Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: The Hidden Hours

Title: The Hidden Hours
Author: Sara Foster
Publisher: 1 April 2017 by Simon & Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, thriller
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

My Thoughts

This is not generally a genre I delve into often, however, given how much I enjoyed, ‘All That is Lost Between Us’, I was ready to give it a go. This latest instalment, ‘The Hidden Hours’ , is another great thriller by Aussie author Sara Foster, filled with tragedy, trauma, loads of emotional intensity and great sadness. It’s a classic "who done it", that will keep you reading to the very end, as gradually the layers are pulled apart and the full story revealed.

‘Her world is beginning to unravel, pulling at the threads that bind the husk of her nine-year-old self, exposing the cruel edges of all that the years have failed to smother.’

Eleanor has suffered some tragic event that you are never really sure about (until the end). However the chapters alternate with present and past, and gradually reveal the trauma that she carries with her into adulthood. She is deeply troubled and, at times, it became a little repetitive and mopey  - I wanted things to move a little faster. You understand how she has trouble trusting but she is very indecisive and so easily manipulated at times. All part of her character trait, I understand, but just a little slow at times as the author tries to demonstrate such loneliness and utter despair.

‘Yet it has reminded her of how multi-faceted people are –constantly choosing which of their many sides to turn to the light. Perhaps it’s not something to be so wary of; perhaps it’s just a way of getting through life. Is self-protection really such a bad thing?’

The tale certainly gains momentum the further into it you get, with the mystery of Eleanor’s past and her current predicament, full of enough intrigue to keep you guessing. The little touches I really appreciated was Sara’s inclusion of small snippets from a variety of viewpoints at the beginning of each chapter - that was well done. So whilst I loved Sara’s previous book, this one was good but not quite up to the same standard. Still I am interested to see with what she comes up with next and will take the plunge into this genre most certainly one more time - a testament to good writing and story making.

‘She daren’t look around in case she catches someone’s eye, because in that moment of connection, when their eyes lock, it is as though she cannot shutter the window to her soul, and they might peer in and see everything she most wants to hide.’



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, April 17, 2017

Review: Her Mother's Secret

Title: Her Mother’s Secret
Author: Natasha Lester
Publisher: 28 March 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance, historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

A sweeping story of love and ambition from England to the Manhattan of the 1920s and 1940s by the author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD

1918, England. Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora's life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father's chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father's life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . In Manhattan, Leo works hard to make her cosmetics dream come true, but she's a woman alone with a small salary and a society that deems make-up scandalous.

1939, New York City. Everett's daughter, Alice, a promising ballerina, receives a mysterious letter inviting her to star in a series of advertisements for a cosmetics line. If she accepts she will be immortalized like dancers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ginger Rogers. Why, then, are her parents so quick to forbid it?


My Thoughts

Last year I read ‘A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald’ by Natasha and just loved it. Therefore I had been greatly anticipating the release of ‘Her Mother’s Secret’ for many months - could it possibly live up to the same standards? Well, I am here to tell you that indeed it does! Natasha’s novel, without doubt, firmly places her at the forefront of Australian historical literature. I adored this book, whipping through it in record time.

Right from the beginning this tale will capture you, placing you under a spell until completion. It’s difficult to review as you simply don’t want to give anything away. Yet truly this tale has a little something for everyone: a sweeping saga from post World War I to World War II, where you will find friendship, love, intrigue, mystery and plenty of drama.

‘Denial was the only option. Because to move past denial meant asking a question that was at once so irresistible and so catastrophic that Leo couldn’t begin to contemplate it.’

What becomes apparent right from the outset is the depth of research undertaken by Natasha, especially concerning the cosmetics industry. Also included is the specified gender roles of the time, the impact of war on industry, glorious fashion and most importantly, the role of women in this new world order - strong, ambitious and determined women trying to make a place for themselves outside of the traditional home.

‘To battle the barbarism of dancing, flirting and lipstick. I see men hit their wives or their children almost every day down by the tenements and nobody blinks an eye. But a woman dares to rouge her cheeks and they cry out for guns to defeat her.’

Just as in ‘A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald’, Natasha demonstrates a real talent in presenting characters that you feel you know. You become a part of the story and take each step along their journey. There will be ones you admire like Leo and ones you love to hate like Faye. Character development is so rich, that the array of supporting characters, (crucial to the development of this story) like Ben and Faye, will develop to the point where you will come to not only understand, but accept and in the end, sympathise with.

I believe this book cements Natasha at the forefront of historical fiction with meticulous research, endearing characters involved in a mystery set against the backdrop of between world wars. I cannot recommend it highly enough and can’t wait to see what Natasha comes up with next.

‘...unable to stop the tears from falling, feeling at last defended, like a single musical note that had finally found the symphony to which it belonged.’





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, April 13, 2017

Review: A Letter from Italy

Title: A Letter from Italy
Author: Pamela Hart
Publisher: 14 March 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 333 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, womens fiction
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

Inspired by the life of the world's first woman war correspondent, Australia's Louise Mack, the most sweeping love story yet by Pamela Hart

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.

