Thursday, August 18, 2016

Review: The House Between Tides

Title: The House Between Tides
Author: Sarah Maine
Publisher: 2 August 2016 by Atria Books
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Fans of Kate Morton will love this atmospheric and immersive debut novel of a woman who returns to her ancestral home in Scotland and discovers a century-old secret buried in the basement.

Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and returns to her ancestral home, a crumbling estate in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, with the intention of renovating and reselling it as a hotel, much to the dismay of the locals. As she dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers human remains beneath a rotting floorboard in the basement, with few physical clues to identify the body. Who was this person? And why the makeshift grave?

Hungry for answers, Hetty sets out to unravel the estate’s secret—and those of its former inhabitants, including Beatrice Blake, a woman who moved there a century ago with her husband Theo, a famous painter who seemed to be more interested in Cameron, a young local man, than his own wife.
Following whispered rumors and a handful of leads, Hetty soon discovers that no one knows exactly what happened to Beatrice, only that her actions have reverberated throughout history, affecting Hetty’s present in startling ways.

My Thoughts

This sounded like the kind of story I adore -  alternating tales between different time periods: 2010, when Hetty inherits the house, and at the turn of  last century, when artist Theo Blake lived there with his wife, Beatrice. Blake was portrayed as the tormented one:

"Blake was himself a tragic figure. From a meteoric rise which seemed set to place him amongst the greats of British art, he had fallen hard ... somewhere in that broken life, another life had ended. But when? And why?"

Overall it was good, but I did have reservations. At times I really struggled with the book being so very slow in places. I found myself yawning through passages that went for too long - too many walks along those wild, windy beaches. However, I was glad I persevered. I also struggled with the author revealing a clue and then going back to explain. Good tension was built but I didn't like the retrospective explanation:

"Something happened, and whatever it was, it was catastrophic and it stopped him in his tracks."

The mysterious outcome was also fairly predictable, so there were no real big surprises by the end. Still, as a debut, Maine should feel encouraged. Putting her in the same ball park as Kate Morton was rather daunting, but I can see how she may develop over time as this ended up being a promising first book. 

So whilst I would not describe this as a riveting read, it did contain enough intrigue to see me over the line. I enjoyed some secondary aspects to the tale such as, creating preservation areas versus promoting development; and, local livelihoods versus the life of the privileged.  The real winner was perhaps the location itself - wonderful descriptions of the Hebrides. A great sense of atmosphere and beauty was portrayed. Add to that vivid descriptions of Muirlan House itself, and it was captivating. 

"It was his refuge .... a place of wild beauty,... with endless stretches of bone-white sand, vast skies, and the sea - an ever-changing palette."

Despite struggling through some sections, I ultimately enjoyed the journey this book took me on. The dual timelines slowly unravel to a satisfying conclusion with the author using the landscape and wild weather to her advantage.

"a precious place, wild and unspoiled, a sanctuary for more than just the birds."



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, August 13, 2016

Review: The Missing Wife

Title: The Missing Wife
Author: Shiela O'Flanagan
Publisher: 14 June 2016 by Hachette Australia Headline Review
Pages: 480 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

Have you ever wanted to disappear? 

When Imogen Naughton vanishes, everyone who knows her is shocked. She has a perfect marriage. Her handsome husband treats her like a princess. She's always said how lucky she is. So why has she left? And how will she survive without Vince?

What goes on behind closed doors is often a surprise, and Imogen surprises herself by taking the leap she knows she must. But as she begins her journey to find the woman she once was, Imogen's past is right behind her...
Will it catch up with her? And will she be ready to face it if it does?

My Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by this read - consumed it really quickly - always a good sign. So, Imogen goes missing. Instead of returning home to Ireland after a business trip to Paris, she took the opportunity to implement 'The Plan'. What is that? Her carefully crafted escape plan that will allow her to leave Vince, her husband of 5 years and to regain control of her life.

'What’s happened to me? she asked herself. Who am I? Why am I so afraid?'

