Monday, August 13, 2018

Review: The Botanist's Daughter

Title:  The Botanist’s Daughter
Author: Kayte Nunn
Publisher: 31st July 2018 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:
In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father's quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.
In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed 'Spring 1886' and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.
In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .
My Thoughts

The Botanist’s Daughter is a remarkable read that I thoroughly enjoyed. From beginning to end I was enthralled as this book ticked all the boxes in what I look for in a good, well rounded story. A well documented dual narrative (always tricky to pull off) that was so well executed with past and present stories sublimely linked, you will fall under its spell from the moment the box of treasures is discovered in the opening pages.

“... as Anna looked at it she had a sudden premonition, a feeling of apprehension. Exactly what had she discovered? What changes would this bring to her carefully ordered life?”

Chapters are presented from the alternating POV of our two female leads - two journeys, separated by time but bound together through adventuring into the unknown. They may have been different women from different centuries but both were most certainly on a journey of discovery. Elizabeth would travel from Cornwall, England to Valparaiso, Chile in an attempt to honour her father’s dying wish. Anna would travel from Sydney to Cornwall to find answers to her box of discoveries. Both women and their stories will engage you in their determination to overcome obstacles. The characters and indeed both tales, truly complement each other to provide a captivating tale (or two!) I humorously appreciated the ‘Australianisms’, they brought a smile to my face! With references from the ‘old dunny’ (toilet) to ....

“...skipping ahead of them over the cracks in the pavement, eager for the Redskins and Violet Crumbles that were stacked on the shop’s narrow shelves.”

For Kayte’s Nunn’s first attempt at historical fiction, she has done an amazing job. The secondary characters have depth, the plot never drags, the scenic descriptions - particularly of Chile - are vivid and the way all the puzzle pieces are finally brought together in the end is most satisfying. There is some romance in both timelines, but I appreciate how the author stayed true to the heart of the novel, that being, one of a family mystery.

I have no hesitation in highly recommending The Botanist’s Daughter to lovers of historical fiction, dual narratives and an enticing mystery (this has a real Kate Morton flavour). One would be hard pressed not to pick up this stunning book with a cover which in itself is so very inviting. From the locked box containing a diary detailing a long ago journey, to two strong and compelling females imbued with curiosity and courage to set out on journeys of discovery across the globe must surely intrigue the best of us.

“She was, of course, there to fulfil the promise she had made him, the promise that had kept her from collapsing with uncontrollable grief when he died, and had sustained her throughout the long and terrible voyage.”


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, August 10, 2018

Review: Bellewether

Title: Bellewether
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: 7 August 2018 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
"The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren't such easy things to keep."
It's late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.
Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley's latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you've closed the last page.
My Thoughts

What is there not to love about a new Susanna Kearsley book! Her stories are always fabulously written, well researched and completely captivating. To my mind she is the Queen of dual time storylines. When you open the pages of one of Susanna’s books, you enter into a new world, one that guarantees rich historical drama combined with present day ties.

‘I was motivated even more right now by seeing those two simple, soulless dates bookending what had been the life of a young woman; and by knowing that, through research, I could fill the space between those dates with something that approached that woman’s shape.’

So living up to the precedents set, Bellwether will present two women from two different times, yet seemingly tied together in some way. There will be plenty of historical detail, I knew so very little about the Seven Years War and there is much to learn about the British, French and slavery. There are many interesting characters here, from both timelines, but you are sure to develop a fondness for the Wilde family. In fact Susanna’s explanation at the end of the book will shed some interesting light on what inspired her, characters both real and in some cases based closely on prevalent figures of the day.  They were interesting and easy to connect with. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives and how Susanna cleverly mirrored past with present - particularly how she linked the end and beginning of many chapters even though the dates differed.

Now whilst I enjoyed the book, I will have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed. Her writing finesse is indisputable, however, it was just so slow, really in need of more drama and action scattered throughout. There were, at times, endless descriptions of banal things. Even the ending proved a little too neat and tidy for some characters,  yet others were left with unresolved issues. I’m still even a little confused over the significance of the title of the book.

So whilst I enjoyed the book, I did not love the book - rich in historical fiction and detail but just a little too slow in parts for me.

