Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review: The Thief

Title: The Thief (Borderland Brides #2)
Author: Allison Butler

Publisher: 2nd June 2021 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 326  pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical romance, fiction, cultural Scotland

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Synopsis:


She needs a home, he needs a bride ... neither wants to fall in love.


1402, the Anglo-Scottish border.

To fulfil his father's dying wish, border laird Lachlan Elliot must marry and sire a legitimate heir, cementing his family's name in the tumultuous borderlands. But he is determined his marriage will be one of convenience only - he has no time for the pain and betrayal of love.


So even when Lachlan catches a spirited thief stealing his horse, and she turns out to be the breathtaking daughter of a neighbouring laird, he vows to marry her, bed her, but never love her.


Kenzie never wanted an arranged marriage, but to be forced to wed the domineering laird who catches her thieving from his lands is even worse. Feisty, strong-willed and determined to make her own way, she may have no choice but to agree to the marriage, but she will never give up her independence. Lachlan may own her body, but he will never own her heart ...

My Thoughts

Well it’s getting cold Downunder and we are in lockdown yet again, so what better way to pass the time than romancing it in the Scottish Highlands. For that quick, simple, smiley read, look no further than Allison’s latest book to pass away a chilly weekend. 


You know the drill - an accidental yet fortuitous meeting, an arranged marriage but luckily (how lucky can you be!) they are both good looking, kind and falling for each other because of above said qualities.  Keeping their distance and secrets, they dance around each other (literally and figuratively) until we get our prerequisite happy ending after jumping through the necessary hurdles (including a rather awful and manipulative sister).


No brooding laird here, no damsel in distress either. It was great that we had two rather sound and sensible leads who gently let their defences down to be honest with each other. Both lust and love are now on the horizon for this couple. 


If you too are staying indoors don’t be shy about venturing out to secure a copy of the latest Borderland Bride to while away a few hours around the hearth. If Scottish flings are your thing, you won’t be disappointed. 






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

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Review: The School - The ups and downs of one year in the classroom

Title: The School  - The ups and downs of one year in the classroom
Author: Brendan James Murray

Publisher: 25th May 2021 by Pan Macmillan Australia

Pages: 416 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs | Nonfiction (Adult)

My Rating: 4 cups


Synopsis:

One teacher. One school. One year.

 Brendan James Murray has been a high school teacher for more than ten years. In that time he has seen hundreds of kids move through the same hallways and classrooms - boisterous, angry, shy, big-hearted, awkward - all of them on the journey to adulthood.

 

In The School, he paints an astonishingly vivid portrait of a single school year, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of being a teenager, as well as the fire, passion and occasional heartbreak of being their teacher. Hilarious, heartfelt and true, it is a timeless story of a teacher and his classes, a must-read for any parent, and a tribute to the art of teaching.


My Thoughts


‘So much student learning lies somewhere beyond the documented curriculum, floating outside and around it, often uncontained by the walls of the classroom.’


The teacher in me was eager to read this fellow educationalist's view of working in the classroom - and a classroom none other than in my home town! The School chronicles a year in his classroom, in a public school located in a somewhat disadvantaged beachside suburb. This book is very much a dedication to some extraordinary students Brendan has taught over his career. 


‘You will find these pages cluttered with souls jostling for your attention. That is the reality of teaching.’

 

All up it is clearly a well written book with Brendan capturing the many aspects of working at the ‘coal face’ of the classroom. It is a real and accurate portrayal of the many confronting aspects of teaching in today’s world. It is more than just a straight twelve month tale in one classroom - Brendan revisits his own time at school, takes us to a child escaping their village in Africa, to an adolescent cancer ward.


‘It was a juggling act, as teaching always is. Grace needed one-to-one support, but the rest of the students in the class were just as deserving of my time. I would not let any of them become invisible. I would not let them drift into the land of ghosts.’


There is not a shadow of a doubt that Brenda is a caring person and an exceptional teacher. Who else but such a human being as this would walk side by side with the many injustices and inequalities that confront so many in our world. Personally, I find that school is often a student’s ‘safe place’ where they know once they walk through that gate, they are in an environment that cares and provides support. Brendan expertly captures the very much holistic nature of educating today’s young. From a Kenyan refugee, to cancer sufferer, determined sportsman to those suffering from the anxiety of their final year exams - Breandan considerately covers it all. 


‘The current problem, then, is not the data fixation itself, but the prioritisation of quantitative over qualitative data.’


