Monday, October 22, 2018

Review: Under My Skin

Title: Under My Skin
Author: Lisa Unger
Publisher: Harlequin Australia, HQ (Fiction, Non Fiction, YA) & MIRA HQ Fiction, 23 September
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
My Rating: 4.5 cups


Synopsis:


From New York Times bestselling author and master of suspense Lisa Unger comes an addictive psychological thriller about a woman on the hunt for her husband’s killer.
What if the nightmares are actually memories?
It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiralled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused and wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognise. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?
The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts — there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she's unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?


My Thoughts


Under My Skin was a really compelling psychological thriller that I greatly enjoyed. It kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. The protagonist, Poppy, was trying to move on from the murder of her husband. She was unable to do this because she was spiralling down into a well of grief and the methods she was using to cope were causing her more problems.


The book is very well written and starts off with a description of one of Poppy’s online dates. It flashes between the past and the present and you have to really be concentrating to know what period each chapter is!


Poppy starts to have what she thinks are nightmares, but she isn’t sure whether they are nightmares or memories returning from her lost days.

“The details of the dream are already slippery. What kind of car? What club? It’s important  to remember; I must dig into that place.”


I really liked the character, Detective Grayson, the detective trying to solve Jack’s murder. He was doing his job, but he was also showing his human side to Poppy and even though they met under such tragic circumstances, they almost became friends who relied on each other.


“I appreciate how he often uses Jack’s name, doesn’t call him ‘your husband’ or ‘the victim’. I feel like he knew Jack, that they might have been friends.”


Layla was Poppy’s best friend and even though she was just trying to keep Poppy safe, I felt like she was too controlling and tried to take over Poppy’s life. It was only when Poppy ‘escaped Layla’s clutches’, that she really started to heal.


“You’re not staying here,”...she casts a quick dismissive look at Grayson. “Pack a bag.”


All the characters Poppy meets along the way, eventually lead to an outcome, but there is a very surprising twist at the end that I certainly didn’t see coming. Lisa places suspicion on one character and then does a complete turnaround! Very clever storyteller!


This is a very enjoyable thriller and if you like suspense, then pick yourself up a copy of Under My Skin.


“I wish he had protected himself.”





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, October 20, 2018

Review: Muse of Nightmares

Title: Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer #2)
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: 2nd October 2018 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 528 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fantasy, young adult
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:
Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.
She believed she knew every horror, and was beyond surprise.
She was wrong.
In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.
Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice--save the woman he loves, or everyone else?--while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?
Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.
My Thoughts

‘They stared at each other in mistrust and confusion. Across worlds and through portals cut long ago by angels, their lives collided right here. Both came to this place seeking something.’

Last year Laini Taylor introduced us to ‘Strange the Dreamer’ (review HERE) and it was magnificent. I found myself swept away by her lyrical prose on an amazing journey to some incredible places with memorable and unforgettable characters. But the ending, what a c-l-i-f-f-h-a-n-g-e-r! How she has made us wait for a magical conclusion to this mighty tale. Thankfully, this book picks up right at the harrowing conclusion to Strange the Dreamer. Left with so many questions, you will be happy to know that all will be answered in the epic conclusion to this wonderful duology. Worlds expand, relationships get more interwoven as you once more return to the amazing world building that Laini is renowned for.

This tale is more complex than its predecessor - elaborations from other worlds, characters and timelines all merge together for an almighty conclusion. Two new characters, with seemingly little connection to those from Weep, will gradually tie all the loose strings together and provide answers to the many questions raised in book one. Sisters born before the Godspawn will tell their tale of misery and heartbreak and eventually merge with those in Weep for a fitting conclusion.

‘Would she find, no matter what she tried, that some people cannot be saved?’

Laini Taylor is one of the most remarkable storytellers I have ever come across. The raw emotion combined with out of this world experiences combine to sweep the reader away on an unforgettable journey. The imagination! The complexity of plot! The heartfelt emotions merge together to provide a truly breathtaking experience. This is writing at the next level and you feel such connection to these characters, you will find it difficult to lay the book aside at any point.

