Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: A Secret Garden

Title: A Secret Garden
Author: Katie Fford
Publisher: 23 February 2017 by Random House UK
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

'What I want to know', said Lorna, 'is what lies behind those ash trees at the back of the garden?

Lorna is a talented gardener and Philly is a plantswoman. Together they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds. They enjoy their jobs and are surrounded by family and friends. But for them both the door to true love remains resolutely closed.

So when Lorna is introduced to Jack at a dinner party and Lucien catches Philly’s eye at the local farmers market, it seems that dreams really can come true and happy endings lie just around the corner.But do they?

Troublesome parents, the unexpected arrival of someone from Lorna's past, and the discovery of an old and secret garden mean their lives are about to become a lot more complicated...


My Thoughts

Cooking and gardening are the central focus of this latest Katie Fford book. You always know what you are up for when you get a Katie Fford book - and I like that. Her writing is always light, sweet and a gentle read - rarely any surprises. So when you are in this kind of reading mood, you know Fford will fit the bill.

Funny old thing, love, Lorna thought, pouring a second glass of wine. It was like a disease. You caught it, and then it went away, or it didn’t. But there was no logic to it. You couldn’t turn it on and off according to the suitability or otherwise of the love object.

With a focus on garden renovations and culinary delights, this book is sure to please many. It’s about taking time and appreciating the little things in life and getting creative. Yes, there are romances involved, and what I particularly liked was the wide age in the characters; from young Philly, to Lorna in her fifties to Grand in his seventies - something for everyone! It takes a light approach to everything and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

‘It’s lovely to know that you can fall in love at any time in your life, or at any age.’

I do think, however, that this is not as good as the other Katie Fford books I have read. There is nothing distinctly wrong with it, yet it seems to lack that sparkle that I have found in her previous books. The two main leads love interests appeared as total ‘insta-love’ and therefore there was no real investment in their relationships. Also, the title and blurb will lead you to believe that there is a whole story surrounding a ‘secret garden’ - well if you want to wait until three quarters the way through, you may be rewarded with a taste of it, but certainly and in no way, the main focus of this tale.

Having said that, sometimes you just need something light and ‘fluffy’ (as I like to call it) and if you pick up this book expecting nothing more, then Katie Fforde never fails to deliver. No other pretext is need:

‘What are we celebrating?’
‘Nothing,’ declared Anthea. ‘Life is a pile of horse droppings for you just at the moment. What better reason to drink champagne?’



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, March 17, 2017

Review: Daughter of Mine

Title: Daughter of Mine
Author: Fiona Lowe
Publisher: 20 February 2017 by Harlequin Australia - MIRA
Pages: 512 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

When your world falls apart the only person you can depend on is your sister.

The three Chirnwell sisters are descended from the privileged squattocracy in Victoria’s Western District — but could a long-held secret threaten their family?

Harriett Chirnwell has a perfect life — a husband who loves her, a successful career and a daughter who is destined to become a doctor just like her.

Xara has always lived in Harriet’s shadow; her chaotic life with her family on their sheep farm falls far short of her older sister’s standards of perfection and prestige.

Georgie, the youngest sister and a passionate teacher, is the only one of the three to have left Billawarre. But is her life in Melbourne happy?

Despite all three sisters having a different and sometimes strained bond with their mother, Edwina, they come together to organise a party for her milestone birthday — the first since their father’s death. But when Edwina arrives at her party on the arm of another man, the tumult is like a dam finally breaking. Suddenly the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are flooded by scandal. Criminal accusations, a daughter in crisis, and a secret over fifty years in the making start to crack the perfect façade of the prominent pastoral family.

A thought provoking novel about family expectations, secrets and lies.

My Thoughts

‘I really don’t think anyone in my family is okay today .... I paid a high price for secrets and lies and I’m paying it still.’

With an easy going writing style and an engaging story, ‘Daughter of Mine’ proved to be a most enjoyable novel. Here you will find past and recent complicated family secrets and lies, loves come and go and a range of emotions from the young through to serious mental issues are covered. What I truly embraced with this book was the realistic and authentic dialogue, not only between family, but also those extending beyond that.

‘Ask me. I’m an open book. I’ve lived with the damaging effects of secrets all of my life. I don’t want any to exist between you and me or between me and your sisters.’

Here Lowe will provide you with an array of characters that face obstacles and heartache and there is sure to be at least one character that you unwittingly nod your head at, either in agreement or frustration. Still, it goes to demonstrate how well Lowe captures a range of relatable characteristics and how everybody can deal differently with a conflict or family problem. I appreciate the detail and time Lowe invested in each of the main characters so that you could try to appreciate how it looked coming from their side of things.

