Monday, November 16, 2020

Review: When The Music Stops

Title: When The Music Stops
Author: Joe Heap

Publisher: September 2020 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 360 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary

My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

This is the story of Ella.

And Robert.

And of all the things they should have said, but never did.

Through seven key moments and seven key people their journey intertwines.

From the streets of Glasgow during WW2 to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of London in the 60s and beyond, this is a story of love and near misses. Of those who come in to our lives and leave it too soon. And of those who stay with you forever…

My Thoughts


‘My whole life was about making some noise to fill the silence, or mask it. Music was an attractive way of doing that, but now music isn’t enough.’

Bibliophiles will understand that every so often a book comes along that is so special it forever leaves a mark on its reader. When The Music Stops is one such book. This book is unique and exquisitely captivating, as it slowly draws you in and stays with you long after the final page is turned. From its traumatic start, the story is one emotional ride - I will continue to reflect on these characters for a long time to come. 

This book takes seven key moments in Ella’s life - seven key individuals throughout her long life - all tied together with her great love of music and how it evokes the memories of those times. These are the people who either appear in more than one period or are special with a lesson for just that one moment in time. There are many highs and many devastating lows as each critical episode is retold and added to the present day drama Ella finds herself in. I simply don’t want to give too much away as it is such an engaging read. 

‘When would you go back to, if you could?’ Ella asks, in a lull ... she often poses this question to herself ... how far back would she have to go, to make things how she wants them to be?’

Starting in wartime Glasgow, through to London in the sixties, to the present day on a sailboat during a storm - these key events highlight how the course of one’s life can change in an instant. Those possible missed opportunities or fate playing an often unfair role in how one’s life can take shape. Undoubtedly something we can all relate to and only with hindsight understand the lasting ramifications. 

The author, Joe Heap, is to be commended for the heartbreaking journey he takes you on and the original way it is presented - storytelling at its finest. From the flashbacks of the past, to the hardships of Ella’s present day dementia, Joe details a sweeping story of survival in more ways than one. I thoroughly recommend this book which came as a complete surprise to me. It is for books such as this, that I read. When events touch you so deeply, when tears spontaneously spring to your eyes, when you turn the final page and your breath is simply taken away. 

‘This shouldn’t be the moment, Ella knows. This is not like the moment in the shipyard, where time waited patiently for her to change their destinies. This is just an ordinary moment. But since Sandy died, she has been too aware of these ordinary moments. She wants to make them extraordinary. She doesn’t want to waste any more time, thinking it will never run out.’



 


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.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Review: The Cartographer's Secret

Title: The Cartographer's Secret
Author: Tea Cooper

Publisher: 29th October 2020 by Harlequin Australia

Pages: 384 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:

A young woman's quest to heal a family rift entangles her in one of Australia's greatest historical puzzles when an intricately illustrated map offers a clue to the fate of a long-lost girl. A mesmerising historical mystery set in the Hunter Valley from bestselling author Tea Cooper for readers of Natasha Lester and Kate Morton.

1880 The Hunter Valley

Evie Ludgrove loves to map the landscape around her home - hardly surprising since she grew up in the shadow of her father's obsession with the great Australian explorer Dr Ludwig Leichhardt. So when an advertisement appears in The Bulletin magazine offering a one thousand pound reward for proof of where Leichhardt met his fate, Evie is determined to figure it out - after all, there are clues in her father's papers and in the archives of The Royal Geographical Society. But when Evie sets out to prove her theory she vanishes without a trace, leaving behind a mystery that taints everyone's lives for 30 years.

1911

When Letitia Rawlings arrives at the family estate in her Model T Ford, her purpose is to inform her Great Aunt Olivia of a bereavement. But Letitia is also escaping her own problems - her brother's sudden death, her mother's scheming and her own dissatisfaction with the life planned out for her. So when Letitia discovers a beautifully illustrated map that might hold a clue to the fate of her missing aunt, Evie Ludgrove, her curiosity is aroused and she sets out to discover the truth of Evie's disappearance.

But all is not as it seems at Yellow Rock estate and as events unfold, Letitia begins to realise that solving the mystery of her family's past could offer as much peril as redemption.

My Thoughts

A new Australian historical fiction book by Tea Cooper always gives reason to celebrate. So many of her previous works (HERE) are both engaging and masterfully crafted tales of mystery and intrigue that allow her readers to journey alongside strong heroines and enticing tales. In her latest, The Cartographer’s Secret, Tea once again provides the perfect blend of fact and fiction in this riveting historical mystery.