If you read and loved, ‘Strange the Dreamer’, I doubt you will be disappointed with this sequel. All of your burning questions from the harrowing conclusion to book one, and indeed so much more, will be given. The incredible history of those ‘blue Gods’ in the sky will be revealed and it will go beyond anything you could have imagined. Once again, it is just best to go in blind and let the story unfurl and captivate you: overcoming the odds and past mistakes and learning to forgive and see beyond the surface. I just can’t wait to see where Laini will take us next.

“You don’t know yet what you’re capable of, but I’m willing to bet it’s extraordinary.”



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, October 19, 2018

Review: The Girl on the Page

Title:  The Girl on the Page
Author: John Purcell
Publisher: 24th September 2018 by HarperCollins Australia
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups

Synopsis:

Two women, two great betrayals, one path to redemption. A punchy, powerful and page-turning novel about the redemptive power of great literature, from industry insider, John Purcell.

Amy Winston is a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hot-shot young book editor on a downward spiral. Having made her name and fortune by turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child, Amy is given the unenviable task of steering literary great Helen Owen back to publication.

When Amy knocks on the door of their beautiful townhouse in north-west London, Helen and her husband, the novelist Malcolm Taylor, are conducting a silent war of attrition. The townhouse was paid for with the enormous seven-figure advance Helen was given for the novel she wrote to end fifty years of making ends meet on critical acclaim alone. The novel Malcolm thinks unworthy of her. The novel Helen has yet to deliver. The novel Amy has come to collect.

Amy has never faced a challenge like this one. Helen and Malcolm are brilliant, complicated writers who unsettle Amy into asking questions of herself - questions about what she values, her principles, whether she has integrity, whether she is authentic. Before she knows it, answering these questions becomes a matter of life or death.

From ultimate book industry insider, John Purcell, comes a literary page-turner, a ferocious and fast-paced novel that cuts to the core of what it means to balance ambition and integrity, and the redemptive power of great literature.

My Thoughts

This is a really hard book to review - I am so torn. Some parts were .... well, no words really ... that bad. Then other parts were just brilliant. Presented as a window into the world of publishing (a world I would not want to enter by the way, if this is anything to go by) I think this book suffers a real sense of a lack of identity.

I will confess that I did not fully appreciate this book as it attempted to tick too many boxes for me, in too short a space. In one chapter there might be drama filled angst, another in your face erotica, skip to the next chapter that was filled with horrific sadness, then blend in another on a strong literary stance regarding literature in today’s modern world. Is it any wonder I was confused as it really was quite disconcerting.

It’s rather sad as this book held much potential but got lost in too many threads. Many a reader would appreciate some sort of indication, for example, for the sections that can really only be described as soft porn. Maybe it could have better focused more on character analysis but that was lost in trashy encounters that really did not contribute a great deal to the overall plot. A stronger focus on the characters of Helen and Malcolm, representative of this clash of what constitutes good literature, would have been amazing. For herein lay its strength.

‘What good is fiction if it doesn’t allow you to practise at living life?’

The epilogue was incredible! Here, finally, at last I could see what lay at the root for the motivation for this book (for me). Indeed what is literature and how do we know if it’s any good? Is it pure and meaningful or is it there to sell books? Many a book and author comes into the spotlight (‘Poisonwood Bible, Atonement and The Life of Pi. They sell millions of copies and get mistaken for literature.’) as lying just beneath the surface is a truly insightful proclamation on what makes a good read!

‘There’s uphill reading and downhill reading. As you can imagine, uphill reading requires more effort. Downhill, less so. Readers will do both in their reading lives.’

The Girl on the Page will certainly take you on an undulating ride, with you never knowing what the next page will bring - sex and scandal! Sadness and shock! Release and redemption! This is a book that is multi faceted in every way and so very complex, but at its core lies a brilliantly eloquent portrayal of great literature versus commercial page turners. I will leave the verdict up to you.

“Great writing is rare. With so little time on this planet, shouldn’t we spend at least some of that time getting acquainted with the writers most often acknowledged as exceptional?”



