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

Synopsis:
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

Synopsis:

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: The Art Of Keeping Secrets

Title: The Art Of Keeping Secrets
Author: Rachael Johns
Publisher: 19 September 2016 by Harlequin (Australia) TEEN/MIRA
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, womens fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:
Little secrets grow up to be big lies…

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.

But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.
Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.

My Thoughts

‘Is it a secret?’ He leant forward a little and whispered, ‘I promise I’m good at keeping secrets.’

The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns is my first book by her and I was eager to finally sample her writing, especially considering, many claim this to be one of  her best books so far. I was not disappointed. In a nutshell, this is the story of three women who are the best of friends and the secrets that they have kept not only from each other but from their families as well. One of the best things about this book, is that you don't have to wait until the closing stages for any big reveals. As their secrets slowly start to unfurl, the absolute heartache is so real you will find it difficult to put down.

‘Please, say something,’ she pleaded, her whole body trembling from the knowledge she’d finally revealed her biggest, darkest secret.'

Each of the lives of these three very different women is told from their perspective in alternating chapters. There really is something here for everyone as not only do you find yourself immersed in a highly engaging story but, just below that surface, Johns is examining the fallout of kept secrets: What happens when the truth is hidden to all of those involved? United by friendship they may be, but is it a strong enough foundation to see them through some testing times and differences of opinion? What will be the eventual and heartbreaking consequences when all is revealed? 

Each of the women bring their own unique thoughts and perspectives when faced with the cards life has dealt them and how they choose to then act upon that. Flick is solid and stoic and faced with a terrible decision; Neve has a hidden past that could really damage her future; and, Emma goes through a truly traumatic experience. 

It's a little difficult to reveal more because I mean, after all, it is a book about secrets. So without giving any spoilers away, suffice to say it's a highly engaging read that kept me up past my bedtime and I would recommend to readers across a range of genres.

'The time for secrets and lies was over.'



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, September 4, 2016

Review: The Woman Next Door

Title: The Woman Next Door
Author: Liz Byrski
Publisher: 28 June 2016 by Pan MacMillan Australia
Pages: 343 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
Over the years, the residents of Emerald Street have become more than just neighbours, they have built lasting friendships over a drink and chat on their back verandahs.
Now a new chapter begins with the children having left home. Helen and Dennis have moved from their high maintenance family property to an apartment by the river with all the mod cons. For Joyce and Mac, the empty nest has Joyce craving a new challenge, while Mac fancies retirement on the south coast.
Meanwhile, Polly embarks on a surprising long-distance relationship. But she worries about her friend next door. Stella's erratic behaviour is starting to resemble something much more serious than endearing eccentricity...
With her trademark warmth and wisdom, Liz Byrski involves us in the lives and loves of Emerald Street, and reminds us what it is to be truly neighbourly.

My Thoughts

"You know you're the same person but suddenly you see yourself in a mirror or reflected in a shop window and think - who is that old person that looks a bit like me?"

I was attracted to this book for two reasons. Firstly the names of the characters were very close to home which was fun. More importantly, Byrski's novels were purportedly about women in their 40s, 60s and 80s. Now, that makes a change. 

On the surface it may appear that this is a simple tale about friends caring and watching out for each other, as they pop next door for a cup of tea or to share a glass of wine on the back verandahs of their homes.  Dig a little deeper and you can see there was much more to it. This is a tale about ageing and the anxieties that come with it. Taking a range of people living in a neighbourhood together, Byrski is able to touch on just about something for everyone - whether you be single, married or divorced. How to move forward and create a new life for yourself whilst at the same time deal with social, emotional and physical issues that come with this period in life. It's a huge undertaking and I think Byrski has done a good job. I was particularly touched by the impact of Alzheimer's - something many of us fear for ourselves or those we love. 

There were also a couple of really surprising events that I did not see coming that provided additional authenticity to the story. All up I was happy to read this book for the reasons I had selected it - mature women and men and some of the issues they try to navigate in today's world. Its may be about redefining yourself or learning to accept what is.