‘He was looking for the wound. He wouldn’t find one.  All her true wounds were so deep within her nobody would ever see them’



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, July 26, 2018

Review: Something in the Water

Title: Something in the Water
Author: Catherine Steadman
Publisher: 1 August 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, crime
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
A shocking discovery on a honeymoon in paradise changes the lives of a picture-perfect couple in this taut psychological thriller debut--for readers of Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, and Shari Lapena.
If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you?
Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Passionately in love, they embark on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. . . .
Could the life of your dreams be the stuff of nightmares?
Suddenly the newlyweds must make a dangerous choice: to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. . . .
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?
Wonder no longer. Catherine Steadman's enthralling voice shines throughout this spellbinding debut novel. With piercing insight and fascinating twists, Something in the Water challenges the reader to confront the hopes we desperately cling to, the ideals we're tempted to abandon, and the perfect lies we tell ourselves.
My Thoughts

‘I have the feeling of being too near to something I don’t want to be near to. To something dangerous. I can’t quite see what it is yet but I feel it, it feels close. I feel the trapdoors in my mind creaking under the strain of what lies underneath.’

As a debut, this is a really interesting read that will engage you from start to finish. A slow build story with the author giving time to not only get to know, but assess the main characters. Filled with intrigue you will, at times, be dumbfounded by the actions of some characters - but that, I believe, is the whole point. I can’t help but feel there is more to this story that the superficial ‘who is responsible’ mystery theme. Yes, of course you will be swept along as both Erin and Mark make some incredible decisions together. Without saying anything about the plot, they take you on quite the journey.

I do believe, however, the true star of this book is the underlying theme - a psychological examination of everything it is to be human. The challenge is presented as you read along - what would you have done in their position? What are the priorities in your own life? To what length would you go to achieve them? Would you ever consider the long term consequences of such decisions?

The ending for me, was a great unexpected twist which I loved. Many reviewers complain that the main characters are unlikable, yet I have to wonder,  it would definitely take a certain type of person to engage and pursue a similar path as what Erin and Mark ultimately do. They are most definitely flawed characters, but perhaps, that is the point. I did struggle with other areas of the book. Firstly, I found the writing overly stilted and therefore difficult to absorb at times - “we’re our own unit. Impenetrable. Secure. There’s us and then there’s the rest of the world. Until now. Until this.” - typical of some of the punchy lines scattered throughout. There also seemed to be a rather radical change in the character's thoughts, words and actions that I felt did not sit comfortably with what had initially been laid out.

Overall, however, Steadman has created a truly absorbing read. The journey she will take you on will not only be a suspenseful one of ‘whodunit’ but also an engaging thought provoking challenge on motives and morals in the unlikely pursuit of the fulfilment of aspirations to the perfect life. Secrets will abound as both curiosity and greed will have a tug of war with honesty and truthfulness. Where would you stand?



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

Monday, July 23, 2018

Review: Whitsunday Dawn

Title:  Whitsunday Dawn
Author: Annie Seaton
Publisher: 23rd July  2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, romance, historical fiction,
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

With the pristine beauty of the Whitsundays under threat, can they expose the truth in time? Australian author Annie Seaton brings to life a new area of romance — Eco-Adventure. Perfect for fans of Di Morrissey. When Olivia Sheridan arrives in the Whitsundays as spokesperson for big mining company Sheridan Corp, it should be a straightforward presentation to the town about their proposed project. But when a handsome local fisherman shows her what ecological impact the proposal will have, Olivia is forced to question her father's motives for the project.Struggling with newly divided loyalties, Olivia is thrown further into turmoil when she is mistaken for a woman who disappeared more than sixty years before. When it becomes clear that Captain Jay is also keeping secrets, Olivia realises that there is more to these sunshine–soaked islands than she ever expected. Seeking to uncover the truth, Olivia is drawn into a dangerous game where powerful businessmen will stop at nothing to ensure their plan goes ahead, even if that means eliminating her…Against the epic Far North Queensland landscape, this is the story of two women, separated by history, drawn to Whitsunday Island where their futures will be changed forever.
My Thoughts

Whitsunday Dawn by Aussie author Annie Seaton is my first read of hers and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A dual time narrative (always a fave of mine when done well) from WWII to present day to. You will find both narratives captivating as the author seamlessly weaves an intriguing and suspenseful mystery. What better than an engaging historical fiction combined with a modern day crusade to help save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef! All of this is set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Whitsundays and it will have you wishing you could visit the islands some time soon.

