Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: The Invitation

Title: The Invitation
Author: Lucy Foley
Publisher: August 2nd 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical/general fiction, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups


An evocative love story set along the Italian Riviera about a group of charismatic stars who all have secrets and pasts they try desperately--and dangerously--to hide.

Rome, 1953: Hal, an itinerant journalist flailing in the post-war darkness, has come to the Eternal City to lose himself and to seek absolution for the thing that haunts him. One evening he finds himself on the steps of a palazzo, walking into a world of privilege and light. Here, on a rooftop above the city, he meets the mysterious Stella. Hal and Stella are from different worlds, but their connection is magnetic. Together, they escape the crowded party and imagine a different life, even if it's just for a night. Yet Stella vanishes all too quickly, and Hal is certain their paths won't cross again.

But a year later they are unexpectedly thrown together, after Hal receives an invitation he cannot resist. An Italian Contessa asks him to assist on a trip of a lifetime--acting as a reporter on a tremendous yacht, skimming its way along the Italian coast toward Cannes film festival, the most famous artists and movie stars of the day gathered to promote a new film.

Of all the luminaries aboard--an Italian ingenue, an American star, a reclusive director--only one holds Hal in thrall: Stella. And while each has a past that belies the gilded surface, Stella has the most to hide. As Hal's obsession with Stella grows, he becomes determined to bring back the girl she once was, the girl who's been confined to history.

An irresistibly entertaining and atmospheric novel set in some of the world's most glamorous locales, THE INVITATION is a sultry love story about the ways in which the secrets of the past stay with us--no matter how much we try to escape them.

My Thoughts

“You know, my friend, I have found that the best way to come to terms with one’s past is like this, through talk. It is painful, but, little by little, it helps to diffuse its power.”

This is a beautifully written book, with rich descriptions of settings along the Mediterranean - from the coast of Italy, to the south of France. Having read Lucy Foley’s first book and enjoyed it, I was eager to see what she would come up with next. Although I was interested to read to the end, I have to confess to skimming some sections, at times never fully engaged, feeling somewhat detached from characters and actions.

“It is only afterwards, with the clumsiness and misunderstanding of speech, that the distance grows once more.”

I had trouble connecting with the two main characters of  Hal and Stella, and indeed, felt that even they lacked that deep connection that was supposedly apparent to justify their actions.  I didn’t feel their passion. In fact, many of the characters lacked depth with only Stella being given flashbacks (interesting why only her past was deemed necessary). I did, however, enjoy the character of the Contessa, reminiscent of some famous film star. She was the one who demonstrated real warmth and understanding. Alternatively, Truss - a major player - was seriously underdeveloped. It would have been so beneficial to understand his motivations to better appreciate his role as the ‘bad guy’.

“I mean, you only have to look at us all. Apart from Giulietta, perhaps. We’re quite a ragtag bunch. She collects hopeless cases.”

This book took some time to get going and dragged a bit in the middle. I also found the ending to be inconclusive/confusing in some ways, as it was open to interpretation. Overall, however, it was an enjoyable piece of historical fiction and like I stated, Foley does write beautifully. Sadly, however, I was not as enamoured with this tale as I was with her first book.

“When you find something that rare, amico, it is seldom a matter of choice. If you find it, you must hold to it, fast.”

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, October 5, 2016

Review: The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy

Title: The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy
Author: Beau North and Brooke West
Publisher: 4 October 2016 by Beau North
Pages: 242 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4.5 cups


“He could no longer claim to be Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire, brother to Georgiana, master of Pemberley. In that moment, he was but a man. A man filled with more frustration than most souls could bear. A man torn asunder by his desperation, his fruitless dreams and desires.”

After Elizabeth Bennet rejects his marriage proposal, Fitzwilliam Darcy finds himself in the most unusual of circumstances. At first believing the extraordinary turn of events has granted him an inexplicable boon, he is eager to put the humiliating proposal behind him.

He soon discovers that he is trapped in the same waking dream with no end in sight and no possible escape. All that he holds dear—his name, his home, his love—remains ever out of reach. How will he find his way back to his normal life? Will one mistake haunt the rest of his days? It will take all of his fortitude to weather the storms of his strange new fate, and all of his courage to grasp the promise of his future.