"The past is the past. We do what we can, what seems right at the time."




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, August 27, 2016

Review: River Run

Title: River Run
Author: Nicole Alexander
Publisher: 29 August 2016 by Random House Australia
Pages: 387 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, Australia
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Taking place over just one week, River Run is an unputdownable rural drama from the bestselling author of The Bark Cutters and Wild Lands.

It is January 1951, and after a year away Eleanor Webber has returned home to River Run, her family's sprawling sheep property in western New South Wales. Fleeing a failed love affair back in Sydney, she hopes for some time and space to heal. 

But with shearing of over 25,000 sheep about to commence, and the infamous and moneyed Margaret Winslow and her husband Keith staying in the main house as her mother's guests, that dream is quickly dashed.

More worryingly, her half-brother Robbie is increasingly running wild, playing tricks on his governess, antagonising the jackeroos and obsessing about a communist invasion. Though only eleven, Robbie has appointed himself guardian of the property and, in his treehouse by the river, he readies for an imminent attack. Armed with a gun.

Then, with a storm looming and tensions rising in the shearing shed, a mysterious stranger appears on the horizon. 

And in one disastrous moment young Robbie entangles Eleanor in a situation that will have serious repercussions for every member of the Webber family.

My Thoughts

I am fast becoming a fan of Aussie author Nicole Alexander and 'River Run' provides another compelling historical tale which had me engaged throughout. Her last book, 'Wild Lands' was outstanding and this follow up, whilst not as captivating did not disappoint. There is intrigue, an interesting twist, a little romance and loads of 'Aussie-ness'.

"Across a country marked by fire and drought, rootless drovers and torrential rain, war-made swagmen and blacks on walkabout. This was a big land."

Alexander provides great Australian drama inspired by her own upbringing and family history. This particular tale is set on a family's sheep station in the middle of the Australian Outback. I loved that this book was placed in the 1950s - an era I am not particularly familiar with. It's a time when not only is Australia 'riding on the sheep's back', but when the glorious rich squatter days are under threat from possible strikes in the height of the shearing season. The side story of 'invading communists' sheds light on what, at the time, was seen as a real threat. 

"No, the bush makes a man think too much. If he's a loner and a dreamer, well, a man can get messed up in his own thoughts."

With Alexander's eloquent prose, 'River Run' paints a picture of Australia during this period of time. The fall out from the second World War was still being felt, especially with  the complete physical and emotional baggage returning soldiers carried. Alexander also undertakes a reflection on the changing status for the women and their role both in society and in the home. Then there is the harshness of the great Australian outback,  once again powerfully portrayed by Alexander and the havoc Mother Nature brings - everything from heatwaves to punishing storms. No stone is left unturned as a range of issues are touched upon - class wars and a touch of the indigenous. I loved reading how the author drew on her own family historical experiences to bring a real authenticity to the story that is' River Run'. 

Once again Alexander reminds us of how she is cementing herself at the heart of Australian literature with characters and a narrative that will take you back to one exceptional week in the 1950s.




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, August 18, 2016

Review: The House Between Tides

Title: The House Between Tides
Author: Sarah Maine
Publisher: 2 August 2016 by Atria Books
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Fans of Kate Morton will love this atmospheric and immersive debut novel of a woman who returns to her ancestral home in Scotland and discovers a century-old secret buried in the basement.

Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and returns to her ancestral home, a crumbling estate in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, with the intention of renovating and reselling it as a hotel, much to the dismay of the locals. As she dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers human remains beneath a rotting floorboard in the basement, with few physical clues to identify the body. Who was this person? And why the makeshift grave?

Hungry for answers, Hetty sets out to unravel the estate’s secret—and those of its former inhabitants, including Beatrice Blake, a woman who moved there a century ago with her husband Theo, a famous painter who seemed to be more interested in Cameron, a young local man, than his own wife.
Following whispered rumors and a handful of leads, Hetty soon discovers that no one knows exactly what happened to Beatrice, only that her actions have reverberated throughout history, affecting Hetty’s present in startling ways.

My Thoughts

This sounded like the kind of story I adore -  alternating tales between different time periods: 2010, when Hetty inherits the house, and at the turn of  last century, when artist Theo Blake lived there with his wife, Beatrice. Blake was portrayed as the tormented one:

"Blake was himself a tragic figure. From a meteoric rise which seemed set to place him amongst the greats of British art, he had fallen hard ... somewhere in that broken life, another life had ended. But when? And why?"

Overall it was good, but I did have reservations. At times I really struggled with the book being so very slow in places. I found myself yawning through passages that went for too long - too many walks along those wild, windy beaches. However, I was glad I persevered. I also struggled with the author revealing a clue and then going back to explain. Good tension was built but I didn't like the retrospective explanation:

"Something happened, and whatever it was, it was catastrophic and it stopped him in his tracks."

The mysterious outcome was also fairly predictable, so there were no real big surprises by the end. Still, as a debut, Maine should feel encouraged. Putting her in the same ball park as Kate Morton was rather daunting, but I can see how she may develop over time as this ended up being a promising first book. 

So whilst I would not describe this as a riveting read, it did contain enough intrigue to see me over the line. I enjoyed some secondary aspects to the tale such as, creating preservation areas versus promoting development; and, local livelihoods versus the life of the privileged.  The real winner was perhaps the location itself - wonderful descriptions of the Hebrides. A great sense of atmosphere and beauty was portrayed. Add to that vivid descriptions of Muirlan House itself, and it was captivating. 

"It was his refuge .... a place of wild beauty,... with endless stretches of bone-white sand, vast skies, and the sea - an ever-changing palette."

Despite struggling through some sections, I ultimately enjoyed the journey this book took me on. The dual timelines slowly unravel to a satisfying conclusion with the author using the landscape and wild weather to her advantage.

"a precious place, wild and unspoiled, a sanctuary for more than just the birds."



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, August 13, 2016

Review: The Missing Wife

Title: The Missing Wife
Author: Shiela O'Flanagan
Publisher: 14 June 2016 by Hachette Australia Headline Review
Pages: 480 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

Have you ever wanted to disappear? 

When Imogen Naughton vanishes, everyone who knows her is shocked. She has a perfect marriage. Her handsome husband treats her like a princess. She's always said how lucky she is. So why has she left? And how will she survive without Vince?

What goes on behind closed doors is often a surprise, and Imogen surprises herself by taking the leap she knows she must. But as she begins her journey to find the woman she once was, Imogen's past is right behind her...
Will it catch up with her? And will she be ready to face it if it does?

My Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by this read - consumed it really quickly - always a good sign. So, Imogen goes missing. Instead of returning home to Ireland after a business trip to Paris, she took the opportunity to implement 'The Plan'. What is that? Her carefully crafted escape plan that will allow her to leave Vince, her husband of 5 years and to regain control of her life.

'What’s happened to me? she asked herself. Who am I? Why am I so afraid?'

Obviously it's not your typical chick lit, but also, not too heavy or depressing.  Its about a woman trying to escape from her obsessive and dominating husband. Some of the chapters are told by her husband, which is really insightful, not only on his crazy thoughts but also just  how controlling he is while all the while believing he is doing nothing wrong. The psychological abuse is so subtle it took Imogen a couple of years to recognise it for what it was. 

'And yet she knew that she was taking the line of least resistance over almost everything because it was easier to give in over something trivial than risk days of silent brooding.'

Imogen makes a plan to escape and run away when the opportunity presents itself. This is the story of her escape and how she learns to get by, and the ensuing search that you just know her husband will undertake with the inevitable final showdown.  I also enjoyed the supporting characters who learned about themselves through Imogen.

'Totally alone and uncontactable. Answering to nobody but herself. There was an intense freedom in it.'

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be transported to the south of France with a compelling read about self discovery and making fresh starts, finding ultimate happiness.

‘I suppose we all have times when our defences are down,’ said Lucie. ‘That’s when we make mistakes. Realising it is the key thing. Not making them again is the result of learning.'




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