‘The past twelve months have taught me that we must take what we can when it is offered, 

pay no heed to convention and expectation. We must grab happiness in both hands and embrace it.’

A dual time narrative (on this occasion) not separated by that many years. This is the story of a mysterious disappearance. Filled with engaging characters who have hidden secrets, there is much heartache and tragedy. In 1880 Evie is so sweet and so very talented - I love that the publishers included her map for us to pour over. It is exquisite. In 1911 we have Letitia (Lettie) and she is such a woman of her time, driving cars and searching for her purpose. In her attempts to solve the family mystery, does she dig a little too far and cause nothing but further upset and disruption?

‘... in that moment Lettie understood, understood that both she and Olivia carried the same pain. A pain that would never go away, should never go away. Because love and loss hurt. She couldn’t give up now, she owed it to Olivia, to help her at least find closure.’

In both timelines the angst, guilt and sense of loss is palpable. Tea invites you into what, for many, is a hard existence on the land and she opens that proverbial window to life on the land at the turn of the 20th century. This brings me onto the setting - The Hunter Valley region. Stunningly portrayed. Both the detail and research provided by Tea leaps off the page - what joy to read passages with such depth of feeling about the Australian outback. From the harsh reality of fire to beautiful blazing sunsets, Tea makes you feel as if you are there. 

What an outstanding array of Aussie authors we are currently blest with! Congratulations Tea on once again proving your prose is up there with the best. From strong protagonists, to family drama and mystery, to taking in the breathtaking vistas of the bush - I can highly recommend the tale that is, The Cartographer’s Secret.

‘Evie tilted her face to the sun and threw out her arms to embrace the view that encompassed her world: from the ancient rocks beneath her bare feet to the distant horizon where the pale pink clouds marked the division between reality and mystery. All she needed and all she had ever wanted. This was her place, where she belonged.’





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, November 7, 2020

Review: Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea

Title: Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea
Author: Jane Linfoot

Publisher: 3rd September 2020 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 323 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, women’s fiction, romance

My Rating: 3 cups

Synopsis:

Return to your favourite little wedding shop by the sea for love, laughter and a romance to sweep you off your feet!

It’s the most romantic day of the year but the girls aren’t just gearing up for Valentine’s Day and a busy wedding season ahead, it’s also the 10 year anniversary of their beloved shop!

 

Jess is planning the party of the decade and with the champagne and cocktails flowing, sparks are going to fly…and not just from the fireworks display!


My Thoughts

'Little Wedding Shop by the Sea' is the fifth instalment in a fun, lighthearted chick lit series. Each book can be read as a standalone. If you are into seaside villages in Cornwall and love everything to do with weddings, then this is most certainly the book for you. 

This is classic chick lit at its best - formulaic yes, but a sure fire winner for those who sign up for it. Milla’s story is full of tears and laughter and much eye candy. So whilst on the one hand you will get the brewing chemistry, I do believe that Jane has provided richer themes that provide some depth. This is a book that encourages not only new beginnings but also the evolution and growth in confidence with the establishment of self, before launching into a relationship. 

‘Everyone here, including you, helped me learn to love myself. Maybe it’s time for you to let the guilt go. Learn to forgive yourself.’

Of course, there is always the attraction of the beautiful Cornish countryside with the St Aidan harbour and many of the locales on offer for wedding receptions.  Which leads me to the next feature - weddings! If you love a good wedding, or two, then this is most definitely the book for you. You name it and it is here ... the whole assembly of wedding planning from cakes to photography, from dresses to venues - this book covers it all. 

This is a series of books that is formed on a solid friendship base and, on this occasion, rallying together after Milla’s relationship woes. So if you love a good romcom by the seaside, look no further. You will laugh and lose yourself in the wedding madness that is the 'Little Wedding Shop by the Sea'.

‘Of all the weddings in the world, he has to turn up at this one.’




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.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Review: Escaping Dreamland

Title: Escaping Dreamland
Author: Charlie Lovett

Publisher: 22nd September 2020 by Blackstone Publishing

Pages: 300 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, New York

My Rating: 3.5 crowns

Synopsis:

Robert Parrish’s childhood obsession with series books like the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift inspired him to become an author. Just as his debut novel becomes a best-seller, his relationship with his girlfriend, Rebecca, begins to fall apart. Robert realizes he must confront his secret demons by fulfilling a youthful promise to solve a mystery surrounding his favorite series—the Tremendous Trio.

Guided by twelve tattered books and an unidentified but tantalizing fragment of a story, Robert journeys into the history of the books that changed his life, hoping they can help him once again. His odyssey takes him to 1906 Manhattan, a time of steamboats, boot blacks, and Fifth Avenue mansions, but every discovery he makes only leads to more questions.

Robert’s quest intertwines with the stories of three young people trying to define their places in the world at the dawn of a new and exciting century. Magda, Gene, and Tom not only write the children’s books that Robert will one day love, together they explore the vibrant city on their doorstep, from the Polo Grounds to Coney Island’s Dreamland, drawing the reader into the Gilded Age as their own friendships deepen.

The connections between the authors, their creations, and Robert’s redemptive journey make for a beautifully crafted novel that is an ode to the children’s series books of our past, to New York City, and above all, to the power of love and friendship.

My Thoughts


“Nothing left to do but cash the checks and start planning the next books in the series,” said Magda. “Tomorrow’s Saturday,” said Gene. “I think we should celebrate.” “How?” said Magda. “It’s the last weekend of the season at Coney Island,” said Tom. “Let’s go to Dreamland.”

Charlie Lovett certainly tackles interesting topics in his books and once again he shines a light into an array of fascinating topics with his latest offering. Everything from the New York of bygone days, to significant historical events, to the publishing of children’s literature - all interwoven and told through some interesting character stories. 

Told in two timelines, Charlie investigates who were the Tremendous Trio and why they stopped writing children’s literature at the turn of the 20th century.  The modern day tale is harder to get into, the main character being rather depressed but determined in his search to discover answers. However, the stories of Magda, Tom and Gene prove far more interesting from the early 1900s. While the characters are fictitious, the settings and events were factual and definitely provide the lure for reading this book. Their lives and relationships form the backdrop to very real settings that were remarkably portrayed.

“It’s so lovely to have a day that is just about today. No worries from the past, no thoughts of the future. Just today.”

Herein is what I found to be the highlight of this book. The General Slocum disaster of 1904 that forever changed Magda’s life; the San Francisco earthquake that haunted Tom and the ever alluring and magical Coney Island’s Dreamland (pre and post fire) to name but a few. If you are at all interested in some of these key historical events (the first one I had never heard of and it was horrific upon Googling!) then you will appreciate Charlie immersing you in some rich New York city history. 

‘If the summer of 1911 had proved anything it was that, no matter how much everyone had forgiven everyone else, they could never really escape Dreamland.’

At times the book does go slow and although modern day Robert’s anxiety is draining, the cause and in fact, all the revelations for the leads in the concluding pages make complete and satisfying sense. The revelations of much loved children’s series such as Hardy Boys etc will have lovers of these antiquated books in reading heaven. The publishing history is very enlightening.

Overall, the relationships of the three historical leads as they begin writing series books and their shared adventures is most entertaining. Combine that with Charlie narrating so many key historic events and it makes for some very interesting reading. 

‘... the circus felt like a fantastical version of New York itself - everything happening at once, with never a moment to catch one’s breath.’





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, November 2, 2020

Review: Flying the Nest

Title: Flying the Nest
Author: Rachael Johns

Publisher: 29th October 2020 by Harlequin Australia

Pages: 400 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary

My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

They say a change is as good as a holiday...but what if you don't want either?

Is her family's happiness more important than her own?

The first time Ashling Wood realises her marriage is on the rocks is when her husband, Adrian, suggests they try nest parenting. Heartbroken, Ash suddenly finds herself living a double life - one week with her children, the next cohabiting with her happily single sister-in-law. Her friends think the modern custody solution is an exciting opportunity for her to spread her wings, but all Ash wants is her family back together.

An offer to renovate a seaside cottage seems like the perfect distraction for Ash while waiting for Adrian to come to his senses. She's determined to fix her marriage as well as the cottage, but life gets even more complicated when she meets local fisherman Dan Emerson.

Soon, each home-stay becomes more dysfunctional, while for the other week Ash enjoys the peaceful life of the beachside community. The more time Ash spends in Ragged Point, the more she questions what she really wants. Is a sea-change the fresh start she needs to move on?

When tragedy calls Ash back to the city, she's torn between the needs of her family and her future. Can her family life fit in with a permanent move to the beach or could Ash's new-found independence attract Adrian back to the nest?

My Thoughts


‘Despite what she said, I knew she thought I’d be an idiot to do any such thing, but I couldn’t just throw away over two decades of my life because my husband lost the plot for a while, could I? After all, we were only human. Everyone made mistakes.’

Aussie author Rachael Johns has gifted her followers with another ripper read! The stories Rachael writes are like catching up with friends for coffee and sharing all the news. On this occasion, sadly a marriage is under strain, yet the twist here is one of ‘nest parenting’. I have read another book that brokered this concept so I was keen to see Rachael’s take on it. 

This tale is from the wife’s, Ashling’s, point of view and she is completely blindsided by her husband's nesting proposal. Dealing with the fallout of this news (and hoping to patch her marriage back together with as little impact upon her two children) Ash takes the opportunity to renovate a friend's seaside shack on her alternate week away from the family home in a desperate attempt to lose herself from the chaos reigning down. Rachael delves deeper still as she weaves a number of subplots throughout her story. Apart from the impact of divorce on both the couple and their children, she takes it that step further and allows the lead character to realise what this situation may present for her as a life lesson. I also appreciated her dabble into the gaming culture rampant among adolescents and the fallout of addictions. And then there is the cast of secondary characters who bring so many layers to this highly engaging tale. 

I love the taste of Australia that is given through the fictional town of Ragged Point - from the beachscape, to living in small communities, to even the onset of a cyclone. At its heart, however, this story is looking at people and how they cope when life dishes out those unexpected hurdles -when someone’s seemingly ordinary day to day life is plunged into chaos. This is where Rachael is at her best - detailing the way people, much like you and me, deal with issues - and she does it in a most relatable and believable fashion.

Overall Rachael has written a very appealing book with an epilogue that will answer everyone’s wonderings about the future.  Although this is a book about a marriage that may have outlasted its use by date, at its heart it offers much more than that. Yes, a loss such as that will affect people in different ways, however, it's about discovery and second chances and learning to find yourself and be true to that. 

‘Life?’ It was my turn to laugh. ‘I don’t have a life without Adrian and the kids. I don’t even know who I am without them.’ ‘Then maybe it’s time you find out.’ 




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, November 1, 2020

Review: The Berlin Girl

Title: The Berlin Girl
Author: Mandy Robotham

Publisher: 29th October 2020 by Avon Books UK

Pages: 400 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, world war II

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of The German Midwife comes the heart-wrenching story of a country on the brink of war, a woman who puts herself in the line of fire, and a world about to be forever changed.

 

Berlin, 1938: It’s the height of summer, and Germany is on the brink of war. When fledgling reporter Georgie Young is posted to Berlin, alongside fellow Londoner Max Spender, she knows they are entering the eye of the storm.

 

Arriving to a city swathed in red flags and crawling with Nazis, Georgie feels helpless, witnessing innocent people being torn from their homes. As tensions rise, she realises she and Max have to act – even if it means putting their lives on the line.

 

But when she digs deeper, Georgie begins to uncover the unspeakable truth about Hitler’s Germany – and the pair are pulled into a world darker than she could ever have imagined…


My Thoughts

‘It was the beginning of war - and me, in so many ways. Part of me, I think, will always be that Berlin girl.’

Mandy Robotham is quickly becoming a ‘go to’ author for me as you are always guaranteed a great read. The interesting aspect of this novel is that it is pre World War II and takes place over a year from summer 1938 until the declaration of war. It is fascinating to be on the streets of Berlin as tensions begin to rise. 

‘... it was vital that someone should record this abuse against humanity – pictures, in this case, might be more valuable than words. So far, reports alone had not been enough to provoke any reaction from outside Germany to what Hitler was creating. Maybe the world needed to see it in stark black and white, staring at this debacle over their breakfast?’

The story centres around Georgie Young, a young British journalist sent to Berlin as a foreign correspondent. Being a Londoner, Georgie’s view of events are insightful as she witnesses the ruthless control as the Nazis assume a stranglehold on the city. Once again, Mandy has done her research and it is fascinating to be a witness to how things begin to change in a city that Georgie feels drawn to and feels such affinity with. 

