Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer

Title:  Lyrebird Hill

Author: Anna Romer
Publisher:  September 1st 2014 by Simon & Schuster AU
ISBN: 9781922052421
Pages:  416 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, contemporary
Our Rating: 4 1/2 cups

Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of Thornwood House

When all that you know comes crashing down, do you run? Or face the truth?

Ruby Cardel has the semblance of a normal life – a loving boyfriend, a fulfilling career – but in one terrible moment, her life unravels. The discovery that the death of her sister, Jamie, was not an accident makes her question all she’s known about herself and her past.

Travelling back home to Lyrebird Hill, Ruby begins to remember the year that has been forever blocked in her memory . . . Snatches of her childhood with beautiful Jamie, and Ruby’s only friendship with the boy from the next property, a troubled foster kid.

Then Ruby uncovers a cache of ancient letters from a long-lost relative, Brenna Magavin, written from her cell in a Tasmanian gaol where she is imprisoned for murder. As she reads, Ruby discovers that her family line is littered with tragedy and violence.

Slowly, the gaps in Ruby’s memory come to her. And as she pieces together the shards of truth, what she finally discovers will shock her to the core – about what happened to Jamie that fateful day, and how she died.

A thrilling tale about family secrets and trusting yourself.

Our thoughts:

This novel was such a treat! After reading and being engrossed in Anna Romer’s first book, ‘Thornwood House’, we were eager to see what this second tale would bring. We were not disappointed! We can clearly state that any time in the future we would not hesitate to buy anything this author produces. ‘Lyrebird Hill’ follows on from Anna Romer's successful debut novel and without doubt, it keeps you on the edge of your seat page after page. It is so very engaging yet, as the end draws near, you become hesitant to finish it, finding it difficult to extract yourself from the mystique Romer has wrapped around your literary soul. For you see this is a tale full of wonderful surprises, unexpected twists and turns that had us emailing each other frantically thinking about events that transpired long after the chapter had closed.

“Features began to emerge on the paper, the charcoal lines almost too faint to see at first, like marks made by the random fluttering of dusty moth wings".

Lyrebird Hill is a compelling story, evocative of the rural Australian landscape; it’s easy to hear the song of the now departed lyrebirds, smell the eucalypt trees in the morning dew or hear the gurgle of the water down a rocky crevice. All your literary senses will be engaged with this rich and sumptuous prose:

“It was a lyrical painting, magical - a summer song rendered in pigment and light".

A stunningly beautiful tale with tragic secrets – past and present - Aussie author Anna Romer paints the Australia bush in such vivid imagery that it forces you to pause and ponder. The blending of the two stories, related by Brenna in 1898 and Ruby in 2013, was done seamlessly. We found ourselves madly flipping pages as the mystery and intrigue is so very gripping and intense, yet conversely, events transpired that were sad and at times sorrowful:

“The fabric of my life began to fray, develop holes. Through those holes I caught glimpses of a past I had not, until now, considered”.

The concept of secrecy is not confined simply to the occurrences within the story, as the author insightfully explores the way in which we all, to some extent or another, and for reasons ranging from sympathetic to nefarious, hide our true selves from the world at large.  Romer brilliantly uses the notion of masks, both literal and figurative, to illustrate that not all are as they seem, and a pleasant fa├žade can hide a distasteful interior and vice versa.

The mask you wear might be grotesque, or quirky, or plain; or it might be one of extraordinary beauty – but it’s still only a mask. If you peel it away and look in the mirror, who do you see gazing back?”

Romer slowly lays out all the puzzle pieces and begins to assemble them, piece by piece, with the final placement ever so magical. A story steeped in sensational revelations, we waited with bated breath for the concluding downpour of truth:

“In its place, was a faint feeling of completeness, as if a tiny, overlooked puzzle piece had slotted perfectly into the larger picture of who I really was.”

The slight tarnish of a half star removal is because we felt there were characters that may have possible links, events that needed fuller disclosure, connections that were not complete in our own minds – but maybe, that was what the author intended after all – a story to keep you thinking long after the final page is turned:

“A jumble of disjointed events, a jigsaw puzzle with most of the its pieces still rattling around in the box…I had hoped to find answers here at Lyrebird Hill, and I had – but they still weren’t slotting as neatly into place as I had hoped”.

What Romer produces here is inspiring and the supplemental material provided by her at the end of the book sheds great light on the process she goes through in bringing these tales to life.  Australia should be excited! Lyrebird Hill cements Romer’s reputation at the forefront of Australian fiction. Here is hoping those scrapbooks of stories untold get dusted off by this exceptionally talented writer. We loved this book and highly recommend it to all who love a well-told and cleverly crafted mystery.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster, and NetGalley for the advanced copy to review.








Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Teaser: Lyrebird Hill


(Credits: #craftybuttondesigns)

 We are currently reading the most beautiful and cleverly crafted book! LYREBIRD HILL, by talented Aussie author Anna Romer, has us completely engrossed and reading feverishly to see how the story unfolds. Australian release date is September 1, 2014, but until then take a look at this gorgeous trailer to get a glimpse of the mesmerizing tale that awaits you within its pages:




Sunday, August 24, 2014

GIVEAWAY: The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones (and more!)

Today we want to share some news with you about an upcoming release that we are very excited about. THE SHARP HOOK OF LOVE by Sherry Jones will be releasing October 7, 2014, and we have been fortunate enough to receive an advance copy! We can't wait to get started reading, and once you read the description we think you will see why!

The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones:

The first retelling of the passionate, twelfth-century love story since the discovery of 113 lost love letters between Heloise d’Argenteuil and Pierre Abelard—the original Romeo and Juliet.

He was the most famous philosopher in the world, a headmaster and a poet whose dashing good looks would make any woman swoon. She was Paris’s most brilliant young scholar, beautiful and wry, and his student. Forbidden by the church and society to love each other, these enchanting lovers defied all the rules to follow their own hearts and risk everything that mattered to them, including each other. An illicit child, a secret marriage, a vengeful uncle: nothing can come between them—until a vicious attack tears them apart forever…or does it?

Incorporating original text from their achingly beautiful love letters, this is the tale of Heloise and Abelard, whose love affair, like that of Romeo and Juliet, and Antony and Cleopatra, has become one of the greatest stories of all time. The Sharp Hook of Love is an imaginative, intimate, and erotic portrayal of the star-crossed lovers whose tale of passion and tragedy still touches hearts today.


Doesn't that sound just fabulous? Well, here is the best part...You have an opportunity to win a copy of your very own!

GIVEAWAY!

Sherry's publisher, Gallery Books (a division of Simon and Schuster) is giving away 30 copies of THE SHARP HOOK OF LOVE on Goodreads! So run on over there and sign up for a chance to win. The giveaway runs until September 4th, and this link will take you straight to the giveaway page:


 BONUS GIVEAWAY!

And if one giveaway isn't enough, check this out!

Who doesn't love an evil queen? Sherry Jones is giving away 100 downloads of her popular e-novella WHITE HEART, about Blanche de Castille, the White Queen of France and the wicked mother-in-law in FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS. Sign up today for a Sept. 4 drawing!

"Great writing, superb research and colorful characters" -- Amazon review
 


So go and get signed up for your chances to win and then keep an eye out here for our upcoming review of The Sharp Hook of Love. GOOD LUCK!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Title:  The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher:  Viking Adult (July 15 2014)
ISBN: 9780670025596
Pages: 561 pages
How We Read It: purchased ebook
Genre: adult fiction, paranormal
Previous books in this series: A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night

Synopsis:
The highly anticipated finale to the #1 New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with A Discovery of Witches

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches — with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

With more than one million copies sold in the United States and appearing in thirty-eight foreign editions, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night have landed on all of the major bestseller lists and garnered rave reviews from countless publications. Eagerly awaited by Harkness’s legion of fans, The Book of Life brings this superbly written series to a deeply satisfying close. 

Our Thoughts:

As we mentioned in our 'Countdown' post in early July, this novel topped the list of our most anticipated releases of 2014. And, as expected, it was absolute heaven to once again immerse ourselves in this magical world Deb Harkness has created and to reconnect with these beloved characters. This is one of those books (as are the previous two) that draws you in so completely you feel as though you are living the tale right alongside the characters.

Knowing that this was the final book of the trilogy, we wanted to savor every page and not rush ourselves, but even so, the writing is so exquisite and the story so captivating that the pages just flew by, and it was over much too quickly. But what a read it was! A-MAZ-ING!! We actually had to take some time to collect ourselves before we could write this review, because immediately after finishing the book we were left so completely awestruck we could manage little more than a resounding, "Wow, wow, WOW!"

There are so very many things we loved about this novel, but it would be nearly impossible to mention anything too specific without revealing spoilers, so we will do our best to restrict ourselves to 'safer' and more general commentary, including some thoughts on the trilogy as a whole.

To put it simply, this book has it ALL - mystery, adventure, magic, science, history, romance, humor, everything! - and it is written so beautifully and with such extreme intelligence that it is truly outstanding. The way in which Professor Harkness is able to weave all the threads together into such a complex and interconnected, yet utterly compelling, narrative is nothing short of incredible, and it most certainly reflects her skill as a teacher. After reading these books and watching her speak at book signing events, we found ourselves feeling quite envious of her students! Not surprisingly, being the works of a historian, all three of these books are brimming with marvelous historical details, as well as loads of clever Easter Eggs, which add even more depth and texture to the tale. Fortunately, the story is so well constructed it is perfectly satisfying even without uncovering these hidden gems; however, attempting to discover them all provides an added measure of enjoyment and interest to subsequent re-reads. It's like going on a literary treasure hunt!

Another testament to Harkness's skill as a storyteller is the level of attachment we feel to so many of her characters. We love these characters fiercely! They, too, have amazing depth and complexity. All are flawed but fascinating, multi-layered and so fully engaging, just as the books overall are, that you simply can't help but become emotionally invested. All of our main characters are back in this volume, as well as a few new faces alongside some of the favorites we met while visiting Elizabethan England in Shadow of Night. With such a large and varied cast, things could easily become confusing, but Harkness handles them all extremely well and manages to gently refresh your memory throughout the book in an understated and timely manner that never feels like a blatant info dump. This is very helpful for those who have not read the first two books recently and may need a bit of a reminder.

The Book of Life covers a lot of ground and brings the All Souls Trilogy to a brilliant and extremely satisfying conclusion. While not every single loose end is neatly tied up and delivered to the reader, Harkness covers all of the major mysteries and gives enough hints regarding most of the remaining dangling threads that readers can intuit their own conclusions quite well. Underlying the story is a subtle social commentary on segregation, prejudice, and political ambition, as well as admirable messages regarding tolerance and acceptance, both of others and of oneself. All of these aspects are very naturally integrated within the story and do not come across as high-handed in any way.

Of course, the heart of this tale is still, as always, the love story between Matthew and Diana, and their struggle against all obstacles to be together. Their relationship evolves, as do their individual personalities, but their love remains constant and unfailing.

"To every question I have ever had,
or ever will have, you are the answer."

"Before you I was nothing but dust and shadows.
You brought me to life. And I cannot survive without you."

There are many humorous moments interspersed throughout the novel that provide a bit of comic relief to offset the heavier themes and will have readers smiling and even laughing outright.

But if there is one overriding theme to this book, it would have to be the power and virtue of family, born or made, and the idea that, in the end, what is truly important is what unites us, not what separates us. And that is something that everyone can relate to, no matter what particular DNA they happen to be blessed with.

"Our family had begun with the surprising love that developed between Matthew and me. It grew because our bond was strong enough to withstand the hatred and fear of others. And it would endure because we had discovered, like the witches so many centuries ago, that a willingness to change was the secret to survival."

Thank you to Deb Harkness for creating this thoroughly enchanting world. We could spend a VERY long time here without complaint, and we wholeheartedly endorse this book as the best we have read all year. And yet, it is a bittersweet satisfaction, because we are also quite heartbroken this trilogy is at an end. We have loved every single moment of it, and it is terribly hard to say goodbye.

Thank goodness Deb has said she has many more stories to share with the world...eventually. We cannot imagine never having the joy of reading more fiction from this exceptional author, and so we will wait, as patiently as we can, for her creative well to refill and for her to delight us once again with her next 'tale to tell'. Here's hoping it happens sooner rather than later!

(No pressure, Deb, really...well, maybe just a little bit...and, by the way, we would not be opposed if said future release possibly centered around a certain lovable Gael...just sayin'.)
 
 Our Rating:
(Five GIANT-SIZED teacups!)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teaser: The Book of Life


We have finished The Book of Life! How amazing was it?
Find out in our review coming soon!

(Credits: #annaaspnes #oscraps)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

Title: Moonlight Plains

Author: Barbara Hannay
Publisher:  August 27th 2014 Penguin Australia
ISBN: 9781921901928
Pages:  384 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, romance, women’s fiction, cultural Australia
Our Rating: 2 cups

Synopsis:
In 1942, as the Japanese sweep towards northern Australia and allied troops swarm into Townsville, Kitty Martin is sent inland to the safety of Moonlight Plains. But when two American airmen crash on the isolated property, she is forced to grow up fast, coming face to face with tragedy, with love . . . and with heartbreak.

Years on, and Sally Piper, a young journalist, is sent to Moonlight Plains to cover the story of a cattleman turned builder who is restoring his grandmother's forgotten homestead. Sparks fly between them, but Sally is struggling to let go of the past, and Luke has his eyes fixed firmly on the future.

What they uncover together is a shocking secret that has been kept safe for more than seventy years. Now the entire family's happiness is at stake – or does the truth about the past hold a valuable lesson for the future?

From the internationally acclaimed and award-winning romance writer Barbara Hannay comes this breathtaking novel about finding love against all the odds. It will have you smiling – and crying – from beginning to end.

Our thoughts:

Multi award winning author, Barbara Hannay sets most of her 40 plus books in rural Australia and they are enjoyed by readers from all around the world. Due for release on 27 August, is Hannay’s latest novel – Moonlight Plains.  If you’re a lover of some Australian wartime history, coupled with dual timeline storytelling, then this is the book for you!

