Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: From Rome with Love

Title: From Rome with Love
Author: Jules Wake
Publisher: 13 January 2017 by Harper Collins UK, Harper Impulse
Pages: 314 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary romance, culture Italy
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

If you can’t stand the heat…
Rome is the city of love and seduction, right? Not if you find yourself staying in a beautiful apartment with your childhood-friend-turned-arch-enemy, Will Ryan…no matter how hot he is!
Romance is the last thing on Lisa’s mind. She’s got more important things to focus on, like hunting down her estranged father. Except when her search falls at the first hurdle, Will doesn’t just help her get back on track, he also shares the romantic sights – and exquisite tastes – of the Eternal City, and Lisa starts to wonder if it’s not just Rome seducing her.
Only, as Lisa and Will dig into the past, neither of them is prepared for the long-buried secrets they reveal. Secrets that will turn both their world’s upside down …

My Thoughts

In June I reviewed a Jules Wake book, ‘From Italy With Love’, and  thought it was loads of fun (click on the title to see the review). So when an opportunity came up to read another from the series, I jumped at the chance. What a fun series this is proving to be and although characters do arise from past books, each is very much a standalone read. You do not need to have read any of the other books but if you have, it’s like revisiting old friends and having a catch up which was nice.

I enjoyed this book tremendously - rating it even higher than previous ones. It was coasting along as a solid chick lit read, until about three quarters the way through and BAM! Such an unforeseen plot twist was introduced that elevated it that little bit more for me. For this is where Jules Wake excels, as her tales (like I wrote previously) are not just ‘fluffy’ chick lit, but contain intricate twists that, although you know you will get your happy ending, they keep you very much engaged with the characters.

What I also thoroughly enjoyed about this particular one was the depth and detail Wake provides you with on everything to do with Rome. She provides the almost perfect mix of romance and culture that I feel I have just arrived back from visiting the famous city myself! There are the obvious trips to the likes of the Vatican and Spanish Steps, but thanks to Lisa’s infamous guidebook, I learnt so much.

‘A list? You can’t do Rome by list. You have to live and breathe it.’

Add to that the amazing Italian cuisine with trips to authentic restaurants or wineries and it’s a complete getaway. As Will introduces Lisa to blind tasting tests on everything from olive oil to cheese production to learning the finer skills of wine tasting, you can’t help but literally savour the moment, as indeed the passion for food positively glowed’ off the page.

One final winning aspect for me is the humour. I love both the lead characters and their bantering with each other is phenomenal.

‘Nice. Me? No you’ve definitely got the wrong man.’
‘I said nice. We are talking the dog’s arse end on the scale of compliments.

Not to mention Lisa’s inner dialogue that I could very much relate to at times:

‘He wouldn’t be checking he had his phone or passport with him once, let alone on the half hour, every half hour.’

‘The horrible pull-along case, which had seemed so brilliant earlier, suddenly had a life of its own and did not want to partake in the hurried slalom through other travellers all heading down the same wide corridor.’

From Rome with Love is the perfect mix of all that is Italian especially the food, wine and culture. The friendships, romance and especially the hidden family secrets make this a wonderful read that kept me engaged and smiling all the way through.

‘Give people that feeling of holidays, the taste of Italy and the laid-back sense of having all the time in the world to enjoy the intense flavour of sunshine and tradition.’






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, January 13, 2017

Review: The Florentine Bridge

Title: The Florentine Bridge
Author: Vanessa Carnevale
Publisher: 19 December 2016 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary romance, culture Italy/Tuscany
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

Young Australian artist Mia Moretti has been cancer free for nine months. But her battle with the illness has taken its toll, leaving her depressed and tormented by overwhelming fears. What’s more, she can’t seem to paint anymore. Mia needs a fresh start so when a surprise opportunity to travel to Tuscany presents itself, she takes it. With any luck, this trip will help her find whatever it is she needs to open her heart and start painting again.

What she doesn’t count on is meeting Luca, a handsome Italian mechanic. With his smile, his warmth and his inspirational outlook on all the good things life has to offer, he sweeps her off her feet. As Mia slowly lets down her walls and allows Luca in, her passion for life is reignited and her new perspective begins to inspire her art. But just when she’s ready to let go of her past, will a tragedy threaten her new life with Luca?

Full of heart and hope, a love story about la dolce vita in Tuscany

My Thoughts

The famous Florentine Bridge! Over the Arno River,’ he says. ‘Oh, right … I’ll make sure I look for it.’ ‘It’s only one of the most romantic spots in Florence.’

The Florentine Bridge is the debut novel from Australian author Vanessa Carnevale. Set against a gorgeous Tuscan backdrop, it is truly a captivating love story. If you are in the mood for curling up and being transported to Italy, whilst witnessing a very emotional love story, then this is the book for you. Yet it is so much more than just a love story, being filled with a passion for art, language and indeed, everything Italian, is most engaging.

Carnevale is obviously very familiar with all things Italian and that translates wonderfully well to the page. Her love of the land, and indeed the whole atmosphere, shines through. From Florence to smaller coastal towns, her setting descriptions, references to art, culture and the food are vivid and enticing. Yet she still manages to bring that touch of Australia to her writing which I love.

‘Wish I’d taken the time to at least iron my shirt and make a half-decent effort. I look so … Australian.’

Apart from the two leads, there is a wonderful cast of secondary characters that help meld the setting with the story and bring it altogether, making this a complete read. It is a very emotional read as it involves recovering from cancer treatment which would be daunting. So daunting, Mia had to remove herself from those she loved in her attempts to start over.  I also really appreciated the use of art/painting as a medium for expressing grief, sorrow, healing and love.

‘It’s like that messy web of my past is still wrapped around me and I can’t — don’t — know how to shake it off.’

My reason for taking away half a star is that a) they were both so young (Mia not yet 20 years old) and b) it all happened so quickly, ‘instalove’. Is this credible? Well, it does happen in the real world and you have to suspend your head thinking for your heart feeling. Also, both Mia and Luca’s actions towards the end of the book were challenging, probably more of a reflection of their young age and I found it a little frustrating.

‘Yet my heart doesn’t care that we’ve known each other for less than forty-eight hours.’

All that said, this really was a lovely bit of escapism about growth and change, love and acceptance. A recommended read from an up and coming Aussie novelist.

‘Today I am a clean sheet of paper, ready for a new picture, for a new story to be brought to 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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: Breath of Fire

Title: Breath of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #2)
Author: Amanda Bouchet
Publisher: 3 January 2017 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fantasy, magic, romance, paranormal, mythology
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

SHE'S DESTINED TO DESTROY THE WORLD...
"Cat" Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat's tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what's a girl to do when she knows it's her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.
BUT NOT IF SHE CAN HELP IT
Griffin knows Cat is destined to change the world-for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin must embrace their fate together. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom...or not at all.

My Thoughts

Back in September I reviewed book one of this trilogy, ‘A Promise of Fire’ and enjoyed it (click on the title to read that review). So it was with great anticipation that I received a copy of book two. Now admittedly I was a little at odds in reviewing book one, due to the seemingly awkward clash of fantasy and fun. However, I overlooked some things, believing in what I thought would be it’s long term promise. Now I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy book two, just not quite as much as I loved, ‘A Promise of Fire’. Book one demonstrated real potential, with snappy comebacks and good action scenes. Sadly, it would appear the dreaded second book syndrome reared its ugly head.

“What’s it like being the Lost Princess? The woman everyone is looking for?

To pinpoint where it exactly went off is difficult, as much of the same winning formula is there, but perhaps to excess. Was book two on steroids and became overkill? Maybe. This was narrated at a crazy pace with the formulaic adventure/crusade, leads to near death, leads to magic healing, leads to manic sex, then repeat it all again until the end of the instalment. From start to finish this was just full on action as they brave the Ice Plains, battle innumerable scary creatures and come out with their lives from each encounter time and again. I just wanted more character development and less near death experiences.

Does he think I’m not afraid? I’m terrified. Constantly. I just do things anyway and hope for the best. Admittedly, that’s not always the best strategy, but sometimes there really isn’t much choice.

It’s hard to admit how much I struggled to get through this book. As I said, it’s not bad, it just seemed a rehashed, overpowering imitation of the first book. The sexual tension between the two main leads,  has been replaced with, at times, questionable physical interactions, to put it nicely. The first few passages are confronting and rather topical as many may see it as domestic violence. To even have that question hanging is detrimental to the good of the story. Of course there are the same fights and make-ups throughout, but it all became a bit tedious. However, here is more to the story than their relationship and that sets things up for a dramatic book three.

