Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: Our House

Title:  Our House
Author: Louise Candlish
Publisher: 1st June 2018 by Simon & Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, mystery, thriller
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

On a bright morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought on Trinity Avenue. Nothing strange about that. Except it's your house. And you didn’t sell it.
FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE.
When Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house, she is plunged into terror and confusion. She and her husband Bram have owned their home on Trinity Avenue for years and have no intention of selling. How can this other family possibly think the house is theirs? And why has Bram disappeared when she needs him most?
FOR RICHER, FOR POORER.
Bram has made a catastrophic mistake and now he is paying. Unable to see his wife, his children or his home, he has nothing left but to settle scores. As the nightmare takes grip, both Bram and Fi try to make sense of the events that led to a devastating crime. What has he hidden from her – and what has she hidden from him? And will either survive the chilling truth – that there are far worse things you can lose than your house?
TILL DEATH US DO PART.


My Thoughts

‘The lights are out in all rooms except the kitchen; if you walked by the house now, you wouldn’t know it has changed hands. You wouldn’t know one family had been replaced by another.’

What an interesting book! Louise Candlish creates a story that will draw you in from beginning to end. You will find it hard not to pass judgement on the lives of Fi and Bram as you watch their lives slowly unravel. Separated after Bram’s infidelity, they work around the custody of their two young boys by adopting a ‘bird’s nest’ strategy - each parent takes turns alternating on a roster of either living in a shared apartment whilst the other maintains the family home. All in the name of stability!

‘The house sheltered us and protected us, but it also defined us. It kept us current long after our expiry date.’

Then you come home one day to find not only all your possession gone, but another family moving in and an estranged husband that cannot be located! The story then proceeds to go back and forth between past and present events to backfill leading up to this disastrous day. Clever - as puzzle pieces are slowly produced and the full picture becomes abundantly clear. For me, there are also two ‘WHOA’ plot twists that will most certainly take your breath away.

The story is told in a most unique way with both Fi and Bram presenting events from their alternating viewpoint. Fi’s is via a victim of crime podcast in the aftermath, where listeners can tweet their #theories and #opinions! Bram tells his via a typed Word Document, also after the event. I did enjoy this tale but, at times, was frustrated by both the lack of pace and frustrating events and characters. Still it was fascinating, even if the end left me speechless and perplexed.

So a big thumbs up for such an original concept, complex plot, crazy secrets, really unlikable characters and some incredible twists. This mystery is sure to please as an easy but engrossing page turner.  I mean, imagine coming home one day to find new people moving into your home and no one can tell you how it happened? This is a mystery involving relatable people who suffer from terrible lies and manipulation, where the loved ones you are trying to protect are the very people you may ultimately destroy.

‘..it is also quite fitting that it’s ended the way it has, because it has always been about the house. Our marriage, our family, our life: they only seemed to make proper sense at home.’




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, June 14, 2018

Review: Burning Fields

Title: Burning Fields
Author: Alli Sinclair
Publisher: 21 May 2018 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, womens fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:
1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane-growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception.
As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre-war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.
Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.
Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia—until he meets Rosie. Her easy-going nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.
When a long-hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?
My Thoughts

‘Sometimes the biggest battles are the ones we have inside us.’

Burning Fields is a historical fiction novel by Aussie author Alli Sinclair. Having previously enjoyed Alli’s other books (HERE) it was a fresh change to find her delve into the sugar cane fields of far north Queensland just after the conclusion of WWII. Although there is a love story here, I would suggest that the stronger plot is that of Australia’s multicultural history and the background to social and cultural changes that were occurring at the time.

There are also flashbacks to fill in details regarding Tomas’s thoughts and actions in Italy during the war. I thought this was well done and a clever way to backfill information. Using this information, combined with events in Queensland straight after the war, helped to demonstrate how complicated war is - none more so than for Italian citizens who found themselves switching alliances part way and the terrible angst and pressure it placed on those who remained to either conform or resist. As in the case of Tomas, nothing is as it seems - and for good reason.

There is much to appreciate about this read. Everything from:  wartime Italy, Italian family bonds (love Nonna), to life as an immigrant in ‘White Australia’ especially in the far rural reaches of the Queensland cane fields - racism was rife. I loved the descriptions of town life and the distances and strong community that was conveyed. Alli also touched on the struggle for women post war and the expectation of returning to their prewar roles after having contributed so much for the war effort. The  attitude towards women, not only sexism in a professional capacity, but also during social circumstances.

I congratulate Alli for tackling some topical issues - not only of the past but seen through present eyes, as it will surely would stimulate conversation. These issues set against a enticing location, combined with engaging relationships - Tomas and Rosie, Nonna and Rosie’s mother and father - will provide a most entertaining story for readers.

Tomas guided her hand upwards and rested it over her heart ...
‘This is where home is. I have spent too long trying to figure out what home means to me and I have finally come to the realisation that your home is wherever you feel love.’
‘Not Italy?’
‘Not Italy. Not Australia. Not the moon. Here,’ he squeezed her hand that still lay over her heart.



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, June 7, 2018

Review: Love and Other Words

Title:  Love and Other Words
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: 10th April 2018 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother...only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

My Thoughts

“It never occurred to me that love could be anything other than all-consuming. Even as a child, I knew I never wanted anything less”

There is just so much to love about this book. I could simply state that the fact that the two main characters love books and reading ... well that would suffice any bibliophile! Their passion not only for each other, but also books and their ‘favourite word’, should just about make you want to go grab a copy right now! And that is only the beginning.

“Favorite word?” he whispers. I don’t even hesitate: “You.”

This is a story about a second chance at a life time love and what a winner  it is! Told in alternating time periods - their teenage years and then eleven years later - it recalls the budding childhood friendship that evolved into so much more. There is an underlying unknown until the very end about what drove them apart all those years ago, but for me, it was the journey they both went on - together and separately - that is the real winner here. Still, questions persist - can Macy let her guard down? What tore them apart eleven years ago? I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go read this book and let yourself be swept away through magical prose and a journey into the lives of some remarkable characters.

‘He’s my person. He’s always been my person. My best friend, my confidant, probably the love of my life. And I’ve spent the last eleven years being angry and self-righteous. But at the end of the day, he tore a hole in us, and fate ripped it wide open.’

It’s about best friends, kindred spirits, who became something more and then lost it all. Without doubt it is heartfelt, sexy, sad, dramatic and totally appealing to readers of this genre. I just loved all the characters - Macy and her Dad, Elliot and his family, Macy’s best friend - this is a tale full of emotion, I could not devour it quick enough. It is not a simple romance, oh no, it is so much more. I challenge you not to be captivated, not to fall in love yourself with what you are reading. This is a book that will make you feel.

‘I honestly don’t even know how to translate this heavy emotion in my chest. Is it that I relate so intensely to what he’s saying.’

There is not much more to say, but read it. It’s sweet, it will own you and let you lose yourself in some magical writing. As it states in the introduction, ‘Love and Other Words is a celebration of the fragility of love, the beauty of literature, and the strength of true friendship to overcome anything.’

“Why can’t everyone be like you?”
“I can be enough of your world that it feels like everyone is.”





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, May 31, 2018

Review: The Sapphire Widow

Title: The Sapphire Widow
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Publisher: 5 April 2018 by Penguin Books (UK) Viking
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, womens fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:
Ceylon, 1935. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot, a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all. Except what they long for more than anything: a child.
While Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot is increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation, overlooking the Indian ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn towards the owner Leo, a rugged outdoors man with a chequered past. The plantation casts a spell, but all is not as it seems. And when Elliot's shocking betrayal is revealed, Louisa has only Leo to turn to...
My Thoughts

‘I told him if Ceylon was where his heart belonged, it was where my heart would belong too.’

I was happy to read another Dinah Jefferies novel as you are guaranteed to be transported to some exotic location and time.  The Sapphire Widow is set during the British occupation of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and vivid descriptions of the town of Galle are given. Dinah has this wonderful capacity to truly capture the feel and essence of times long gone. Her descriptions of everything from the bustling Colombo, to being lost in the jungle - you will experience it all: warm rain falling, splashing in the surf, watching fireflies and the inviting aroma of the spice trade.

This book is full of evocative detail about what life would have been like for expats living there and I truly enjoyed this aspect. Sadly, I did find the story itself surrounding Louisa and Elliot to be quite predictable. So whilst it reads wonderfully well in time and location, there are no real surprises here. The plot is straight forward and characters are lacking in depth, as little investment was provided to them - even the swindling bad guys came and went inconspicuously - connections were lacking.

The story is well constructed and I recommend escaping to Galle for a few hours. Credit has to be given to to the research undertaken with the atmosphere being palpable. Sadly though, with characters lacking emotional depth and no strong storyline, it is left as a pleasant escape alone. I wanted to feel the betrayal and hope that are the main themes of this story but it never really goes beyond the simplistic, only ever scratching the surface.



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, May 24, 2018

Review: The Last of the Bonegilla Girls

Title:  The Last of the Bonegilla Girls
Author: Victoria Purman
Publisher: 23rd April 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
For readers of The Woolgrower's Companion and The Three Miss Allens… Their friendship transcends nationality and background, but can it overcome the horrors of the past?
A post-Second World War story of strong female ties and family, secrets and lies, set in the multicultural Australia of the fifties. Can the Bonegilla girls defeat their past? Or will it come to claim them?
1954: When sixteen–year–old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post–war Germany. Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp's director.
In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever–present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn't do to keep her safe.
But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch...
My Thoughts

‘They had been friends when they were young, when they were able to celebrate the freedoms of a new life in Australia, thrown together by the circumstance of being at Bonegilla at the same time.’

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is the tale of four girls from different backgrounds and their friendship over a lifetime. It is a heartwarming, yet at times, heartbreaking tale which spans not only their generation, but introduces the next as well. It begins at the Bonegilla migrant camp and then follows them through their lives after their departure, as they embark on a new post war life in Australia. These girls remain friends and, apart from letter writing, share a few reunions over the years as well.

What I appreciated most about this story was the research. I have not read a great deal about this time period in Australia and really appreciated not only the history of migrants to Australia at this particular time period, but I felt that the author conveyed a fairly accurate  portrayal of life in Australia for everyone especially during the 1950s. Even with time period jumps to the 1970s and later, although briefer, there was still a true representation.

‘The Australians … they want us to come and do all the dirty jobs, to work in the dirt and the heat and the cold, to dig underground for the Snowy, to grow their food and work in their factories. But they don’t really want us to be Australians.’

With the book spanning decades, it was therefore difficult for a satisfactory amount of detail in both person and place to be conveyed to my liking. So after the initial detail of life at the migrant camp, things jumped around quite a bit and the depth began to diminish. With the underlying theme centred around how to compliment a life that brought together the old and new, the author did a good job. I felt how the European girls were torn in their attempts to placate both culture and family with trying to assimilate into a new society.

‘Some people just don’t like new Australians’

As mentioned, there is heartbreak in this read. Maintaining the old ways brought pain and sorrow with many a secret held onto. So whilst reunions brought some joy, especially with their children and then grandchildren, there was also resignation about what could never be for them. So from this point of view, it was sad, however, there was promise for a different life in the society their children were to grown up in. All up a worthy read, especially if you are interested in this particular time period in Australian history.

‘I can’t help but think … well, I can’t help but think about what might have been. Between the two of us. The time just wasn’t right, was it?’