The present day story centres on Sally and Luke and is a modern romance, as they face everyday life issues in an Australian rural setting. The more pertinent and engaging story involved Kitty and her encounter with an American airman in World War II. That, we felt, was the more interesting aspect for readers.

For us though, the story seemed somewhat predictable. We were hoping – based on the premise – for more intrigue and mystery and there is great potential in the line up of characters and locations.

“Each generation had to be judged by the values of their day
 and not by the values of current ways of thinking.”

However, there are no big twists in this story, it seemed a bit contrived and predictable in places. There are quite a few characters to keep track of in this dual timeline and two continent tale. The writing is easy going but the story was not fully engaging; the author does not really delve below the superficial with her plot or character development. We wish she had but it’s just not that kind of read.

So, if you enjoy a light, romantic read, that you don’t really have to think about too much, then you can sit back and enjoy the tale of Moonlight Plains. It’s a good ol’ fashioned wartime romance as told in many movies of bygone days, here for you to read and enjoy - only this time the setting is far north Queensland, Australia and that makes a nice change.

“Fate, if you believe in it, walks such a precarious tightrope. The wrong decisions are made despite the best of intentions. Words that should have been spoken are held back for fear of causing upset. I’ve been looking back, however, and thinking about you”.

Does the truth about the past hold a valuable lesson for the future?

Our Rating:

 Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Teaser: Moonlight Plains


              Coming soon! An Aussie Outback tale to get you thinking!

                                                    (Credits: #rhonnadesignsapp #masterfxapp)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Title:  The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

Author: Bernie Su and Kate Rorick 
Publisher:  June 24th 2014 by Touchstone
ISBN: 1476763216 (ISBN13: 9781476763217)
Pages:  288 pages
Source of Book: ARC NetGalley ebook
Genre: contemporary, romance, retelling

Synopsis:

A modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice based on the Emmy Award-winning phenomenon, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

There is a great deal that goes into making a video blog. Lizzie Bennet should know, having become a YouTube sensation over the course of her year-long video diary project. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries chronicled Lizzie’s life as a twenty-four-year-old grad student, struggling under a mountain of student loans and living at home with her two sisters; beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. What may have started as her grad student thesis grew into so much more, as the videos came to inform and reflect her life and that of her sisters. When rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck-up friend William Darcy, things really start to get interesting for the Bennet’s and for Lizzie’s viewers. Suddenly Lizzie who always considered herself a fairly normal young woman was a public figure. But not everything happened on-screen. Luckily for us, Lizzie kept a secret diary. 

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet provides more character introspection as only a book can, with revelatory details about the Bennet household, including Lizzie’s special relationship with her father, untold stories from Netherfield, Lizzie’s thoughts and fears about life after grad school and becoming an instant web celebrity.


My thoughts: (reviewed by Helen)

Okay, never one to be at the forefront of what’s ‘hip’, I admit to jumping on the “Lizzie Bennet” train late – way too late. Finally when the YouTube sensation had crossed my path enough times I decided to check out a couple of videos (each only ranging from about 3-4 minutes) – in a word “AWESOME” – loved them! Fortunately fate would see me train jumping at maybe the right time after all, as two years on from the online sensation the book has just been released *happy dance*.

I say it right from the start, I love Pride and Prejudice and I am not afraid to sample the plethora of material out there pertaining to the original, spin-offs and modern adaptations. However, if you live and breathe everything about Lizzie and Darcy and are open to a very modern and highly amusing adaptation, then this is the book for you. The book does stand alone but obviously an appreciation of the original Austen story and maybe a visual sighting of some of the characters from the web series will very much enrich your experience. And if you have already watched the web series you will not be disappointed as so much more depth and detail and behind the scenes intrigue is contained in this book.

The very clever aspect of this book is how it faithfully follows plotlines and moments of Pride & Prejudice. Faithfully, but with a modern retelling that allows it to make more sense in the present day.

Darcy: “I know you like to walk, but if you prefer, we can have the car ….”
Lizzie: “No. It’s too nice a day to not walk”

And:

Ms De Bourgh: “Do you go by Lizzie or Liz? …… Of course it’s Liz. No grown woman would ever go by such a juvenile name as Lizzie”.

For all its amusing anecdotes and re-enactments, there is still some really worthy messages:

“Charlotte sends her love …. No she’s not married yet … because she’s working very hard and doesn’t need a man to define her”.

Or:

“I have a lot of ambitions and dreams for what I want to do with my life: I want to be able to effect change. To make at least my small corner of the world better in some way. To inspire and be inspired."

If you're a fan of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, then you must read this book! I thoroughly enjoyed it as it gives the web series an added dimension; the two really go hand in hand, complimenting each other and perpetuating the never aging tale that is Pride & Prejudice.

My Rating:


 Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.