You are my soul, and yes, I will fight for you and protect you until my dying breath.”

There is still much to appreciate about this fast paced action book. Bouchet’s writing style is highly engaging and her research and twist on Greek mythology amazing. Also the secondary characters really come to the fore in this book and add great depth to the tale. Would I read book three? Most definitely as Bouchet has me invested in the dramatic plot and whether the kingdoms will ever be united and what of Cat’s mother.

We’ll change the world, Cat, and we’ll do it without the war you fear.

So whilst the second book did not live up to my expectations, it still maintains that strong storyline which is sure to please fans - and one must remember, these books MUST be read as one entity, they are not standalones. Here is hoping that this is just a small hiccup and ultimately this series will prove to be a memorable debut.

“You end the scourge. You rebuild the kingdom. You’ve had more than eight years to think about it. Now stop hiding and do something!”



This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review: The One We Fell in Love With

Title: The One We Fell in Love With
Author: Paige Toon
Publisher: 1 January 2017 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, romance, contemporary
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

Phoebe is caught between a rock and a hard place. Settle down and get married, or return to the French Alps to pursue her passion?

Eliza is in love with someone who is no longer hers. In fact, he probably never was… And her dream of becoming a musician seems to be spiralling down the drain.

Rose is out of a job and out of a boyfriend. To make matters worse, she’s been forced to move back in with her mother…

But these very different girls have one thing in common. Angus. The one they fell in love with.

My Thoughts

‘Don’t know what it was about Angus that drew all three of us to him. There was clearly something in his chemical make-up that was like a drug to us.’

Rose, Eliza, and Phoebe, identical triplets, who fall for the boy next door. Chick lit for sure, however, I’m having trouble rating this book - swinging between a three and four star. Whilst it is interesting to read from all the varying points of views, with each of the girls having strong voices, I found some parts difficult to swallow.

Firstly, the book was just way too long and it is quite slow in parts. I was not expecting the BIG twist though and that helped elevate it above just another ordinary chick lit read. I did not see ‘it’ coming and almost missed it (in fact, given the poor structure and amount of irrelevant information, I had to go back and check what I had just read!) but it did lift this tale above your garden variety chick lit. But boy! Does this book get bogged down. For me, I was just not interested with the ins and outs of bread making or mountain climbing etc. You may well be.

Also, not only does the tale alternate between each of the sisters viewpoints, but also different time periods. You need to concentrate when reading (not something I necessarily like to do when chick lit reading) and the change is never necessarily overt. This also makes it a bit disjointed - which sister? what timeline? Were they being sulky teenagers or was this in their late twenties (still sulking?) Sibling rivalry is rampant in the Thomson family when it comes to their taste in men, or should I say,  one man in particular. However, the sisters are different in almost every other way and with a major plot twist, ‘The One We Fell in Love With’ is an above average read.

‘Can’t you see how screwed-up this is? Let it go. Move on. I plan 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

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Mackenzie Crossing

Title: Mackenzie Crossing
Author: Kaye Dobbie
Publisher: 21st  November 2016 by Harlequin (Australia) TEEN/MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, historical fiction, contemporary romance, women’s fiction, culture-Australia
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

An old photograph holds the key to a missing man, a past love and a long-lost mountain village.

A passion for photography draws two stories together across time to Mackenzie Crossing.

Neville ‘Pom’ Darling, is on the hunt for the perfect photograph.

Skye Stewart, is searching for her long lost grandfather.

It’s 1939, and Neville, escaping an unhappy marriage and his memories of the Great War, finds himself in Mackenzie Crossing on the day of the terrible Black Friday bushfires. He meets the beautiful Georgie Mackenzie and in an instant knows that she is the subject he has been looking for. As the heat intensifies, Georgie and Pom begin to wonder if they have a future together; but first, they must survive the blaze.

Almost sixty years later, Sky Stewart returns to the area in search of her grandfather. Did he survive the Black Friday bushfires? Who is the exotic woman in the photograph she found? But when she arrives in Elysian, the closest town to where Mackenzie Crossing used to be, she finds more of her hidden past than she bargained for. A more recent past which she would prefer stayed forgotten…

My Thoughts

“Mackenzie Crossing was wild and lonely, not at all what she’d been expecting, but there was also a beauty about it. A desolate beauty that was beginning to creep into her heart despite herself.”