The historical narrative is set during the war years with the seemingly imminent invasion of the Japanese to Northern Australia. I loved learning about life on the island for Lily and her family, with an overall tale that will surely pull at your heartstrings. The current day narrative throws light on the Great Barrier Reef and its surrounds. Present day issues of greed and corruption in pursuit of the almighty dollar, but at what cost? An interesting insight into power - those that have it and the will of people power to try and make a difference. It was wonderful to watch the personal growth of Olivia as she comes to terms with how to truly make a life for herself.

Both stories have romance, suspense  intriguing drama filled plots and an engaging cast of characters. All of this is tied together with family secrets and fall outs. You will appreciate the love interests in both timelines, you will have an understanding for the good and bad sides of families and people in general. This book truly has a little bit for everybody whether it be history, conservation, exotic locations, romance and worthy drama with an unexpected twist at the end.

Set time aside to curl up with this book and be transported to the stunning Whitsunday from the seemingly idyllic life on the island of the 1940s to present day quests to save a natural heritage.  Both timelines I loved, so two stories for the price of one really as you wait for answers to unfold and hopeful for connections to be made. Whitsunday Dawn is one book I certainly have no hesitation in highly recommending.


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, July 19, 2018

Review: The Things We Don't Say

Title: The Things We Don’t Say
Author: Ella Carey
Publisher: 1 July 2018 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 303 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
A beguiling painting holds the secrets of a woman’s past and calls into question everything she thought she knew about the man she loved…
Nearly sixty years ago, renowned London artist Patrick Adams painted his most famous work: a portrait of his beloved Emma Temple, a fellow bohemian with whom he shared his life. Years after Patrick’s death, ninety-year-old Emma still has the painting hanging over her bed at their country home as a testament to their love.
To Emma’s granddaughter, Laura, the portrait is also a symbol of so much to come. The masterpiece is serving as collateral to pay Laura’s tuition at a prestigious music school. Then the impossible happens when an appraiser claims the painting is a fraud. For Laura, the accusation jeopardizes her future. For Emma, it casts doubt on everything she believed about her relationship with Patrick. Laura is determined to prove that Patrick did indeed paint the portrait. Both her grandmother’s and Patrick’s legacies are worth fighting for.
As the stories of two women entwine, it’s time for Emma to summon up the past—even at the risk of revealing its unspoken secrets.
My Thoughts

I'm a fan of Ella Carey and was interested to read her next book. Her books are always an easy read with often a little twist to keep you engaged. This particular story is loosely based on the Bloomsbury group - artists in the early twentieth century and the complicated affairs they weave within their bohemian lifestyle. Set against that is the modern tale of the granddaughter's search for what is either a lost or stolen painting from that period.

‘... everyone put untold effort into trying to fix unresolved tensions in this life, but perhaps it was the very state of unresolvedness that gave us hope.’

This book is about love and the many forms it takes. Spanning over sixty odd years, the chapters will jump between Emma’s story in the past and her granddaughter, Laura, in 1980.  Emma was an interesting character, basically rebelling against Victorian ways and embracing her independence and one true love of a lifetime. You can only admire her for her strength of character in staying true to her ideals in that particular age and time. Perhaps a lesson we could all learn from, to do what makes us happy and content despite the protestations of others. Laura is a little more conservative and struggles to protect her grandmother and follow her passion of music.

‘What was more, as Laura now struggled with her own reactions to things that she could not control, the more she came to admire Emma’s calm acceptance and tolerance of life.’

Although a slow burn tale, it is somewhat slow in places, the touch of mystery is intriguing and the ending with the outcome of the painting I found contained an unforeseen twist that elevated this read from a 3.5 to 4 star read. However, at times it was so very repetitive, with awkward dialogue and not a lot happening, just repeating the same lines. Overall however, The Things We Don’t Say is an interesting story filled with love and passion, sex and drama, some good scandals enveloped by the painting mystery.

‘Through a century of turbulence, through two world wars and a gentle social revolution carried out by the extraordinary Emma Temple, this group of people had delved into past passion—of both the destructive and beautiful sort—into secrets that had been held close to private hearts, and into worlds that had circled around, linked because they were polar opposites and yet also because nothing existed as an entirely separate entity from anything else.’