‘Confident he wasn’t going to ask, she’d let down her guard. Now, all snuggled up in her cocoon of bliss and totally unprepared, the question hit her like a sniper’s bullet. It tore through her, ripping, burning, brutal.’

Set in a small town it all comes across as very believable and you will find yourself cheering for some and hoping that fate delivers its blow to others. For a longer book, it moves at a good pace and I was readily engaged throughout, eagerly turning the pages. I can genuinely recommend this as a good family drama/saga.

‘Life isn’t perfect. God, I worked that out years ago. It’s messy and complicated and disorganised. People do things that hurt you. People disappoint you and let you down. Family lets you down and that one hurts the most.’




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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review: The Currency Lass

Title: The Currency Lass
Author: Tea Cooper
Publisher: 20 February 2017 by Harlequin (Australia) MIRA
Pages: 366 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating:4.5 cups

Synopsis:

As her father's only heir, Catherine Cottingham expects to inherit their sprawling property in the Hunter Valley. What she doesn't understand is why her father is trying to push her into a marriage to the pompous and repulsive Sydney businessman Henry W. Bartholomew.

When the will is read it becomes clear money, or the lack of it, lay behind her father's plans. Catherine is mortified — as a married woman all her possessions will pass to her husband, the overbearing Bartholomew. Her only alternative is to wait until her twenty-first birthday and inherit the property in her own right, but can she elude such a determined man until then?

A chance encounter with a travelling circus and its fiery lead performer, Sergey Petrov, offers the perfect solution and Catherine escapes to the goldfields. But there is more to the circus than spangles and sawdust and Catherine finds herself drawn into a far-reaching web of fraud and forgery...

My Thoughts
Another great Aussie drama set in the outback at the time of the gold rushes, ‘The Currency Lass’, is full to the brim with great locations, well rounded characters and an engaging plot. I just love these strong female leads and Catherine Cottingham surely fulfills that role in the first few pages as she follows her intuition to do what is right.
Venturing from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, and a little of Bathurst during the gold rushes, the 1850s is a time of privilege for some but hardship for many. The interesting added dimension to this particular historical tale is that of a travelling circus - an inside view to life on the road. So there are many aspects to this tale that make it unique: circus acts, victors and villains, truth and lies, courage and love.
Although young, Catherine is a worthy heroine who courageously faces many challenges head on. As she fights for her home and against an arranged marriage, as she champions the poor and struggles to do what is right, you cannot help but admire her. Sergey matches her for courage, honesty and determination with their relationship tested at times in wanting to support each other in achieving their goals.
I do enjoy reading tales of this era and highly recommend taking this journey back to a time in Australia where people struggled to start afresh in making a new life for themselves. Tea Cooper has presented a memorable tale of a bygone era.

“It makes me a currency lass, nothing more, nothing less, the first generation born in this land to convict parents.”





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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review: Before the Rains

Title: Before the Rains
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Publisher: 23 February 2017 by Penguin Books (UK) Viking
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction, romance, cultural-India
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

A romantic, heart-wrenching tale of love against the odds from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author Dinah Jefferies
1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband's death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza's only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she's determined to make a name for herself.
But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince's handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families - and society - think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what's expected, or following their hearts. . .

My Thoughts

‘She had come to India uncertain about herself and nervous of her abilities as a photographer. She had come not really knowing who she was.’

Having seen the inviting covers of Dinah Jeffries books, I was excited to finally delve into one. I was not disappointed. This is historical fiction at its best -  rich in detail and oh so interesting,  I learnt so much, this book literally being brushed with Indian spices, both real and figurative, as we journey along with Eliza. Tradition is the foundation of this society and Jeffries presents it in a most intriguing and captivating way. Her writing is so very descriptive, as you find yourself walking through the palace, feeling the searing heat, smelling the scents of India.

‘Hidden beneath the rituals and customs of his life lay something important, something that glued it all together.’

Before the Rains is set in  India during the 1920s, and thanks to Jeffries skill as a writer,  one can easily either marvel at the decadent royal families and British high society, so much in contrast with the abject poverty of so many of the people. This is a tale about Eliza, a photographer commissioned to spend a year photographing the royal family for British archives, reportedly, although spying might also play a part. Eliza is familiar with India, having spent her childhood there until her father's horrific death, so she feels a strong connection, going to great lengths to understand and showcase this through her photography - the real face of the people, their customs and traditions. Add to this a forbidden love story between Eliza and Jay, a younger brother of the Indian prince, and you have a recipe for a winning tale.