Checking off another addition to my growing list of Aussie outback authors, Kaye Dobbie delivers a fabulous drama. I found the 1939 and 1997 stories were both compelling, always a hard thing to do when dual timelines run concurrently in a story. I believe this was because both captured my attention with worthy mysteries that kept me guessing right up until the end.

“Royal commissioner who said, and I quote, “… it appeared the whole state was alight on Friday thirteenth of January nineteen thirty-nine”

The infamous Friday 13th January, 1939 – ‘Black Friday’ - when it felt as if the entire state of Victoria was ablaze, presents the story of the Neville Darling. 1997 finds Skye Stewart, having recently discovered her grandfather was not her biological grandfather, undertakes to discover who this mysterious Neville Darling really was. Combine that with the flashbacks to her teenage years, almost 20 years ago and ‘that’ night, and one understands why this book is full of twists and turns.

The narrative alternates between Neville’s story in 1939 and Skye’s in 1997 (with some flashbacks to Skye’s past with Finn as teenagers - you’re going to love him!), Mackenzie Crossing is well paced and has three fascinating plots that will engage you to the very end. It will jump back and forth between time periods but I did not find this difficult to follow.

“It came from familiarity with the summer fires, and possibly the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, which he found in equal measure frustrating and endearing.”

I found Mackenzie Crossing to be a brilliant read - it was extremely well done. The 1939 Black Friday bushfires were horrific and the way the people dealt with it at the time was amazing. Neville’s relationship with those on the mountain is most memorable. But this is also a tale about secrets, both past and present, with the impact it has on those we love or can’t help loving. As Skye struggles to unravel the mystery behind her biological grandfather, in the contrastingly frozen and wintry present, you will inwardly cheer for her progress, especially when it comes to finding true love. I have no hesitation in highly recommending this wonderful Aussie drama.

“Over time, though, being out here in the never-never, the isolation, the stillness of the bush and mountains, began to restore his battered soul. Not completely—he’d probably never be completely mended—and why should he, when so many were dead? But there was a sense of renewal that he’d never expected.”



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, December 25, 2016

Review: The German Girl

Title: The German Girl
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Publisher: 1 December 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, world war II
My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:


Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now the streets of Berlin are draped in swastikas and Hannah is no longer welcome in the places she once considered home.


A glimmer of hope appears in the shape of the St Louis, a transatlantic liner that promises Jews safe passage to Cuba. The Rosenthals sell everything to fund visas and tickets. At first the liner feels like luxury, but as they travel the circumstances of war change, and it soon becomes their prison.


Seven decades later in New York, on her twelfth birthday Anna Rosen receives a package from Hannah, the great-aunt she never met but who raised her deceased father. Anna and her mother immediately travel to Cuba to meet this elderly relative, and for the first time Hannah tells them the untold story of her voyage on the St Louis.

My Thoughts


‘We would belong forever to the exiles, to the people nobody wanted, the ones who had been forced from their homes since the dawn of time.’


I consider myself a fairly well-read person, but this, I knew nothing about. This is the story of the St. Louis, a ship that promised safe passage from Germany to Cuba, in May 1939. The ship’s 937 passengers were almost all Jews fleeing the Third Reich and seeking asylum. This is truly an unforgettable debut novel and congratulations to Correa for bringing this little known event to the public spotlight. For you see, only 28 were allowed to disembark in Cuba, and the remaining were forced to sail back as few countries would accept them. Powerful stuff, and as expressed in the book:


‘By shedding light onto the tragedies of our past, Correa invites us to reflect on the troubles that are still impacting refugees all over the world today.’


Correa bases a fictional story around the 1939 Saint Louis journey and there is just much to love about this book. I loved the story of Hannah and Leo so much, their relationship is memorably heartbreaking. Not to mention the heroic captain, Gustav Schroder, that will have you running to Google more on the short and long term fallout of the whole disaster.  I was also fascinated by the parallels drawn between Nazi Germany and Communist Cuba - something I had never considered. Then there are the rich and evocative descriptive scenes set in  Berlin, the St Louis and Cuba which  are vivid and real.