My Thoughts

“In vain I have struggled, it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Okay….I admit it - I am an Austen fangirl who can recite that above quote word for word! Still, with the plethora of adaptations out there, I like to think I am somewhat discerning. As to this book …. I loved it! In this clever adaptation, Darcy is trapped in a time warp (think Groundhog Day) after his disastrous proposal to Elizabeth. How? He knows not. Why? To give Darcy a second chance to right a wrong, to make good, to show the real Darcy we all know and love.

Darcy was more convinced that he was presently serving some type of punishment for a crime still unknown to him.

“Good God, what is happening to me?” he wondered aloud. “It is the same day.”

If you know the famous Pride and Prejudice, you know how this is all going to end. But how clever of these authors to take this much loved story, add a twist and have us all on the edge of our seats to see how we will arrive at our happily ever after.

Could she know how she affected him, setting his every thought aflame? He had to put his hands against the pianoforte, holding himself in place to keep from going to her.

I will admit that it lost a little for me as we entered something like ‘Day 70’ of the repeat performance and I found myself thinking, ‘okay, time to move on now’. There were only so many variations in Darcy’s repertoire to try and change the outcome that found him trapped in reliving his agonising rebuttal. Don’t despair, the humour and poignancy will keep you turning the pages to the very end.

And let’s just think about that Epilogue - sweet, sentimental and pulled at your Austen heartstrings. Overall, this book is most definitely creative and delightful.

“No,” he said through his clenched jaw. “You will not take this from me. Perhaps I never knew you, but I think it is clear that you never knew me.”

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, October 1, 2016

Review: To the Bright Edge of the World

Title: To the Bright Edge of the World
Author: Eowyn Ivey
Publisher: 9 August 2016 by Hachette Australia - Headline
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction,
My Rating: 3 cups


Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she bought to stunningly vivid life in THE SNOW CHILD, Eowyn Ivey's new novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska's hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.

A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated THE SNOW CHILD, and with the sweep and insight that characterised Rose Tremain's The Colour, this new novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent.

My Thoughts

This is a fictionalised story of an apparent real life expedition of 1885 into what what would become Alaskan territory. I had hoped to like this story more than I did. It contained many beautiful descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness, a love story and interesting cultural information about the Indian tribes during that time period and some magical legends that came to life.

Sadly, the story moved at too slow a pace, with not enough engaging moments to induce me. Told entirely through journal entries, military logs or letters, written by five different characters during two time periods, the focus was most definitely shared and, at times, rather passive. The characters were interesting, but lacked depth with me feeling I didn't get to know them very well. However, the descriptions of the climate and surroundings of life in Alaska at the time was well done.

This book is well written, if at times, overly descriptive and a little drawn out.

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, September 29, 2016

Review: Daughters of Castle Deverill

Title: Daughters of Castle Deverill
Author: Santa Montefiore
Publisher: 1 September 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 544 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction
My Rating: 3 cups


The sweeping new novel from number one bestselling author Santa Montefiore.

It is 1925 and the war is long over. But much has been lost and life will never truly be the same again.

Castle Deverill, cherished home to the Deverill family in the west of Ireland for hundreds of years, has burned to the ground. But young and flighty Celia Deverill is determined to restore the sad ruin to its former glory. Celia married well and has the wealth, after all, to keep it in the family and she cannot bear to see it stand neglected.

But dark shadows are gathering once more, as the financial markets start to shake. And everything that felt so certain is thrown once again into doubt.

A compelling story of family and history, from the author of the top ten bestseller Songs of Love and War.
My Thoughts

Drawn in by the exquisite cover and premise of  a sweeping, epic (over 500 pages) and romantic saga, I will state from the outset it was  my fault that I didn't realise that this is book two of a trilogy. Some books are easy to read as a stand alone, but unfortunately on this occasion, I found it was not easy to pick up the story that is Daughters of Castle Deverill.

That being said, it was on the whole, a well written story. After the reported actions from book one (I read up as much as I could on that), the main plot appears that everything is travelling along in 1925 with a major refurbishment for the castle (that unearths a mystery) until the financial disaster of 1929 and ensuing fallout. There are characters a plenty and outside the main families there are many other worthy secondary characters who all contribute in some way to this epic tale. Montefiore's deft penmanship transports you to Ireland and America, describing the beauty of both countries at the time. 

For it being a well written tale, I felt it was drawn out in some parts - disjointed and seeming to flit from one thing to the next.  The main characters were not inviting: Kitty was a bit lost, Bridie was bitter and Celia's storyline got interesting towards the end but was not engaging enough from the beginning.  Jack was the one character that was engaging, but sadly he was not present enough. Then, of course, being middle book of a trilogy, there is still much to be revealed and concluded in book three. 

This  book strikes me as one that would adapt well to a television drama series, but just make certain that you jump on board from the beginning. 

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, September 26, 2016

Review: My Husband's Wife

Title: My Husband's Wife
Author: Amanda Prowse
Publisher: 14 July 2016 by Head of Zeus
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups


Once a week, Rosie Tipcott counts her blessings.
She goes to sit on her favourite bench on the north Devon cliffs, and thanks her lucky stars for her wonderful husband, her mischievous young daughters, and her neat little house by the sea. She vows to dedicate every waking hour to making her family happy.
But then her husband unexpectedly leaves her for another woman and takes the children. Now she must ask the question: what is left in her life? Can Rosie find the strength to rebuild herself? More importantly, does she even want to?

My Thoughts

I was keen to try an Amanda Prowse book as she states that she wishes to write about women we feel we all know. She wishes to bring a true sense of human reality into her novels that undoubtedly will touch the reader in a number of ways. So what you have here is both a true and modern portrayal of family life - from the mundane to the tears and joys. 

'That life was the one she had always wanted; gorgeous kids, a lovely house and her man by her side.'

The exchanges between characters are true and well presented, particularly those between Rosie and her three in-laws - brother, mother and father in-law. In fact I found the most fascinating character to be Kev and wish we had of seen more of him.  I also found Rosie's father to be identifiable and interesting. 

So whilst this was an easy read, I did struggle with a few things. You know from the blurb that the husband is going to leave but that takes quite a while - almost half the book. This makes it a little frustrating, especially as the problems with the relationship are never explicit, decreasing - I believe - the emotional impact. I was not invested in their relationship. 

"I think you need to get over the idea that you can and should punish me because things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to."

There was, however, very explicit coverage of Rosie's grief and whilst I get it, I found her continual torrent of tears a little difficult to bear. At times I wanted to shake Rosie and tell her to be stronger. Did she want to fight back but just didn't know how? In many ways she was a victim of her own making.

‘And I guess the big question is this, Rosie: what are you going to do? How are you going to recapture your life?’

I also found the ending to be somewhat abrupt, the quick resolutions and neat rounding up of everything too quick. In some ways it was quite depressing in parts but as the author states she writes about women for women and there may be some out there that would 'get' this far more than I did.

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, September 24, 2016

Review: A Promise of Fire

Title: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1)
Author: Amanda Bouchet
Publisher: 9 August 2016 by Hachette Australia - Piatkus
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, sci fi, fantasy, magic
My Rating: 4 cups

Kingmaker. Soothsayer. Warrior. Mage. Kingdoms would rise and fall for her . . . if she is ever found

In the icy North, where magic is might, an all-powerful elite ruthlessly guided by a glacial Queen have grown to dominate the world. Now rebellion is stirring in the rough, magic-poor South, where for the first time in memory a warlord has succeeded in uniting the tribal nations.

Stuck in the middle is Cat - circus performer and soothsayer - safely hidden behind heavy make-up, bright colours and the harmless illusion of the circus. Until someone suspects she's more than she seems . . .
Captured by the Southern warlord Griffin, Cat's careful camouflage is wearing thin. For how long can - or should - she conceal the true extent of her power? Faced with dragons, homicidal mages, rival Gods and the traitorous longings of her own heart, she must decide: is it time to claim her destiny and fight?

My Thoughts

"There's magic in spoken language. It's binding. There's a reason people ask for someone else's word. Every sentence a person utters can be a promise - or a betrayal."

