientists and thinkers in the country, but is convinced that someone is hiding a deadly secret. To outwit the killer, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.

My Thoughts

Sir Francis Walsingham is dead.’ There was no point in trying to break it any other way than directly. Dee had to swallow his cry of surprise. ‘What?’ he mouthed. ‘When? How?’ Marlowe shrugged. ‘When? Two days ago at the eleventh hour. As to how, it depends on whom you ask,’

I was attracted to this book on a number of bases - Tudor, playwrights and mystery! What a great idea to make a twist and propose Walsingham died perchance from sinister means rather than of natural causes! Sign me up!

What I failed to note, however, was that this was book eight in a series. Luckily they are indeed standalone and Trow’s writing of both person and place was well done. I found Kit Marlowe to be a fabulous lead character, such charisma and delightful in his detective role. Assigned the job of hunting for the truth, an array of famous characters cross his path in his search to unveil the villain. I loved Trow’s portrayal of many of these notable Tudor characters; of particular note is the fun way he presented William Shakespeare. So many famous characters Trow brings vividly to life in this classic whodunit.              
         
You are the School of Night,’ Marlowe began.
One of you in this room killed the Queen’s Spymaster. I intend to find out who.’

Problems arise for me because no one was as strong as Marlowe in engaging the reader, and at times I found the plot to be a little confusing. I also found the inclusion of a supernatural element a little out of order. However, if you are a fan of this series, you will undoubtedly be delighted with this latest instalment, embarking with Kit Marlowe on another famous adventure. 

You have a knack for these things,’ he said. ‘A nose for treachery –and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I want to know what was in that cup and who put it there.”




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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Not a Sound

Title: Not a Sound
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Publisher: 1 June 2017 Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, fiction, mystery, suspense
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

A shocking discovery and chilling secrets converge in this latest novel from New York Times bestselling author HEATHER GUDENKAUF

When a tragic accident leaves nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose everything that matters — her job, her husband, David, and her stepdaughter, Nora. Now, two years later and with the help of her hearing dog, Stitch, she is finally getting back on her feet. But when she discovers the body of a fellow nurse in the dense bush by the river, deep in the woods near her cabin, she is plunged into a disturbing mystery that could shatter the carefully reconstructed pieces of her life all over again.

As clues begin to surface, Amelia finds herself swept into an investigation that hits all too close to home. But how much is she willing to risk in order to uncover the truth and bring a killer to justice?

My Thoughts

‘Not a Sound’ was a superb read with loads of action and a suspenseful ending that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The positives of this book are the many facets it contains. To name a few: suspense, personal growth, relationships, hearing impaired, an investigation into the health industry. The characters are unique and captivating and here, one must include the relationship between Amelia & her service dog, Stitch, who just about stole the show! I later learned that the attention to detail regarding the hearing impaired is because Heather Gudenkauf is deaf herself. She obviously uses this as a platform to relate her own personal experiences and does it so well.

‘It wasn’t just losing my hearing, it was the loneliness that came with it, the sense of always being separate, apart from everyone I loved.’

Throughout most of this book, it felt like a movie playing out in my mind - Heather’s writing was so vivid - it’s a classic mystery.  A fast paced suspenseful read that that will most definitely keep you engaged throughout. The wintry setting is atmospheric and you will develop a great sympathy for the leads, Amelia and Stitch. The hurdles she has to overcome are indeed high, however, her determination to not only rise to the challenge but also learn and grow from it is inspiring.

‘Once in awhile, I’ll sit in my car, turn up the radio as loud as it will go and lay my hands on the dash and feel the throbbing pulse of music against my skin.’

My withdrawal of half at star is only because, at times, Amelia’s thoughts become a bit repetitive. You also feel that she takes on a little too much of the detective work but that was due to her loss of reputation I guess. I also loved the fact that romantic relationships was not a front and centre fact, but just played out in the background so as not to detract from Amelia’s personal journey.

‘I need to focus on the here, the now. I can’t rejoin the living when I’m spending so much time thinking about the dead.’

The climax towards the end, I found riveting You can just see it playing out before your eyes, and as events unfold, you will have to read through to the end! It would be enough on its own, but remember Amelia has no hearing and Heather brings in so many other senses that you can only shake your head in disbelief! Add that to the mix and you can see why it’s captivating.

‘Never have I missed my hearing more than now.’

An easy book to read with so many added dimensions that make it a noteworthy suspenseful tale. I highly recommend this entertaining read for all mystery lovers.


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