‘We, the ridiculously gullible ones, had believed the Ogres when they authorized us to leave after handing over our businesses, our homes, our fortunes. How on earth could we have been so stupid as to trust them?’


The story alternates between that of Hannah and Anna, their joys and heartbreaks, their friendships and fears. Given the material for this story, you might be thinking it is depressing - and no doubt there is plenty of tragedy that is confronting; however, it will move you in a more reflective way. It is powerful and emotional, with moments of joy that brought a lump to my throat. Let’s be frank, even after all these years the author bravely presents a fresh angle on a sensitive topic. But gosh! It is done well. I would go as far as to say this is a stunning debut novel that moved me to my core.


“Millions of men with no work. Millions of children with no future. Save the German people!” I am German, too. Who was going to save me?”


I highly recommend this book to historical fiction fans. Take Hannah’s hand and run along the streets of Berlin, sail to Cuba with her and hold her hand even tighter as she finally confronts her memories and promises made. ‘The German Girl’ will pull at your heartstrings and rates as one of my best reads for 2016.


“Every day I wonder why I’m still alive!” she whispers, suddenly bursting into tears.



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, December 22, 2016

Review: Walking the Line

Title: Walking the Line
Author: Mandy Magro
Publisher: 21st  November 2016 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN/MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: chick lit, contemporary romance, women’s fiction, australian outback
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

For how long can secrets stay buried?

Country-loving Dallas Armstrong is a hard-as-nails bull rider, who dreams of becoming Australian champion, just like his father, Mick, was. But when he discovers a shocking secret about his father on the same day Mick dies in a car accident, Dallas’s world is turned upside down. Now it’s up to him to protect his mother from the truth, and to keep the family farm Rollingstone Ridge afloat. And he will do everything in his power to do so.

Charlize Dawson is a successful city journalist whose marriage is in tatters. Begrudgingly sent to the country to write about Dallas, she is surprised to find that he isn’t the arrogant cowboy she’d assumed he’d be. Instead she and Dallas and share an intense chemistry and deep connection that lead to a stolen kiss at the Rodeo Ball.

But when Charlize’s research for her article puts her on the path of uncovering Dallas’s secret, he demands she stop or lose him forever. Dallas or her career, which should she choose? How can she turn her back on the people who have welcomed her into their lives with open arms, all in the name of her job? Her career is all she has left, and she has worked so very hard to be where she is. But how can she reveal what she knows, if it means losing the love of her life?

My Thoughts


‘He liked to walk the line, stay on the straight and narrow, his search for love going beyond the pleasures of the flesh. He yearned to meet a woman that intrigued him, that challenged him, but also allowed him to be himself.’

On my continuing crusade to discover Aussie female writers in the increasingly popular rural romance category, I am happy to report that Mandy Magro provided a solid performance with her tale, ‘Walking the Line’. As she writes in her acknowledgements, it’s about forgettingthe dreaded housework, (keeping) you up until the wee hours of the morning (which it did! - and making)  you laugh out loud, as you reach for the tissues, leaving you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end.’

“His mother screamed the most heart-wrenching cry.”

The prologue threw you in right from the start, I found myself tearing up in the first few pages! For the remainder of the novel, that powerful prologue had started a journey, as the secret is slowly unfurled, with intrigue keeping you turning the pages. I thought it might be a predictable secret but it had the necessary twist that I did not foresee, which I was relieved with, as it was constantly alluded to.

‘Was it just her feeling the sexual energy around them, or did he feel the sparks too?’

Yes, this is a rural romance, so if you are seeking that kind of fix, then you won’t be disappointed. It’s light, with a tried and true formula, that will prove an engaging read. There are many forms of love throughout the generations - grandparents faithfulness, parents loyalty and lustful sparks for the two main leads. I liked many of the secondary characters and what mother could not love Dallas for the way he wanted to protect and care for his mother:

‘Katherine Armstrong’s big beautiful heart was already broken enough and it was his job to protect her, and to make her life happy again.’

Walking the Line is a perfect holiday read with it’s romance and suspense. It will appeal to a wide audience, especially fans of the rural romance genre. So give yourself a break and escape to the country for a breath of fresh air:

‘Country air has a way of revitalising you from the inside out and making you see things from a completely different angle.’




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