I'm at odds to review A Promise of Fire. From one perspective it is YA (young adult) and reads very much so. From another perspective it's fantasy and fun. At times these two seem to conflict, but overall I found it an entertaining read. It's the reader's approach that counts. You will at times cringe but ultimately I found this to be an enjoyable read, fanciful, fun and romantic. 

"You don't get it," I say ... '"she won't  let anyone take me from her." 
"You don't get it ... you're mine. Not Cat the Soothsayer. Not Cat the Kingmaker. Just Cat."

The two leads are romantic, independent and strong. Combine that with loads of adventure and magic and that easily gets it across the line. What I found refreshing is how funny it is, the banter is, at times, hilarious. Cat is spunky yet at times so unsure of herself. Griffin, whilst an 'alpha' male, is most swoon worthy - protective and considerate he will do anything for her. Then there is the 'Beta' team and ... well, the list of characters is long and interesting. So whilst at times I find the petulance perturbing, the strong characters, action, humour and romantic tension definitely wins out for me in the end. 

"You're not who you think you are. You're better, and you're more".

If steamy sex scenes don't make you blush,  then you are in for a treat. Here, is where it moves away from young adult as it is rather explicit. Going into this read with an open mind will see you rewarded with an epic read full of magic and romance. I took a star away for the immaturity that annoyed me at times and also at the beginning you really need to concentrate on not only the scenario, but also the  explanation of the kingdoms. However, throw into the mix some Greek mythology and you have a well-rounded magical fantasy read. 

“Kingdoms rise and fall for you. Because of you.”

I think A Promise of Fire will be one of those books that you don't fully appreciate until viewed as a trilogy and retrospectively. The first book has to set things up and may seem confusing and juvenile at times. But later instalments will hopefully reveal that all of this provided the necessary and natural stepping stones.  A Promise of Fire shows great potential as the author seems to have a strong sense of how this is all going to unfold. Am I excited for the second book - you betchya! 

"Something in the warmth flutters, cautious, like a nascent bird’s wings. Like a fledgling, though, I don’t know whether I’ll crash or fly."

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, September 15, 2016

Review: Mata Hari's Last Dance

Title: Mata Hari's Last Dance
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: 19 July 2016 by Touchstone
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3.5 crowns


From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.
From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

My Thoughts

"Tell me where you learned to dance?"

Thus begins the tale of Mata Hari. I am a huge Michelle Moran fan and her take on strong historical women. I did not know much about Mata Hari - an exotic dancer who reportedly worked as a double agent during the war. This book, as many have commented, was most definitely on the light side coming in at under 300 pages. Sadly that may be a key factor in why this tale seemed to lack depth and what we came to learn about Mata Hari seemed superficial. She came across (as some have described her) as naive and easily duped (American historians Norman Polmer and Thomas Allen) and only cared about enjoying life, not fully appreciating the impact of war.

If Moran could have provided more historical detail - both on her thoughts and of her sad past/upbringing/marriage - it may have provided a greater appreciation of what made Mata Hari into the woman described. From this respect it was certainly disappointing as all Moran's previous novels were rich and detailed. I mean, Mata Hari is a great figure from history to choose to write about and it was interesting to learn about some of her life story and the struggles she overcame. However, when compared to Moran's other books, this one just lacked depth and did not delve enough above the simple course of events. Even then, I found the timeline unclear at times and months at a time would somehow disappear. 

"You have a living daughter?"

For without that detail I failed to develop a sympathetic connection with Mata Hari and often viewed her thoughts and actions as selfish and silly, immature really. Instead of giving us more of her past, we were presented with a list of her liaisons and conquests, when all I really wished was to understand more of what made her into this exotic woman that the world remembers. I also felt more time needed to be dedicated to the political dramas unfolding at the time, from all viewpoints French and German. However, much detail is given of the cities and places that Mata Hari performed at - from France to Spain to Germany. 

 Moran's still remains one of my favourite authors. Who knows, maybe she wanted to leave it up to the reader as to whether Mata Hari was selfish and sinful or really that smart double agent? All of this said, I did enjoy the book, not one of my preferred Moran tales, but nevertheless, a worthwhile introduction into the woman the world came to know as, Mata Hari. 

"I think of all the people in my life who know the truth, but all of them are gone."

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