A passionate and poignant love story set on the beautiful Italian coast by the bestselling author of The Soldier's Wife and The War Bride

My Thoughts


‘What was a girl from Sydney doing standing on a barbed-wired beach in Italy in the darkness of night with a Venetian smuggler and a photographer from New York?’

I was ecstatic when I received this book to review and now having turned the last page, my sigh is a contented one. Having read Pamela Hart books before, my expectations were high and she did not let me down. A Letter from Italy is historical fiction at its best.

Inspired by the world's first woman war correspondent, this tale is real and heart breaking, a moving tribute to her courage and strength. A Letter from Italy tells the story of Rebecca Quinn, abandoned by her husband, choosing to remain in Italy to continue corresponding war news, overcoming many an obstacle in the process. This truly is a testimony to the courage and persistence of many women during these challenging times. When women had little to no rights (especially in Italy at the time), she stands her ground taking on men and inspiring those around her.

‘For the sake of every girl in the world who might like to be a journalist, of every woman who wanted to stop writing about fashion and hairstyles, and engage with meatier stories, she had to succeed. She had to.’

However, there is much more to this story (as if that wasn’t enough) and it’s fast pace will keep you turning the pages. There is the stunning Italian coastline brought to life under an armada of warships. There is the war itself and the bravery undertaken by those both at the front and left behind. Read along as a traditional way of living is questioned and challenged and ultimately, must learn to evolve. And then there are the array of remarkable characters, adding real substance to the entire tale - from Nonna Rosa down to villagers escaping the bombing.

‘Did they have the right to expect women here to speak up, to agitate, to join the cause when they were part of a civilisation which had stayed unchanged for so long, and endured so successfully?’

Now I must take a moment to talk about the lovely Sandro/Al Baker. He is just wonderful in so many ways. Ineligible to fight, he learns to face the fallout both in America and Italy - but where exactly does he fit in? Is he Al or Sandro? Is he American or Italian? As he struggles to find his place both in society and within himself, he will take you on a photographic journey of these troubling times. Throughout it all you cannot help but admire and hope that his well deserved happy ending might indeed come.  

‘He was so dependable. Solid and real and human, always calm. She could rely on him.’

A Letter from Italy just flows so beautifully. The characters are rich and engaging; the plot involves many intricately woven threads throughout; the descriptions of Italy and its people are memorable. This is such a great story which captivated me from the beginning and did not let go until the fitting conclusion. If you want great Australian historical fiction, then Pamela Hart is your ‘go to’.



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, April 10, 2017

Review: London Bound

Title: London Bound (Heart of the City #3)
Author: C J Duggan
Publisher: 26 March 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

London Bound is third standalone novel in CJ Duggan's HEART OF THE CITY series.
Like so many of her university friends, Kate Brown is London bound, but unlike her friends - who had the chance to enjoy the beer, sights and attractions of the UK - Kate is instead visiting her grandmother (who may or may not be the devil).
Wanting nothing more than to be a normal, independent twenty-something living it up in ol' London town, Kate finds herself a prisoner in her grandmother's Kensington terrace, daydreaming about the holiday that could have been. But when Kate is almost run over by the ridiculously good looking Jack Baker, it leaves her wondering if being out and about is such a good idea after all, especially when she catches herself laughing at his jokes.
One thing Kate knows for sure is that she has to avoid Jack at all costs. But with her balcony facing his, you can pretty much guarantee Kate's London adventure is going to be anything but boring . . .
Paris Lights and New York Nights are books 1 and 2 in the series respectively. Each book can be read as a stand alone novel.

My Thoughts

“This was what Tom Hanks must have felt like in that movie Castaway, but if I painted a face on one of Nana’s designer bags and called it Wilson I suspect that would mean I had reached my limit.”

When I came across the first of CJ Duggan’s ‘Heart of the City’ series, I did not realise the fun reads I would be in for. With a common theme of an Aussie girl overseas in a big city coming across local suave guy, it was bound to be amusing. Each book is unique and definitely a standalone with Duggan providing you with many laugh out loud moments.

“I let the anger fuel my steps, though Lord knows running in a ball gown was no easy feat –no wonder Cinderella had lost her bloody shoe.”

I thought Paris Lights was hysterical, New York Nights great and although this latest entry, London Bound was good, it was not up to the level of the other two in my opinion. It just did not seem to flow as well as the other two - perhaps a little more detail on why Jack liked Kate so much or why Nanna Joy was so grumpy would have helped create a deeper understanding. What I loved about the first two books was how Australian the girls were - that unique voice seemed not to be so prevalent here. In fact it was hard to believe Kate was mid twenties. From the way she acted she appeared more adolescent.

However, if I set those issues aside, I was still engaged enough to recommend this book. These books are about witty banter, burning chemistry, hilarious and sexy encounters. I have enjoyed each trip around the world so far and can’t wait to see where CJ Duggan takes us next.

“I was about to go from a nearly contented recluse to living the life of a Golden Girl.”




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, April 7, 2017

Review: Beauty of the Beast

Title: Beauty of the Beast
Author: Rachel L. Demeter
Publisher: 15 March 2017 by Rachel L. Demeter
Pages: 361 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, fairytale retellings, fantasy
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

Experience the world’s most enchanting and timeless love story—retold with a dark and realistic twist.

A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST

Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.

A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE

Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more…

Perfect for fans of Beauty and the Beast and The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty of the Beast brings a familiar and well-loved fairy tale to life with a rich setting in the kingdom of Demrov and a captivating, Gothic voice.

My Thoughts

“She could only focus on the man before her—this strange man who both frightened and excited her, who cried out in the night, who could touch her with an impossible gentleness, and who knew the depths of a darkness she couldn’t comprehend.”

Beauty of the Beast is a stand-alone historical romance, an adult retelling of Beauty and the Beast (see disclaimer below). I found this version to be a great retelling of one of my favourite tales and it truly is a mash of Beauty and the Beast (following the storyline) with Phantom of the Opera (a severely scarred man who turns recluse) and finally Cinderella (two mean stepsisters).

“Adam’s external scars weren’t the worst of his pains; likewise, his true torment lay deep inside, seared across his soul.”

This is a story about bravery - a girl who ran away from an abusive relationship; a boy who endured both physical and mental scarring from an early age. When their paths cross it becomes a tale of survival to friendship to love. Adam and Isabelle are a good couple, and with so much of the book dedicated to just the two of them, it’s nice to go through every step of their relationship from beginning to conclusion. In fact even the additional characters have good depth; for example, the background to Gaston.

“Self-disgust twisted inside him. He was truly a beast, a monster, and in every sense of the word.”

It’s a rich read with a dark feel (again, see disclaimer below) but one also filled with hope. Why not five stars? One of the issues I had concerns the repetition of words/phrases throughout the story that got a little tiresome, for example:

“I am losing myself to her”

And although the chemistry and sexual tension is both profound and prolific, at times, it seemed the author just included one too many sessions that, I felt, did not fit with the story. Steamy XXX scenes that proved detrimental to that particular passage, time and place.

“It took every bit of his willpower not to scoop Isabelle in his arms and devour her lush, crimson lips.”

Overall, however, I like the artistic license the author took with this classic tale - spinning her own plot twists and turns, but still maintaining allegiance to the original story. Adding that touch of realism (there are obvious differences from the original tale)  to magical fantasy was well done. For what you have here is a new, darker, adult version that is very readable. I loved the writing, the characters even the cover truly encapsulates this clever read.

“Suddenly she felt like she’d been thrust into a fairy tale—into a world of magic and romantic hushed secrets.”


Disclaimer: This is an edgy, historical romance retelling of the classic fairy tale. Due to strong sexual content, profanity, and dark subject matter, including an instance of sexual assault committed by the villain, Beauty of the Beast is not intended for readers under the age of 18.



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, April 1, 2017

Review: Love in an English Garden

Title: Love in an English Garden
Author: Victoria Connelly
Publisher: 14 March 2017 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:
The Jacobs family has lived at Orley Court for generations. But when Vanessa Jacobs’s husband dies and leaves the property to her, she finds costs spiralling out of control. In order to stay in their beloved home, she and her daughters will have to sell part of it off—a decision that drives a wedge between Vanessa and her live-in mother-in-law.
The new owners of the north wing are Laurence Sturridge and his father, Marcus. Laurence wants to escape the constant pressure of his corporate job in London, while Marcus longs to heal from the grief of losing his wife. Could the beauty of Orley Court offer them a fresh outlook on life?
As the two families embark on a challenging new chapter over the course of a glorious English summer, secrets are revealed and relationships tested. But as Orley Court begins to weave its magic over them, will it be love, above all, that brings the two families together?

My Thoughts

‘These old houses might not seem to change over the decades, but they do. People come and go and leave their marks, their memories.’

Victoria Connelly fans will be very happy with her latest instalment. If you love stories set in England, with a manor house and a good ol’ English garden, then this is the book for you. This slow and sentimental journey, told at a very relaxed pace and calm manner, is much like taking a trip to Orley Court and its gardens.

The story has a variety of storylines, but mostly focuses around two families and how they deal with loss, love and country living in a modern day manor home. The setting is wonderful with rich descriptions of the home and the rejuvenation of the gardens. There are three generations and each have their own tale to tell and it’s lovely to see how they all interact together and slowly but surely, overcome that final hurdle to have their happy ever after.

I did find it at times a little too slow and somewhat repetitive, characters getting bogged down of their own making. The upfront honesty of Jazzy proved a welcome relief amongst the blunders of other characters. However, for a reflective read, take some time out from your busy life, much like Laurence did, and take a trip to Orley Court.

Now, each morning when his alarm clock shook him out of sleep, he would wake with a groan. ‘And that is no way to live,’


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