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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: For The Immortal

Title:  For The Immortal (Golden Apple Trilogy #3)
Author: Emily Hauser
Publisher: 14th June  2018 by Random House UK, Transworld Publisher
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, Greek mythology
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Thousands of years ago, in an ancient world where the gods control all and heroes fight to have their names remembered down the ages, two extraordinary women become entangled in one of the greatest heroic tales of all time . . . and must face how much they are willing to risk for immortality.
Desperate to save her dying brother, Admete persuades her father, the king of Tiryns, to let her join Hercules on one of his legendary twelve labours. Travelling to the renowned female warrior Amazons in search of a cure, Admete soon discovers that both Hercules and the fearsome Amazons are not as they first seemed.
The Amazons greet the arrival of the Greeks with mixed feelings – and none more so than Hippolyta, the revered queen of the tribe. For Hercules and his band of fighters pose a threat to her way of life – but also stir up painful memories that threaten to expose her deepest secret.
As battle lines are drawn between the Greeks and the Amazons, both women soon learn the inevitable truth – in war, sacrifices must be made; especially if they are to protect the ones they love most . .
My Thoughts

Emily Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy investigates various women from Greek mythology. Although the three books are connected, they can be viewed as a standalone as each covers a different legend. The final book in this trilogy centres around three women Hippolyta the Queen of the Amazons, Admete the daughter of Eurystheus and Hera, goddess and wife of Zeus.

For the Immortal mostly alternates between the stories of Admete and Hippolyta - two seemingly unrelated stories, but in time, the paths of these two women do cross. Admete and Hippolyta come from such different backgrounds and way of life, but both face similar problems - the overriding authority of living in a male dominated world. These (in)famous men are portrayed very differently here - you really won’t like them - but that is the point.

These stories are, in the words of the author, ‘based around a conglomeration of different myths from all sources’. In this instalment, you will encounter the stories of: Hercules (formerly Alcides); Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons; briefly, Theseus; and of course, the Greek Gods themselves with the spotlight here on Hera. Hauser’s notes at the end of the story clearly outline her decision making in which myths and characters she included and her interpretation of them. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of Hippolyta and her two sisters and how she fictionalised each of them in distinct phases.

There are some slow parts but overall another wonderful escape into the world of Greek mythology. It is clearly evident the amount of research Hauser has undertaken, and how she cleverly provides a wealth of information, merged and translated for fictional purposes in an effort to create her unique and fascinating interpretation. Definitely worth a read for lovers of Greek mythology.

‘You are a bard, and I a scribe. Together we may make a story, a tale of heroes that will be told down the generations’



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, July 12, 2018

Review: The Songs of Us

Title: The Songs of Us
Author: Emma Cooper
Publisher: 31 May 2018 by Hachette (Headline Review)
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:
If Melody hadn't run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn't be left with a condition that makes her sing when she's nervous. And she definitely wouldn't have belted out the Arctic Monkeys' 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor' in assembly at her son's school.
If Dev hadn't taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn't have happened. He wouldn't have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life's heart.
But if they hadn't seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be 'Us'.
My Thoughts

‘Our life –no matter what happens in between –starts and ends with a heartbeat: our own personal rhythm, our own song.’

What an interesting book this proved to be. Swayed by other reviews, I am happy that I ventured into this somewhat darkly comic, family story.  This is no ordinary tale and therefore I feel the author has done an excellent job that is both funny and incredibly heart wrenching - in equal measure will you laugh and cry.

When you first start reading you may fall under false pretenses that this is a familiar themed chick lit with its generic romantic comedy formula. Light and fluffy this certainly is not, as you will seriously invest yourself in the many complex and challenging situations and characters. This book certainly did not venture down the path I first foresaw, in fact, the path is a mightily twisted and curved, one that will keep you guessing to the very end.

Each of the four main characters - Melody (Mum), Dev (Dad), Rose and Flynn (children) - have something unique to contribute as they walk through their life’s journey. Yes, you may very well laugh along as poor Melody’s condition will see her belting out another song and dance routine at the most inopportune times, but behind this facade is a far deeper, richer tale to be told. You will be captivated by these endearing characters and the battles they face both individually and together.

‘True love is simple. It’s there in the little Post-it notes, in the cup of tea when you wake up. It’s there when you argue and laugh five minutes later.’

Altogether it is such a well rounded book with a storyline that has a myriad of issues happening, some of which you simply will not see coming, but none are overwhelming. It truly is a heartwarming story of Melody and her struggles to do right by her family and those she loves. The characters and issues are real and therefore very believable and you will be taken on an emotionally charged journey throughout.

This novel will captivate you in unforeseen ways - you will laugh, shed a tear, feel your heart break and then have your faith in love restored. I recommend this quirky tale and don’t feel you will be disappointed.

‘I know I did the right thing to wait, because today was about flying, about rising above all of the world and its problems and leaving everything else behind.’



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.