I applaud Brendan highlighting certain controversial aspects of today’s education system - students who ‘just’ miss out on funding and denied support; and its evolution into a bungling bureaucratic system obsessed with data and scores that fails to often see the individual sitting in each and every classroom. The teacher has so many boxes to tick, forms to complete and methods to trial that more often than not, many are slipping through the cracks. 


‘Our work gave her a protective standard of literacy, but it was not the standard she deserved or what her parents’ tax dollars should have provided. Wherever she is now, I can only apologise on behalf of a system that let her down.’


Congratulations Brendan on giving such a heartfelt voice to the seemingly many faceless, some of whom become lost in our system. To truthfully portray the absorbing nature of our job when one cares about those under our tutelage and only wants what's best for them - to see them stand confidently in today’s world.  


‘So what do I fear? I fear the heart going out of the teaching...’






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


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Review: Hemingway's Cats

Title: Hemingway's Cats
Author: Lindsey Hooper

Publisher: 25th April 2021 by Kensington Books

Pages: 272 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction

My Rating: 3 cups


Synopsis:


IInspired by the true story of the world-famous six-toed felines of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida--and the fur-raising hurricane that nearly blew them away--Hemingway's Cats is a delightful novel packed with colorful characters, adorable cats, a little romance, and a lot of humor.


Laura Lange didn't come to Key West to fall in love. As a recent college grad--with a useless degree in English--she came to work at the historic Hemingway home as a tour guide. Why not? She wrote her thesis on the iconic author. She has no other job offers. And she's desperate. Now Laura is falling desperately in love--with the fifty-four frisky felines who freely roam the estate. These descendants of Hemingway's original cat have not only stolen her heart--they're changing her life in ways she never imagined . . .


First there's Nessie, the bushy-tailed house mother of the cats who seems to have adopted Laura, too. Then there's grumpy old Pawpa Hemingway; the cat thieves Chew-Chew and Whiskey; the big-pawed Boxer and Bullfighter; and dozens of darling kittens. The locals are lovable, too. Laura's having a great time with her boy-crazy bungalow roomies, the Crabb sisters, and especially the young, handsome cat keeper, Jake. But Laura's summer of fun is about to take an unexpected turn--a Category 5 hurricane is about to make landfall directly on their doorstep . . .

They can't possibly evacuate fifty-four cats. So Laura, Nessie, and all of their friends decide to hunker down in the Hemingway House to weather this storm--together.


My Thoughts


Simply told, this book is about a college graduate who moves to Key West to work as a tour guide at the Ernest Hemingway home which is now a museum. Here she meets an eclectic group of people and the six toed cats that inhabit the home with an approaching hurricane on the horizon.


“Yes, I really loved that Hemingway quote. Especially the part about living life ‘intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.’ I don’t know why, but it really struck a nerve with me. It was exactly what I needed to hear, right here and right now.”


Personally, I picked this book up because of my love of  travel, history and cats - on all counts the book was good. To ‘escape’ to the famous Key West, have interspersed references to Hemingway and all accompanied with delightful feline fetishes was fun. Let it be said however, this is a most quirky little book. An interesting array of characters reside in this Florida locale and it is very much a character driven book. Many will find it amusing to say the least. I struggled somewhat with the writing not really understanding some of the author choices in switching to journal mode or the fizzled drama halfway through the book as an example.


All up if any of the main themes appeal to you, it is a pleasant way to escape to Florida Keys. And if an eclectic group of people hunkering down for an oncoming hurricane of the century appeals to you, then this will be sure to entertain. 


‘... just minutes before the hurricane made landfall - everyone was safe inside the Hemingway House. This included twelve people, two Chihuahuas, two boa constrictors, two box turtles, two tarantulas, two lovebirds, one parrot, one iguana, and, by last count, fifty-four cats. It felt like a slumber party. In a zoo.’






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

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Review: Three Weddings and a Proposal

Title: Three Weddings and a Proposal
Author: Sheila O’Flanagan

Publisher: 27th April 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 454 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:

At the first wedding, there's a shock.

 

The second wedding is unexpected. 

 

By the third, Delphie thinks nothing could surprise her. But she's wrong . . .

 

Delphie is enjoying her brother's wedding. Her surprise last-minute Plus One has stunned her family - and it's also stopped any of them asking again why she's still single. But when she sees all the missed calls that evening, she knows it can't be good news. And she's right.

 

Delphie has been living her best life, loving her job, her friends, her no-strings relationships and her dream house by the sea. Now she has to question everything she believed about who she is and what she wants. Is her mum right - is it time to settle down? Or does she want to keep on trying to have it all?

 

Each wedding of a glorious summer brings a new surprise. And as everything Delphie thought she had is threatened, she has the chance to reshape her future . . 


My Thoughts


Sheila O’Flanagan is becoming a firm favourite of mine and her latest offering did not disappoint. In fact, I cannot help but feel that the book title does a complete disservice to what the novel truly is about. Superficially yes, there are weddings and a proposal but dig deeper and there is so much more to this tale. There are the requisite lighthearted and romantic moments, yet at its heart I applauded the strong stance made by the women who embrace their independence. 


‘Everyone says they want you to be happy, but it’s their version of happy that they want.’


Women can be and do anything they put their mind to in today’s age, however, there is that unspoken expectation of marriage/partners and children. Sheila explores this through her main character in an authentic way that will ring true for many females. What does today’s ‘modern woman’ look like and how can society be supportive of that? I could relate to much of what was on offer in this book through the entirely relatable characters and storylines. It is wonderful to journey along with Delphie and the hurdles and realisations she must encounter in an effort to be who she truly feels deep down inside. 


‘Maybe we let ourselves feel pressure,’ I observe. ‘Maybe we have to not care so much about what other people think.’ 


Three Weddings and a Proposal has much more on offer than what one may assume at first glance. Enjoy the lightheartedness, but appreciate that this book is about recognising your own strength and staying true to what makes you happy. Yes, there will be pressures from those near and far but remember ... you always have choices. 


‘You can’t live your life with the fear of missing out. You have to make choices. You have to believe in your choices. And you have to have confidence in the future’







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

Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: Chasing the Italian Dream

Title: Chasing the Italian Dream
Author: Jo Thomas

Publisher: 10th June 2021 by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers Corgi

Pages: 342  pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, fiction, contemporary, culture Italy

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Synopsis:


Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents' house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna's mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.


But she's shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can't bear the thought of the place changing hands - especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!


Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

My Thoughts

‘Pizzas, made for sharing, with the simplest of ingredients, cooked and served with love. That’s what counts.’

Every now and again you just need that ‘breather’ of a book. You know the type ....  one that whisks you away where the sun is shining, people support each other and new ventures are undertaken. Chasing the Italian Dream is just the fresh air I was searching for.

‘Now it’s my turn to be brave. Do what I love. I need to live to work, not the other way round. I need to see that what I’m doing means something.’

If you enjoy books set in Italy, rural Italy with loads of sumptuous food, then this really is the book for you. You will find yourself seated in the piazza, eating antipasto or pizza and with a vino of course!  The range of characters are good - I particularly enjoyed the author's social commentary on the inherent patriarchal society prevalent in these older Italian communities - you know, women at home being wife and mother and not considered capable or appropriate to be a pizzaiola or restaurant owner. Credit to Jo for making one of the central themes of this book all about the role of women in conjunction with the contributions of all the ‘Nonna’s’!

‘... it made me see that life’s too short not to do the thing you love. Not to follow your heart, to feel like you belong.’

If you are after some pure escapism, especially as trips to the Italian countryside can only be via your armchair presently, then let Jo bring a little Italy to you. Visit Nonno’s Pizzeria and bask in the sun, eating and drinking to while away a few hours immersed in good Italian cuisine. 

‘Pizza-making is about tradition, the terrain and the craft,’ I say, repeating my grandfather’s words. ‘It should not be about what sex you are or where you’ve come from. It’s about you putting your story on the plate, wherever you’ve come from.’







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

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Review: The Warsaw Orphan

Title: The Warsaw Orphan
Author: Kelly Rimmer

Publisher: 28th April 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 416 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, WWII, Poland

My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:


In the spring of 1942, young Elzbieta Rabinek is aware of the swiftly growing discord just beyond the courtyard of her comfortable Warsaw home. She has no fondness for the Germans who patrol her streets and impose their curfews, but has never given much thought to what goes on behind the walls that contain her Jewish neighbors. She knows all too well about German brutality--and that it's the reason she must conceal her true identity. But in befriending Sara, a nurse who shares her apartment floor, Elzbieta makes a discovery that propels her into a dangerous world of deception and heroism.


Using Sara's credentials to smuggle children out of the ghetto brings Elzbieta face-to-face with the reality of the war behind its walls, and to the plight of the Gorka family, who must make the impossible decision to give up their newborn daughter or watch her starve. For Roman Gorka, this final injustice stirs him to rebellion with a zeal not even his newfound love for Elzbieta can suppress. But his recklessness brings unwanted attention to Sara's cause, unwittingly putting Elzbieta and her family in harm's way until one violent act threatens to destroy their chance at freedom forever.


From Nazi occupation to the threat of a communist regime, The Warsaw Orphan is the unforgettable story of Elzbieta and Roman's perilous attempt to reclaim the love and life they once knew.


My Thoughts


“Grieving is what you do when those you love are lost to you. They have not been lost to me,” I said in disgust, weeping. “They have been taken from me. There is a difference.”


Kelly Rimmer has done it again! The Warsaw Orphan is another spectacular historical fiction novel. Emotional, heartbreaking yet somehow she leaves us with a sense of hopefulness. It portrays the harsh life for the people of Warsaw with first the Germans and then later the Soviets during the occupation of WWII. 


‘When you have seen these things, things so horrific that you cannot become hardened to them, how can you just go back to existing again? Even if the war ended tomorrow, I feel like I would be broken for the rest of my life, and in ways that I can’t even understand, let alone explain.’


This is the story of two teenagers and their unique perspective on this well documented time period. It’s a tale of their growing up in extenuating circumstances of trying to survive in a city blanketed by hardship, suffering and incredible injustices under Nazi and then Soviet occupation. 


‘To face the inhuman, one must become superhuman.’


From the outset to its finale, Kelly offers an amazing story of survival and friendship. It really is quite the tale. Well researched and beautifully written, having been inspired by true events in Poland during WWII. From the resistance within the Jewish Warsaw ghetto, to the Soviet occupied streets or running through the sewers, you are there witnessing the hunger and fear, the despair yet determination. Sitting in the comfort of one’s home, it will shake you to your core to read what these people endured and sacrificed. 


‘Maybe I could force myself to return to the ghetto, but I would have to learn how to stop bringing the ghetto home with me or I’d never survive.’


The story of Elzbieta and Roman, and indeed many of the other characters gives you perspective on what kept them strong, how their beliefs and actions may not align, but always .... always .... how they loved and supported each other.  


“I’m jealous of you. I miss believing that there is some purpose and some sense to life,” Sara sighed. “Maybe, tonight when you pray, you could send up a little prayer for me, too.”


The Warsaw Orphan is undoubtedly an emotional ride with its true power in how it will make you think and what it will make you feel. To be confronted with both the failings and strengths of humanity yet through it all, the power of ‘family’ to hold true through the worst imaginable circumstances. Whilst not an easy book to read at times, it most definitely is a must read as it has a powerful story to tell - a tale that you will reflect upon long after the final page is turned. 


‘At the end of the day, that was my worst nightmare—not the trials of the ghetto. I would endure torture and starvation and even death if it meant I could stay with my family. There was nothing more important to me in the world.’







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


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Review: Ariadne

Title: Ariadne 
Author: Jennifer Saint

Publisher: 29th April 2021 by Hachette Australia 

Pages: 400  pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, Greek mythology, retelling

My Rating: 4 cups


Synopsis:


A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCE, A SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.


As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos's greatest shame and Ariadne's brother – demands blood every year.


When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.


In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne's decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover's ambition?


Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

My Thoughts

‘In those crucial moments when fateful decisions were made, did they feel the air brighten with the zing of destiny? Or did they blunder on, not realising the pivotal moment in which destiny swung and fates were forged?’


Ariadne follows a similar retelling of the Classical Greek myths but with the perspective of the women who were traditionally left in the shadows. So, if you are at all familiar with Greek mythology, some of what you will read will surely be familiar. However, it is enlightening to see events from little known characters, in this instance, Ariadne.


Although the title focuses on Ariadne, the book in fact alternates between Ariadne and her younger sister Phaedra. The author develops the story of these two sisters whilst incorporating the well known myths - a perfect melding on a range of variations but with a female-focused retelling of the Greek myth.


 ‘Where was the bold Ariadne who had stepped aboard Theseus’ boat, her old life in flames behind her and the future unknown?’


Interestingly, it was Phaedra’s story that held just as much appeal for me as Ariadne’s. With the latter located on an island for most of the book, it was her sister Phaedra who interacted more and therefore had a less introspective story to tell. I had read much on Theseus' tale before, so it was Dionysus' tale that was new to me and engaging - a worthy Greek God inclusion.


If you have read and enjoyed the novels Circe or The Silence of the Girls then you are bound to enjoy Ariadne. It is a most engaging read, a sort of female modern insight and perspective into an infamous Greek tale of tragedy. 


‘My family was gone; they would never acknowledge me again. I knew it to be so, but I could not feel it to be true except in these sudden bursts of realisation. The light of that strange, unthinkable truth would dazzle me for a moment and then it would be gone again, a fleeting sense of terrible loss.’






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