It starts off a little slow, as there are a range of characters to establish. At times the plot could be stronger, overall however, the smaller everyday events compensate for this. By the end, the pace really picks up and as the action reaches a crescendo, it is hard to put down. It was encouraging to have a strong female lead in, what was then, a male stronghold - she could hold it ‘with the boys’ who came from a range of newspaper affiliations. I also very much appreciated the detailed epilogue that gives a brief window into what happened to many of the characters throughout the years to follow. Something not often given and provides nice closure.

‘More than ever, she’d felt herself come of age in just one night; there was no pretence at being a fledgling reporter now. This was serious. And she had little choice but to rise to the challenge.’

There is some romance but it runs secondary to the overall theme. There is also Rubin, Georgie’s Jewish driver, who provides the first person POV for the domestic viewpoint and what it was like in the last days as many tried to escape persecution and incarceration. The ending is a little predictable but the epilogue, as mentioned, more than compensates for that. 

Despite not being a five star read as I have found Mandy’s other books to be, this is still really solid reading for historical fiction fans, particularly WWII diehards. The attraction here is to be a part of the Berlin living just months before war was actually declared and seen through the eyes of a young person not affiliated or under the Nazi spell.

‘Why wasn’t the rest of the world truly afraid? Did everyone have to live directly under Hitler’s tyranny to realise his vile capabilities?’




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.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Review: Senior Moments

Title: Senior Moments
Author: Angus Fitzsimons

Publisher: 27th October 2020 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 220 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, nonfiction, humour

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Synopsis:

Senior Moments is the go-to Christmas gift for all thoughtless children and shrewd seniors.

Have you had a Senior Moment yet? Maybe you know someone who's had a few? Check this list to know for sure:

You can remember being told the King was dead (George, not Elvis).

You still say 'colour television', and you watch television on a television.

Your home phone rings and you answer it. (And you still have a phone, not a 'landline'.)

You boast about 'doing it' three times a night and that's just getting up to pee.

You realise that your wardrobe has become ironic. You're not back in fashion, but you're hip. (And ironically, you now have an artificial hip).

 

If you answered 'yes' to one or more of the above, congratulations! You are officially a Senior and this book is here to guide you through your best years (i.e. the past). Stroll, or maybe shuffle, down Nostalgia Avenue and bask in the glory of growing old disgracefully.

(If you are a Young Person, this is the easiest Senior gift idea ever. You're welcome!)


My Thoughts


‘As a Senior you will have noticed that among the many ways Modern Life is disappointing is the disappearance of ... familiar staples of yesteryear. What happened to them?  ... (for example) ... Women Called ‘Peg’: Used to be everywhere, now vanished. Laundry Pegs are the sole reminder that they used to flourish amongst us.’

Senior Moments is a by-product from the successful theatrical version of the same name. Comedy writer, Angus Fitzsimons, took some of the love and laughter from his live show which stars the likes of Max Gillies and John Wood. This show first premiered in 2016 and has continued on through sold-out national tours across Australia since. Seeing as we cannot presently enjoy a live show, this book brings much light relief to our isolated COVID days.

Filled with a long list of topical issues for Seniors this book could be viewed as part instructional guide on how to not only survive but thrive in the Senior years. Some of the great one liners (obviously from the show) are now penned in this tome with many useful tips and tricks on how to be a Senior. Chapters include everything from surviving major events such as Christmas and birthday parties, to exercise and moments in the supermarket. There are even a couple of ‘Senior Moments Quizzes’  or memory tests to see how you are faring. So be prepared!

‘After your Physio Session, you will nod at various stretches shown to you on pieces of paper which you promise you will do at home. Seniors do many things at home - mainly napping and gardening - but no Senior in history has ever followed instructions from a Physio.’

It is also a nostalgic trip with various famous people and key events from days of old reminisced about. From what may have been on TV such as Colombo or Murder She Wrote to musical icons from a range of styles across the decades. If you are looking for a good giggle or maybe ideas on how to grow old disgracefully, look no further than Senior Moments. It is sure to bring a smirk to the faces of anyone over the half century age bracket. 

‘Remember to remain on your guard and stick to ‘I don't remember’ if they ask you any leading questions like: ‘Did you make me use a dummy?’ (Make them! They used to suck your thumb like a vampire after you dipped it into two fingers of Scotch and then they went out like a light. Tell no one.)’




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.