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, October 15, 2018

Review: Table for Eight

Title: Table for Eight
Author: Tricia Stringer
Publisher: 24th September 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:
A cruise – no matter how magical – can't change your life. Can it…? Clever, charming dressmaker Ketty Clift is embarking on her final cruise from Sydney before she must make serious changes in her life. Supported by the ship's all-powerful maitre d' Carlos, she has a mission: transform the lives of those who join her at her dining table every evening. Not only can Ketty turn Cinderellas into princesses with her legendary style–eye, but she has a gift for bringing people together. But this trip is different. As the glamour and indulgence of the cruise takes hold, and the ship sails further away from Sydney towards the Pacific Islands, it becomes clear that her fellow travelers – a troubled family, a grieving widower and an angry divorcee determined to wreak revenge on her ex – are going to be harder work than usual. As Ketty tries to deal with her own problems, including the unexpected arrival on board of her long-lost love, Leo – the man who broke her heart – as well as troubling news from home, she begins to realize this might be the one cruise that defeats her…
A witty, warm and wise story of how embracing the new with an open heart can transform your life.
My Thoughts

“What would life be like without the anticipation of another cruise?”

Table for Eight by Australian author Tricia Stringer is a most enjoyable read, especially for those of you who have any interest in cruising - either been or wishing to venture on one. Having cruised myself, I simply adored reading about so many aspects that were familiar to the cruising holiday. Everything from the running of the ship, to activities (both on and off board), to the people you would meet. I felt so many happy memories come flooding back, so for that reason alone, it is worth the read. Alternatively, if you have ever contemplated cruising then this will provide you with great insight into how things might look and feel.

“You two should walk up to the little church at the top of the hill,” Ketty said. “The church is interesting and the view amazing.”
(Lifou - New Caledonia)

On this particular cruise, you follow all the members from one particular dining table, thus, ‘Table for Eight’ and what they encounter on their South Pacific adventure. Each of them are there for a variety of reasons and it turns into far more than just a holiday. Through their interactions with each other, many may find their lives upturned and ultimately changed.

What you have here is a really moving tale: strangers (some not so) who find themselves placed together with the trials and tribulations and really, the baggage that they bring with them, and how the insights of these other strangers and the circumstances they find themselves in, may shed new light on their life story. Most of the characters belong to an older generation and that is where the baggage comes into (pardon the travel pun - unintentional). They have lived through so much and this may be their opportunity for a second chance.

This truly was a delightful read that left me with that feel good, happy sigh. If you are looking for light and easy escapism (maybe a cruise to the South Pacific?) then be enticed by this tale of love and laughter, trauma and tears, reflection and resolution.

“They both stared out into the night, cocooned in the warm tropical air and lulled by the soft sounds of the waves against the hull.”



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

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Things We Never Said

Title: Things We Never Said
Author: Nick Alexander
Publisher: Amazon Publishing UK, Lake Union Publishing 4 Sept 2018
Pages: 367 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: General Fiction (adult), Women’s Fiction
My Rating: 4 crowns


Synopsis:


All the love she ever gave. Every secret she never told.
Catherine was the love of Sean’s life. But now she is gone. All that’s left is a box full of envelopes, each containing a snapshot and a cassette tape.
Through a series of recordings, Catherine shares their long love story, but will Sean recognise the story she tells? Catherine’s words have been chosen with love, but are painfully honest—and sometimes simply painful. She reveals every unspoken thought and every secret she kept from her husband—revelations that will shake everything Sean thought he knew about their life together.
But as disconcerting as the tapes turn out to be, Sean prays that they will ultimately confirm the one thing he never dared question. Does destiny exist? And were his and Catherine’s love and life together always meant to be?


My Thoughts


‘Things We Never Said’ was a very enjoyable book. I really liked how every chapter started off with a snapshot and then a cassette recording of his wife’s explanation of the photo. I felt for, Sean, the main protagonist, as he listened to his wife’s revelations.


“On Wednesday evening, he bursts into tears while driving home and has to pull over into a lay-by until he can see properly again...he realises he had been remembering kissing Catherine in the middle of the ring road.”


It’s a very moving story about grief and a man’s struggle to get through while maintaining his relationships with his daughter, family and friends. While he listens to the cassettes he also reflects on his own life and makes changes to his current life.