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, May 17, 2018

Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Title: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Author: Holly Ringland
Publisher: 19 March 2018 by Harper Collins (Australia)
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength. An enchanting and captivating novel, about how our untold stories haunt us - and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family's story. In her early twenties, Alice's life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice's unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

My Thoughts

‘Who were the people that sent flowers instead of words? How could a flower possibly say the same things as words? What would one of her books, made of thousands of words, look like in flowers?’

Having read the reviews and seen the incredible publicity surrounding this book,  I entered this read with cautiously high expectations. I was not disappointed, so much so, that if  there is one book you read this year, make it this one. I now fully appreciate the attention Holly Ringland is receiving as her book is a most worthy recipient. On these pages you will find complete heartbreak as secrets bring about such violence and regret. Yet through it all is hope and that is what you cling to. You can’t leave Alice’s side with all she seeks to be and do from such a young age, right through to adulthood.

I simply adore how each chapter opens with a drawing and detailed information of a particular native flower that would be pertinent to that chapter - each flower so clearly carefully selected. So whilst it may read like a guide to Australia’s native flora, it is so much more with the powerful links being made between the use of the flower and how it conveys or relates to the underlying theme of what you are about to read.

‘She might not know where or how to begin talking to the child, but she could do the next best thing. Teach her the ways of speaking through flowers.’

Then there are the array of characters - wow - so complex and engaging. Do not be misled though, this is not an easy read. In parts you will be confronted by terrible, horrific incidents of brutality and violence - but once again it is the flowers, the hope that you cling to. The settings are breathtaking - from coast to rural inland to remote desert. These locations add to the whole ambience of the novel.  Finally, the themes are almost as vast as the territory covered - heartbreak and incredible sadness, love and hate, secrets and betrayal, terrible trauma with the hope of survival. This is a tale of the lost and found, forgiveness and acceptance, renewal and the future. Huge isn’t it! Commanding it is!

‘Thornfield had always been a place where flowers and women could bloom. Every woman who came to Thornfield was given the opportunity to grow beyond the things in life that had trampled her.’

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is one of ‘those’ books, as it will captivate and consume you. It is such an incredible story and so deftly handled, that you cannot fail to be moved by all it presents. Do yourself a favour and take a journey into the world of Alice Hart.

'Her future glowed ahead of her, an ember waiting to be breathed 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.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review: Let Me Lie

Title:  Let Me Lie
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: 13th March 2018 by Hachette/Sphere
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, thriller
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.
One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.
Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…
My Thoughts


“Some secrets shouldn’t be shared outside the family. Others shouldn’t be shared at all”.

‘Let Me Lie’ by Clare Mackintosh is a psychological thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed. Slowly built up, the story is told between alternating points of view from main characters and then an unknown person, but somehow involved. Who is this mystery narrator? Your guesses will continue to change throughout the story! Clare Mackintosh's crime writing is sublime as she weaves the complex plot with it's many twists and turns.

Firstly, can Clare Mackintosh write! It flows so well with good, strong character descriptions. You cannot help but feel for poor Anna - new partner, new baby and both parents gone through suicide - or have they? On the anniversary of the deaths, a mystery note sends her slow healing world into a spin. Who would do this and why? Keep reading! Then there are the secondary characters and I state straight away how much I loved the retired detective Murray. He, along with his wife Sarah, provide a super side story to the main plot as the author deftly handles the issues of mental illness and suicide. Obviously dealing with his own personal issues, it is his tenacity in pursuing this cold case in an effort to assist Anna, that endears him to the reader.

Apart from those two main leads, add into the mixture Anna’s new partner and father to her child, Mark and what role he might play in handling Anna who was once his patient. Anna’s Uncle Billy, her mother’s godchild Laura, even the neighbour and you really are provided with a good strong ensemble of players in the tale.

I had previous read Clare’s ‘I Let You Go’ (review HERE) and was impressed. If you haven’t read her books before then you simply must. Unable to really cannot discuss the plot, I would still highly recommend this book as once again the complexity, depth of characters, vivid descriptions and killer twists all lends itself to a very entertaining read.



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