‘More and more she’d become aware that the British should get out of India. Her only hope was that the Nationalist movement would gain control without too much bloodshed.’

Aside from a captivating story, Jeffries brings forth so much of the colours of India - customs, traditions, beliefs at the time of British rule - it is as if you were there. With a declining British rule, you are witness to the effect on the people and the consequences that fall out from that.  Everything from euphoric ‘Holi’ celebrations to the horrific ‘sati’ (widow burning). Then there are the settings ranging from palatial royal homes to mud huts in remote villages. You will be transported to another place and time and feel for Eliza and all she endeavours to become in recreating herself.

‘Eliza hardly dared admit that she had come to rediscover something within herself.’

Before the Rains is historical fiction at it’s best overflowing with culture, forbidden love, longed for happiness, heartbreaking grief and finally hope – I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction.

‘She really wanted to capture something of the rains themselves. Everyone spoke of them in such reverent tones that she wanted to see for herself.’





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 rel

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: City of Friends

Title: City of Friends
Author: Joanna Trollope
Publisher: 31 January 2017 by Pan MacMillan
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, women’s fiction
My Rating:3.5 cups

Synopsis:
The twentieth stunning book from the lauded bestselling author, Joanna Trollope.
The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she'd ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, Senior Partner at one of the top private equity firms in London?
As Stacey starts to reconcile her old life with the new - one without professional achievements or meetings, but instead, long days at home with her dog and ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home - she at least has The Girls to fall back on. Beth, Melissa and Gaby. The girls, now women, had been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and for all the happiness and heartbreaks in between.
But these career women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey's redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge that was supposed to remain secret, their long cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits .

My Thoughts

‘It’s a work structure thing, not an hours thing. Work and life aren’t in opposition to each other, they enrich each other.’

Having read Joanna Trollope before I was in no doubt that I would enjoy the writing, this time with her providing detailed insights into modern relationship issues - friendships, work relationships, marriage and family relationships, caring for elderly parent relationships.

Here is a story all about modern women: their friendships and families balanced against their careers - if indeed such a thing is possible. With four different perspectives offered from each of the women, the reader is given a first hand account of not only their daily trials and tribulations but also, and more importantly, significant challenges they each encounter.

‘It was one of those rare and fleeting moments when she felt comfortably slightly ahead of the game rather than battling breathlessly to keep up with it.’

The main theme is of course, can women have it all? A family life and work life? What hurdles do they encounter? What sacrifices must they make? What happens when work comes before family? These are the interesting concepts addressed by Trollope and I liked it - an interesting  inquiry into the life of the modern career woman. Can she successfully maintain such a balance or does one always triumph over the other?

‘Our responsibilities in life shift without warning, don’t they?’

I enjoyed many of the characters outside of the four female leads. I particularly felt for Stacey and her husband in trying to care for her mother suffering from dementia and the impact it had upon their marriage. With four female leads and an assortment of other characters, it is quite a lineup to get your head around initially and you need to concentrate. Overall, however, I found this to be an open and honest account, ‘warts and all’ that helped make it real and readable.

‘I’m their mother, I always will be. I also am who I am, and that’s a given. I may have –I do have –many faults but I don’t have a false self. I am truly me, through and through, and that means they get what they see. And they always will.’





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, February 17, 2017

Review: The Keeper of Lost Things

Title: The Keeper of Lost Things
Author: Ruth Hogan
Publisher: 31 January 2017 by Hachette Australia - Two Roads
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, adult
My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:


A charming, clever, and quietly moving debut novel of of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that explores the promises we make and break, losing and finding ourselves, the objects that hold magic and meaning for our lives, and the surprising connections that bind us.


Lime green plastic flower-shaped hair bobbles—Found, on the playing field, Derrywood Park, 2nd September.


Bone china cup and saucer-Found, on a bench in Riveria Public Gardens, 31st October.


Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects—the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind—and writing stories about them. Now, in the twilight of his life, Anthony worries that he has not fully discharged his duty to reconcile all the lost things with their owners. As the end nears, he bequeaths his secret life’s mission to his unsuspecting assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.


Recovering from a bad divorce, Laura, in some ways, is one of Anthony’s lost things. But when the lonely woman moves into his mansion, her life begins to change. She finds a new friend in the neighbor’s quirky daughter, Sunshine, and a welcome distraction in Freddy, the rugged gardener. As the dark cloud engulfing her lifts, Laura, accompanied by her new companions, sets out to realize Anthony’s last wish: reuniting his cherished lost objects with their owners.