“He has been thinking about what Catherine said, that he has stopped singing. He’s been trying to work out when and why that happened and has realised that he’s even stopped listening to music.”

Some of Catherine’s revelations are very painful for Sean and I thought it very unfair for him to be finding these things out when she had passed, maybe it was easier for her to reveal them that way, but it caused him lots of different emotions and he was still trying to deal with the grief of losing her.

“Sean spends the week feeling jealous. He’s fully aware that it’s absurd to be feeling jealous of one’s late wife’s ex-boyfriend from thirty-five years ago, but he can’t help himself.”

Sean’s neighbour and family friend Maggie was a big support to Sean and his daughter during their grieving period, but she was very unsure about the validity of the cassettes and was worried that Sean was placing too much importance on them. I think they helped him through his grief.

“But just remember that...Look, this is difficult to say, but she’s gone, Sean...it’s like I said before. It’s all those drugs she was on, sweetie. That’s all it is.”

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is a sweet, warm and moving story about love, loss, grief, change and happiness. It keeps you well entertained with it’s many revelations along the way.

“To lose someone you really love/ is hard beyond belief/ Your heart comes close to breaking point/ and no one knows the grief/ Many times I’ve thought of you / and many times I’ve cried/ If my love could have saved you/ you never would have died.”




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, October 6, 2018

Review: The Little Shop of Found Things

Title:  The Little Shop of Found Things
Author: Paula Brackston
Publisher: 2nd October 2018 by St Martin’s Press
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, time travel
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

A new series about a young woman whose connection to antiques takes her on a magical adventure, reminiscent of Outlander

New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter Paula Brackston returns to her trademark blend of magic and romance to launch a new series guaranteed to enchant her audience even more.

Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. So when she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine she has to know more.

It’s while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century. And shortly after, she's confronted by a ghost who reveals that this is where the antique has its origins. The ghost tasks Xanthe with putting right the injustice in its story to save an innocent girl’s life, or else it’ll cost her Flora’s.

While Xanthe fights to save her amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave.

With its rich historical detail, strong mother-daughter relationship, and picturesque English village, The Little Shop of Found Things is poised to be a strong start to this new series.

My Thoughts

Having read a couple of Paula Brackston ‘witchier’ novels, I was up for trying the first in a new series for her. With an attractive cover and the promise of a dual time narrative, I signed up.

Being the first in a series, what we have here is a slow build - mother and daughter starting over in a small town ready to move on and begin anew after hardships. The main lead, Xanthe, has an ability to connect with objects that ‘sing’ to her the history of their previous owner. Their new abode has a resident ghost from the  1600s who demands Xanthe's help save her daughter in that time - thus the strong pull she feels for the chatelaine (had to look that one up!), that will in turn, assist her to time travel. What I did appreciate is the historic detail, inclusive of settings/buildings, clothing, servants lives, attitudes to religion, and sentencing of convicted criminals. I enjoyed the modern tale also and hope future books in the series will flesh out more with Xanthe’s mother Flora, helpful friend Liam and many in the local community who really needed to be fleshed out a bit more for the reader to engage.

With characters and plot taking their time in being established, I began to struggle. When  Xanthe so easily alternates back and forth between past and present, I had trouble letting go of logistics. To fully appreciate this scenario, one must suspend understanding in a number of matters eg. the time travel dynamics with no one surprised when Xanthe appeared or disappeared and in odd types of dress given the relevant time period. Her language was alluded to as being strange in the past, but the way she spoke and her forthright expectations really would not have been accepted in the 1600s; there were just too many unrealistic interactions if she was to assume the role of a servant. Add I did not really fall for the ‘insta romance’ if she was fearful of the retributions from the ghost in present day.

‘Xanthe felt suddenly swamped with guilt. How could she have been so easily and completely distracted from what she had come here to do?’

So, whilst the concept is clever and it may make for a good series, I was not overly convinced with the opening instalment. While there were parts I enjoyed, I couldn't fully get into this book. It is an easy read with time travel, romance, mystery and historical fiction all melded together with a sprinkle of magic thrown into the mix.

‘The present that she knew, the way things were in her time, could only have come about if she had traveled back to the past.’



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