Obviously it's not your typical chick lit, but also, not too heavy or depressing.  Its about a woman trying to escape from her obsessive and dominating husband. Some of the chapters are told by her husband, which is really insightful, not only on his crazy thoughts but also just  how controlling he is while all the while believing he is doing nothing wrong. The psychological abuse is so subtle it took Imogen a couple of years to recognise it for what it was. 

'And yet she knew that she was taking the line of least resistance over almost everything because it was easier to give in over something trivial than risk days of silent brooding.'

Imogen makes a plan to escape and run away when the opportunity presents itself. This is the story of her escape and how she learns to get by, and the ensuing search that you just know her husband will undertake with the inevitable final showdown.  I also enjoyed the supporting characters who learned about themselves through Imogen.

'Totally alone and uncontactable. Answering to nobody but herself. There was an intense freedom in it.'

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be transported to the south of France with a compelling read about self discovery and making fresh starts, finding ultimate happiness.

‘I suppose we all have times when our defences are down,’ said Lucie. ‘That’s when we make mistakes. Realising it is the key thing. Not making them again is the result of learning.'




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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: The Grazier's Wife

Title: The Grazier's Wife
Author: Barbara Hannay
Publisher: 1 August 2016 by Penguin Books Australia
Pages: 380 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, Australia
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

For three generations of Australian women, becoming a grazier's wife has meant very different things.
For Stella in 1946, it was a compromise in the aftermath of a terrible war.
For Jackie in the 1970s, it was a Cinderella fairytale with an outback prince.
While for Alice in 2015, it is the promise of a bright new future.
Decades earlier, Stella was desperate to right a huge injustice, but now a long-held family secret threatens to tear the Drummond family of Ruthven Downs apart. On the eve of a special birthday reunion, with half the district invited, the past and the present collide, passions are unleashed and the shocking truth comes spilling out.
From glamorous pre-war Singapore to a vast cattle property in Queensland's Far North, this sweeping, emotional saga tests the beliefs and hopes of three strong women as they learn how to hold on to loved ones and when to let go.

My Thoughts

You know those authors - the ones you read without even having referred to the blurb - that is Barbara Hannay - so assured am I of a good read. 'The Grazier’s Wife'  (grazier is an Aussie term for cattle rancher) is yet another compelling historical saga, spanning generations and providing riveting reading.  Stella, Jackie and Alice each play their part across these generations and make proportionally significant contributions to the story. Although I have to confess having a soft spot for Stella and Tom. Hannay is just so adept at switching, not only between time periods but also point of views - it is seamless. Whether you are in war ravaged Singapore, hinterland grazing in Australia or present day country town life - I was never confused about who, what, where or when. In fact, I found it hard to put this book down so involved was I in each of the storylines. 

Seriously, this tale really covers it all and takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Your encounters with each of the three leading ladies is is different and indeed their male counterparts are just as compelling. I am sure you will find it difficult to put down, as did I. I can only relate it to a classic movie, only here you have it in the printed word. Your heart will leap out of your chest with sentiment like:

"When this is over I'm going to find you, and I'll ask you to marry me."

I have to confess that the wartime story and its fallout, touched me the most. I thought it wonderful to give Stella and Tom the final word. Pre and post wartime descriptions of Singapore were outstanding. You were right there sipping champagne at the party, to the terrifying bombings and the utter devastation that followed.

"This is almost like having a whirlwind tour of Asia."

It's always a good sign when I have highlighted little, it testifies to how enthralled and lost to the story I was. I have no hesitation in highly recommending 'The Grazier’s Wife' by an author who - after this instalment - is one of my favourites.




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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Girl in the Afternoon

Title: Girl in the Afternoon: A Novel of Paris
Author: Serena Burdick
Publisher: July 12th 2016 by St. Martin's Press
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, cultural-France
My Rating: 3 cups

Synopsis:

Born into a wealthy Parisian family at the center of Belle Epoque society, 18-year-old Aimée Savaray dreams of becoming a respected painter in the male-dominated art world; and secretly, she also dreams of being loved by Henri, the boy her parents took in as a child and raised alongside her.

But when Henri inexplicably disappears, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, the Savarays’ privileged lives begin to unravel. Heartbroken, Aimée tries to find him, but Henri doesn’t want to be found—and only one member of the family knows why.

As Aimée seeks refuge in the art world, mentored by the Impressionist Édouard Manet, she unwittingly finds her way back to Henri. With so many years gone by and secrets buried, their eventual reunion unmasks the lies that once held the family together, but now threaten to tear them apart.

A rich and opulent saga, Girl in the Afternoon brings the Impressionists to life in this portrait of scandal, fortune, and unrequited love.

My Thoughts

"Girl in the Afternoon' is a historical fiction set in Paris and England in the 1870's during the impressionist movement and revolves around a well off family, their secrets and ensuing scandals. The title of the book is based on a painting that proved pivotal to the story.  The main focus is on the daughter, Aimee, attempting to be her own person but often conflicted with outside circumstances. Overall, this was a good,  but a somewhat predictable mystery.

The writing is at times poetic and the character I enjoyed most was Madame Savaray for the depth she bought to the story.

"Dust floated like a strip of tulle in the dull light. Colette swirled her arm through it, scattering the motes with her open hand."

Unfortunately this books suffers for a few reasons. Burdick launched straight into it, attempting to create intrigue, however, I was not yet invested and for me, it fell flat. I also found the going back and forth between points of views challenging at times, especially within a short passage. This did not assist the story, often feeling like it wasn't going anywhere, and contributed to my lack of involvement with the characters at times. Everything explained, no guessing as told in the third person too often. 

There is a lot of future forecasts interspersed throughout, when all you really wanted was for the story to be told, not inferenced. The preemptive took all the angst, drama and anticipation out of the story.

"he had no idea of the crippling events that would unfold over the next few months" 

Finally, with one third of the book remaining, a compelling story began to unfold and we have raw emotion. Now I was invested, but a little too late. Still, it helped make it a three star, worthwhile read.

"He turned onto his side, feeling the tremendous expanse of Aimee's grief as if it were his own."




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 11, 2016

Review: Love, or Nearest Offer by Adèle Geras

Title: Love, or Nearest Offer
Author: Adèle Geras
Publisher: June 2nd 2016 by Quercus
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, British literature
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
On paper, Iris Atkins is an estate agent, but she's not just good at finding suitable houses for her clients. In fact, she has a gift: Iris is able to see into their lives and understand exactly what is missing and what they need - and not just in bricks-and-mortar terms either. Not that she tells them so; she's more subtle than that. But if you hire Iris Atkins as your agent, you may find you don't just end up with the perfect house you'd never choose for yourself, but the perfect job, the perfect partner... the perfect new life? Of course, concentrating so much on fixing other people's problems doesn't leave much time for examining your own. Over the course of one whirlwind year Iris discovers that while she may know what's best for everyone else, she doesn't necessarily know what's best for herself - and what she finds out could make her happier than she'd ever dreamed of.

My Thoughts:

'Love or Nearest Offer' is the story of people searching for new homes and how their paths cross. Geras tells each story in such an amiable way, that soon you feel like you know each of them so well. I thought Iris might have some special gift upon reading the blurb, but in fact, she just takes a very personal approach involving herself in the lives of her clients, and tried to match their personalities and needs to the house that would suit them best.

The storytelling is easy, undemanding and flows along at a nice pace. It’s light and uncomplicated,making it easy to engage with. The pace being gentle, just fits the book perfectly  There are some ups and downs in the personal tales but nothing so dramatic - just enough to add a bit of interest, no unnecessary drama. I find the greatest appeal of this book is that it is so relatable and true to life with people you could easily know or want to know. A nice light in between kind of book to escape and enjoy on a quiet weekend. 

"She thought of how important houses were. How the right one could make dreams come true and how the wrong one could wreck someone's entire life".



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, July 2, 2016

Review: The Wife's Tale

Title: The Wife's Tale
Author: Christine Wells
Publisher: 2 May 2016 by Penguin Books Australia
Pages: 421 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

An unforgettable novel that transports the reader from modern-day Australia to the windswept Isle of Wight and the courtrooms of London in the 1780s.

With her marriage on the rocks, workaholic lawyer Liz Jones agrees to visit Seagrove, a stately home on the Isle of Wight, while she quietly investigates its provenance on behalf of a client. When she discovers Seagrove is linked to a notorious eighteenth-century court case, Liz becomes fascinated – not only by the house and its history, but also by its current owners.

In the winter of 1789, the infamous Delany Nash scandalised London when details of her alleged affair with her husband's brother were aired in a public courtroom. Yet her journals reveal an extraordinary woman's tale of passion, betrayal and heartbreak.

Captivated by Delany's story, Liz delves into her research but the more she uncovers, the more she risks jeopardising the future of everyone at Seagrove. For there are dark secrets that surround the house, and when the truth emerges the repercussions will echo down through the centuries.
The Wife's Tale is a mesmerising story of love, loyalty and sacrifice.

My Thoughts

‘The Wife’s Tale’ is the perfect blend of historical and contemporary fiction, with a sprinkling of  mystery and romance, you have a great read. I loved how Well's slowly revealed and unravelled the suspense for both timelines - for this is a dual timeline narrative and one done well, which I will expand on shortly. Well's cleverly builds up the plot and characters and the movement between the two eras really is quite seamless. 

Most of the story revolves around 'Seagrove', a grand old house on the Isle of Wight. In the past we have Lady Delany Nash a fabulous heroine and you feel for her and the 18th century restrictions society placed and branded her with. In a time when women had very little influence/power, she demonstrated such strength. In the modern timeline, there is Australian lawyer Liz, who becomes fascinated with Delany’s story and digs deeper through reading her journals.

 "To feel as if you belonged to the house even more than it belonged to you."

I love dual timeline stories, yet they can be difficult to write. Fear not! Christine Wells has pulled it off brilliantly. Both stories captivated me from beginning to end - what a treat! Two for the price of one. It was testimony to great writing, that I was so invested in both storylines and both leading ladies - the characters feel so real. I wanted to know what happened to both Delany and Liz, wishing them both a happily ever after. 

Well's has done her research and intertwines fact and fiction seamlessly. The mystery is well done and the touches of humour add just enough not to confuse genres:

"This bedroom belonged to Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, not to her."

I highly recommend this book as it presents the story of two strong women. I loved the setting, the characters, the story, the mystery, the romance - everything! It's one of those books that you find the time to read, as it calls to you. 




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, June 24, 2016

Review: By Helen's Hand

Title: By Helen's Hand - Helen of Sparta Series, Book 2
Author: Amalia Carosella
Publisher: 10 May 2016 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 429 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, mythology
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

With divine beauty comes dangerous power.
Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.

But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?

My Thoughts

I read 'Helen of Sparta' by Amalia Carosella last year and loved it, and in this novel, find she has presented a worthy sequel to the events leading up to the Trojan War. It continues right where we left off, after Helen was returned to Sparta by her brothers. Therefore it would be advisable, for maximum enjoyment, to have read the first book. 

It's difficult to review this book without revealing anything major, however, suffice to say,  I have mixed feelings about By Helen's Hand. Without a doubt Carosella writes well, yet I found the first part of this book to be somewhat slow and repetitive as Helen is constantly missing Theseus, fearing Menelaus and ruing the curse of her beauty.

"I would not give up hope, for I was certain that so long as there was a breath in his body, Theseus would fight to reach me."

What is enjoyable about both books is the full cast of characters - mythology in abundance! Carosella brings to life some of the most famous figures of Greek history - there is a great array of interesting characters. Overall, this is a book about love, friendship, family and fate (in the hands of the Gods). I find it refreshing how Helen is portrayed as more than 'just a pretty face' - Carosella makes her very real and unique, someone who is struggling against her fate.  

Personally, I also struggled with the ending of the novel because it seemed a little rushed, strange and not what I was expecting at all! I have to admit to feeling a little dissatisfied. I understand there are conflicting versions and it is mythology, but it just didn't sit right with me after all I had experienced through the two books. 

Overall, however,  I did like both books and think they are well worth a read for anyone interested in Ancient Greek mythology. They offer insight into what proceeds the Trojan War, providing real substance to the face 'launched a thousand ships', a portrayal of the woman who truly deserved to be known for more than just that. 




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.