Long ago, Eunice found a trinket on the London pavement and kept it through the years. Now, with her own end drawing near, she has lost something precious—a tragic twist of fate that forces her to break a promise she once made.


As the Keeper of Lost Objects, Laura holds the key to Anthony and Eunice’s redemption. But can she unlock the past and make the connections that will lay their spirits to rest?


Full of character, wit, and wisdom, The Keeper of Lost Things is a heartwarming tale that will enchant fans of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Garden Spells, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, and The Silver Linings Playbook.

My Thoughts


When he had started gathering lost things all those years ago, he hadn’t really had a plan. He just wanted to keep them safe in case one day they could be reunited with the people who had lost them.


Sometimes a rare book comes along that moves you in so many ways. This is one such book - it is absolutely delightful. The imagination and creativity that, right from the outset, lures you in and will not let you go until you turn the final page. You will laugh, you will cry, you will pause and ponder and you will walk away richer from reading this book. I adored it.


Laura could see that these were so much more than things; much more than random artefacts arranged on shelves for decoration. They were important. They really mattered.


This is a book with many tales (something I usually don’t go for) but Hogan does it so well. The expertise with which she weaves not only the two stories running parallel to each other (you will impatiently await for when the paths will cross), but also interweaves the most amazing array  of back stories to the ‘lost things’, is awe inspiring. Gosh this book has it all! Romance, magic, ghosts, family, relationships, heartbreak, illness and loss. That’s quite a lineup, yet the respect with which each is given, creates such a genuine understanding for just about every character presented.


A hush is a dangerous thing. Silence is solid and dependable, but a hush is expectant, like a pregnant pause; it invites mischief, like a loose thread begging to be pulled.


This book is full of charm and spilling over with wisdom. It is beautifully written and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


I know it is likely that most of the things are worthless, and no one will want them back. But if you can make just one person happy, mend one broken heart by restoring to them what they have lost, then it will have all been worthwhile.



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, February 11, 2017

Review: Summer Hearts and Paper Kisses

Title: Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses
Author: Carole Matthews
Publisher: 22 December 2016 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

I keep my eyes closed in the shower so that I can hold onto the pretence of sleep for just a little while longer.”

Christie Chapman is a single working mother who spends her days commuting to her secretarial job and looking after her teenage son, Finn. It can be tough just getting through the day but Christie has always found comfort in her love of crafting and any spare time she has is spent working on her beautiful creations. From intricately designed birthday cards to personalised gifts, Christie's flair for the handmade knows no bounds and it's not long before opportunity comes knocking. All of a sudden Christie sees a different future for her and Finn - one full of hope and possibility, and if the handsome Max Alexander is to be believed, one full of love too. It's all there for the taking.

And then, all of a sudden, Christie's world is turned upside down.

Christie knows something has to give, but what will she choose? Will she give up her dreams and the chance of real love? What price will she pay for doing the right thing? Can Christie find her happy ending in Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses?

My Thoughts


I’m always up for a Carole Matthews tale, you can rest assured you are in for a satisfying read. For anyone interested in crafting/scrapbooking, there is an added bonus here.  The main character Christie, is a mad paper crafter and that is a nice added dimension for us ‘crafty scrappers’ out there. This is a definite appealing aspect because this could (in some respects) be a tale about anyone from the suburbs who finds themselves in the humdrum of life and looking for a creative outlet.  A forty something heroine also makes a nice change:

‘My forty-odd-year-old face takes quite a lot of time to reassemble itself into the right symmetry after being reshaped by the pillow all night. Seriously, it’s a good half-hour these days before the creases go.’


A single parent, Christie spends her evenings, weekends and any spare moment she finds crafting and watching the Crafting Channel - ordinary and relatable.  A challenge to always make ends meet is proven that more difficult when a couple of dramatic bombshells push Christie to her limits - but she shows great strength and resolve when dealing with them. In fact, these circumstances force Christie into making some radical and life changing decisions. There is also a good cast of supporting characters I especially loved Christie’s devoted parents.

‘I’d always dabbled with crafts, but I guess I started doing it in earnest when Liam first left. What can you do at night on your own when you’ve got a child upstairs in bed?’

My only criticisms were that it was a tad long and could have done with some good editing. At times it got somewhat repetitive and that led to it getting bogged down and a bit dull. I also found the ending to be a bit too neat, that took it from being relatable to unrealistic. However, if you love crafting, family and happy endings with a splash of forty something realism then Carole Matthews new book is for you.

‘And I’m still not interested. Besides, I like crafting. You can rely on paper hearts much more than love-struck ones.’



This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted