Sunday, September 27, 2020

Review: All Our Shimmering Skies

Title: All Our Shimmering Skies
Author: Trent Dalton

Publisher: 28th September 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Pages: 430 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, cultural Australia

My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

The bestselling author of Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton returns with All Our Shimmering Skies - a glorious novel destined to become another Australian classic. Darwin, 1942, and as Japanese bombs rain down, motherless Molly Hook, the gravedigger's daughter, turns once again to the sky for guidance. She carries a stone heart inside a duffel bag next to the map that leads to Longcoat Bob, the deep-country sorcerer who put a curse on her family. By her side are the most unlikely travelling companions: Greta, a razor-tongued actress and Yukio, a fallen Japanese fighter pilot. Run, Molly, run, says the daytime sky. Run to the vine forests. Run to northern Australia's wild and magical monsoon lands. Run to friendship. Run to love. Run. Because the graverobber's coming, Molly, and the night-time sky is coming with him. So run, Molly, run.

All Our Shimmering Skies is a story about gifts that fall from the sky, curses we dig from the earth and the secrets we bury inside ourselves. It is an odyssey of true love and grave danger, of darkness and light, of bones and blue skies; a buoyant, beautiful and magical novel abrim with warmth, wit and wonder; and a love letter to Australia and the art of looking up.


My Thoughts

Trent Dalton became Australian writing royalty after one book! I did not read that book (Boy Swallows Universe) but understood there would be immense pressure to maintain a certain level of success second time round. I have just closed the final page on his new release,  All Our Shimmering Skies and have to say, I think he has done it. With nothing to compare it to, I am critiquing what is before me and quite frankly, it is immense .... it is another breathtaking odyssey. 

‘You ever wonder why things are the way they are, Greta?’ she whispers. ‘What if this feller was supposed to be right here on this leaf in this very moment? What if he was put here to remind you and me about something.’ ‘Like what?’ Greta asks. ‘Like how pretty it all really is,’ Molly replies. ‘Who decided that gold would be worth so much, anyway? I’d take this feller over a gold pebble any day of the week.’  

At face value this is the story of a young girl who is lost in its many variations. She digs graves with a shovel for a best friend. She talks to the sky. She runs aways from Darwin under assault from the Japanese and begins an epic journey deep into the Northern Territory in 1942 with Greta, a sassy actress and Yukio, a fallen Japanese pilot.

Yet .... this story is so much more .... so much more than that. 

Trent Dalton is an amazing writer. Suspend all you know, all you understand of what writing should look like and immerse yourself in how writing can be. From Aussie humour and slang, to the horrifying and confronting details with the impact in the bombing of Darwin - he does it all, he blends it altogether in one amazing read. This book is atmospheric in its detail of Australia’s desert landscape and his writing is pure poetry for the soul. It is lyrical as passage after passage just oozes with life. It is heartfelt, it is rich, it is heartbreaking and it is, simply stunning. 

‘It means we must face the truth of who we are, Uncle Aubrey,’ she says. ‘Everything you have ever done and everything you will ever do ... you must own it. Because you are those things. You carry those things with you.’

What the reader must do is put aside what you think you know about writing and what you think you know about Trent’s writing. Take this fantastical journey with Molly, the little gravedigger girl as she embarks on a life changing journey into the great unknown. Full of melodrama and magical realism I promise it will be memorable - you will smile,  you will laugh, you will shed a tear and as my first Trent Dalton read, I can say my heart has been truly touched by his poetic prose. 

‘Because sadness is the truest emotion,’ Greta says. ‘Happiness isn’t to be trusted. It’s a bald-faced liar. But the truth of your sadness enriches every other thing inside you,  especially your joy. You shouldn’t be afraid to go to the place that makes you sad, Molly Hook. The more you go to that dark place inside you, the lighter it gets. You go there enough times, you realise that dark place is actually your sacred place. That place is all of you and the tears you take from that place are just the darkness leaking out, precious drop by precious drop. You following me?’   




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.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Review: The London Restoration

Title: The London Restoration
Author: Rachel McMillan

Publisher: 18th August 2020 by Thomas Nelson

Pages: 336 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, romance

My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:

The secrets that might save a nation could shatter a marriage.Madly in love, Diana Foyle and Brent Somerville married in London as the bombs of World War II dropped on their beloved city. Without time for a honeymoon, the couple spent the next four years apart. Diana, an architectural historian, took a top-secret intelligence post at Bletchley Park. Brent, a professor of theology at King's College, believed his wife was working for the Foreign Office as a translator when he was injured in an attack on the European front.

Now that the war is over, the Somervilles' long-anticipated reunion is strained by everything they cannot speak of. Diana's extensive knowledge of London's churches could help bring down a Russian agent named Eternity. She's eager to help MI6 thwart Communist efforts to start a new war, but because of the Official Secrets Act, Diana can't tell Brent the truth about her work.

Determined to save their marriage and rebuild the city they call home, Diana and Brent's love is put to the ultimate test as they navigate the rubble of war and the ruins of broken trust.

My Thoughts

The London Restoration is an incredibly well written book - excellent research so rich in history, clever spy tales and twists with  heartfelt romance. Set in post World War II London, Rachel's love for historic cities, especially churches, is sprinkled lovingly throughout in a most engaging way. She brings great architecture to life, which was so necessary in war torn London.

“Some will see a crack. A bombed building.” The right side of his mouth twitched into a small smile. “You will see a map and imagine the potential in the rubble.”

This is a slow build story but each flashback, each moment is pertinent as Rachel cleverly moves the puzzle pieces around her storyboard. She gives you the time to get to know her characters, their story, their situation and what future they each envision. The ending was perfection.

“She wasn’t sure why the spell of these buildings held her so tightly. They were brick and mortar and artistry, pleasing to the eye but not flesh and blood. “Sometimes I can’t tell whether the emotion I feel in these places is from something emotional or spiritual. But I feel like I’ve known these churches all of my life.”

The London Restoration is about restorative practices on many levels. That is what is so clever about this book. Yes, it is about the physical restoration of London after the devastation of war. However, it is also most definitely about personal restoration and the impact war has had on relationships. The love story of Diana and Brent is something special - from their marriage before the war, how the war impacted upon them individually, to after the war and how they both work so hard to restore or create a new relationship after all that has ensued. This is a mature and heartfelt journey. 

“If I ask what you did during the war and you tell me, then you are as good as a traitor. But what you are doing after the war is what is keeping us apart, Di.” He grabbed her hand. “We are getting so close to being who we are together. This just seems like recklessness.”

This book is just so interesting from a historic point of view. The  architectural history, especially the information about Wren and the churches, will have you Googling names, dates, places. This could have been a very dry inclusion but not under this skilled author’s pen - it was fascinating. 

‘Diana had read that alongside Roman coins and medieval stained glass, the bombs had erupted over 230 coffins from three different centuries.’

Then there is the plot - again, just so clever! This is real espionage - secrets and lies abound! The subtle inclusion of everything from politics to the use of classical music as code is quite extraordinary. One cannot help but be impressed by the excellent job Rachel does in balancing the many components of this tale. 

“But the new war is boiling under the surface. It won’t be the one we just saw with guns and artillery fire and bombs desecrating our city. It will be a quieter one of propaganda and intelligence.”

The London Restoration provided me with a few glorious hours lost in the past - walking amongst bombed churches, trying to make the world a better place whilst investing in a relationship that had undergone life changing experiences. I learned so much, I was captivated by the ending so much and I was cheering for both Diana and Brent just so much! If you love quality historical fiction with mysterious thrills, espionage and rekindling of love, then this is most definitely the book for you.

“History without fallen kingdoms is just a fairy tale, Professor Somerville. The true beauty is in resilience. We’ll see the cracks in our facades, but we will know what went into their creation. London will be more beautiful because it was torn apart. But didn’t stay so.”




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


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review: Under a Siena Sun

Title: Under a Siena Sun
Author: T.A. Williams

Publisher: 27th August 2020 by Canelo Escape

Pages: 211 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, romance

My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

Lucy needed a change of scene. She didn’t expect the change of a lifetime.

Doctors Without Borders has been Lucy Young’s life for the past four years. After being rescued from a conflict zone, she’s making a change from saving lives under gunfire to practising medicine in safe, serene Siena.

Now treating wealthy patients at a private clinic, she's never felt less comfortable. She’s used to helping those in dire need – not those in need of a nip and tuck. Her turmoil grows when she encounters injured tennis star David Lorenzo, whose smiles make Lucy forget her aversion to the rich.

She’s soon falling for the sportsman but is she losing herself in this world of excess? All she’s ever wanted was to help the underprivileged, so can her future lie in Siena at the clinic – with David?

My Thoughts


‘Carpe diem, she told herself. Enjoy the moment’

There were a few things that attracted me to this book, primarily a story about a doctor from MSF, who is airlifted from war-torn Congo in the very first chapter! She then heads to Italy to reflect and contemplate her future. In our current world climate where none of us is traveling far, this book provided some much needed escapism and where better than sunny Siena.

‘... her thoughts were drawn to the people she had left behind in Africa and she found herself struggling, caught between these two so very different worlds.’

I found this to be a well rounded tale and not your usual women’s romantic fiction. All up this has a great location, delectable cuisine and a sensible storyline. I feel completely refreshed. I like how romance is not what it’s all about and there are added dimensions to this read. Our lead character Lucy, was not even looking for love but rather a place to heal from her stressful escape. So yes, there is a slow burning relationship but added to that is past acquaintances, new friends with lots of food and wine.

‘On one level this almost annoyed her as she had always thought of herself as a self-sufficient kind of woman who was quite happy without the usual trappings of conventional life. Now she wasn’t so sure.’

Two things really stood out in this read. Firstly is the history and geography of Siena, Italy. This armchair traveller was most satisfied in closing the final page. The glamour of Tuscany is there for all to read - sunny vineyards, olive groves, remnants of castles across this Italian vista. I appreciated the trips to the coast and Florence but it was the history of the local area that had me scrambling to Google to read up on it further. Even the famous Palio horse race made this book rich in cultural offerings. 

Secondly, and more importantly from a personal point of view, was how intelligent and mature Lucy was. I just was fully appreciative of the range of issues the author chose to highlight throughout this tale - everything from immigration to wealth distribution. The personal dilemma Lucy faces from the first to almost the last page as she wrestles with her principles, adds the extra depth and honesty to the book. 

‘What did worry her, however, was the idea of going into private medicine which, by definition, would be reserved for the privileged few, when she felt sure her heart lay in helping those less fortunate than herself. Would she be ignoring all her natural instincts?’

Overall, this proved a wonderful escapist read that will see you transported to Siena. Highly recommended for those looking for something light but appreciative of a female lead in a romance that is strong and sincere to what she holds to be true. 

‘After living for years in an environment containing spiders that could paralyse you, snakes that could kill you, and armed men who could do unspeakable things to you, this really was heaven. Yes, she thought to herself as she drifted off to sleep, her escape to Tuscany was turning out to be everything she had dreamed of and more.’



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, September 21, 2020

Review: The Survivors

Title: The Survivors
Author: Jane Harper

Publisher: 22nd September 2020 by Pan Macmillan Australia

Pages: 384 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, fiction, mystery, crime, suspense

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Synopsis:

The compelling new novel from Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry.


Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.


The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.


Kieran's parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea, that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.


When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away...


My Thoughts


‘It’s just ...’ Mia thought for a moment. ‘When someone dies, it’s pretty easy to only remember the good things, don’t you think?’


Finally, I get my hands on a Jane Harper book. This author has quite the reputation in Australia and has secured her place as one of our country’s top crime fiction novelists. So, my expectations were high going into this read and I do believe it lives up to all the hype.


The Survivors is not only a murder mystery, but a strong, emotionally driven tale about families and grief. A solid cast of characters are realistically portrayed in this small Tasmanian town with Jane’s sense of place holding much appeal. On this occasion, in a small seaside town, she presents a real who-dun-it.


‘Who did this?’ Bronte’s mother’s words cut through the air. She waited. No-one made a sound. Her gaze continued its slow crawl. Every single person was staring back, but Kieran saw more than one drop their eyes as the woman turned their way.’


Jane cleverly incorporates past and present memories/flashbacks - woven within rather than chapter separated. There are quite a few characters in the line up to keep track of, but in turn, that allows for a solid lineup of suspects. Once you get these characters in order - both past and present - you are set to move the puzzle pieces around to come up with a short list of suspects. Jane is very clever at dropping the subtle hints and clues that get her readers wondering if that was a pertinent piece of information. Slowly these pieces start to connect together with character traits and activities coming together. 


I would like to say however, that this story is more than just your classic murder mystery. There are small town dynamics, family fallouts and past grievances - all adding up to present a well rounded story. Jane’s writing draws you into all this, with emotionally charged, character driven stories that are whole and complex. There are interwoven loyalties and past conflicts that add another layer to an already emotionally charged tale. It makes for compelling reading. 


I can now firmly agree with the majority that Jane Harper has firmly established herself as one of the best writers of the mystery-thriller genre in Australia. 


‘The Survivors?’ ‘Yeah.’ She tilted her head as she scrutinised the three figures. Kieran waited, watching the salt water wash against the sculpture. ‘Are they supposed to be happy or sad?’ Pendlebury said suddenly. ‘I mean, is it a celebration of the people who made it, or a memorial to the ones who didn’t?’





 

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, September 19, 2020

Review: The Black Swan of Paris

Title: The Black Swan of Paris
Author: Karen Robards

Publisher: 30th June 2020 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 400 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction, romance, WWII 

My Rating: 4.5 cups

Synopsis:

A world at war. A beautiful young star. A mission no one expected.

Paris, 1944

Celebrated singer Genevieve Dumont is both a star and a smokescreen. An unwilling darling of the Nazis, the chanteuse’s position of privilege allows her to go undetected as an ally to the resistance.

When her estranged mother, Lillian de Rocheford, is captured by Nazis, Genevieve knows it won’t be long before the Gestapo succeeds in torturing information out of Lillian that will derail the upcoming allied invasion. The resistance movement is tasked with silencing her by any means necessary—including assassination. But Genevieve refuses to let her mother become yet one more victim of the war. Reuniting with her long-lost sister, she must find a way to navigate the perilous cross-currents of Occupied France undetected—and in time to save Lillian’s life.

My Thoughts

‘Outwardly Paris was still Paris, her beauty largely untouched by war. But her gay, bright, defiant spirit - her joie de vivre - had been stolen. The City of Light had turned drab and gray - and afraid.’

The Black Swan of Paris is historical fiction at its best, fabulous WWII reading. Set in Paris during Nazi occupation, you live the life of famed singer Genevieve Dumont who uses her position to acquire critical information from high ranking Nazis to pass onto the Resistance. Then, when her mother is captured Genevieve and those around her, must go to great lengths to save her from a ruthless enemy. 

‘... she loved her country. Because she had this gift of song, and she could use it to help in the battle against the horror that was the Third Reich.’

This is a book that has a little of everything - war and romance, intrigue and espionage. It is well researched providing fascinating details especially concerning life in Paris, but as it was for the Nazis - life at the Ritz was a definite eye opener. Then there were the facts surrounding the allies landing in Normandy, which again, was well done.  

‘Champagne and caviar had been passed around the shelter by the Ritz’s attentive staff, the gas masks had been used as pillows by the especially sleepy, or inebriated, and the atmosphere in the cellar as they waited for the All Clear had been almost that of a party.’

I found the writing to be very engaging with a solid range of characters that provided a real depth to this tale. The plot was truly compelling, especially towards the end, when it had me on the edge of my seat. It is a long read but the climactic ending to the main story made it well worth it. I was a little disappointed with how the story as a whole was so quickly tied together after I had invested so much in each of the characters. 

“My first allegiance had to be to my country, and this was, and is, a fight for her life. For the life of civilization as we know it. You were the perfect vehicle to take the network I was building where it needed to go.”

Overall this is an action packed and emotional journey that succeeded in taking me to a different time and place. A place where you become a part of each character's journey in this tumultuous and highly volatile period in history. 

‘As she’d already learned to her cost, there were no guarantees in life, no guarantees that the person you loved would be there from one day to the next, no guarantees about anything at all. And this was war. Death waited around every corner. It came rocketing out of the sky, zipping through the air, blasting out of the ground. It came with no notice, no warning, no chance to say good-bye.’





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, September 8, 2020

Review: Into the Darkest Day

Title: Into the Darkest Day
Author: Kate Hewitt

Publisher: 14th May 2020 by Bookouture

Pages: 350 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction, romance, WWII 

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Synopsis:

She had to step outside and hold the paper up to the moonlight to read it, but when she was able to make out the words, her heart felt as if it would drop right out of her chest. Because the message was in German.

1944, London: When Lily meets enigmatic GI Matthew in war-torn London, she doesn’t expect to fall in love. While her sister starts a reckless affair with another GI, Lily tries to hide her growing feelings for Matthew.

But Matthew has a devastating secret. One that could change their lives forever.

Present day, USA: Abby lives a quiet life on an apple farm in Wisconsin. Tormented by survivor’s guilt after the tragic deaths of her mother and brother, Abby leaves the orchards as little as possible, keeping her life small, peaceful and safe… Until she is contacted by Englishman Simon Elliot, who arrives nursing a heartbreak of his own, and bearing a World War Two medal that he claims belonged to Abby’s grandfather.

Together they begin to piece together the heartbreaking story of their relatives’ war. But as the story brings Abby and Simon closer—tentatively beginning to lean on one another to heal—they uncover a dark secret from the past.

And like Lily and Matthew nearly eighty years before them, it will make Abby and Simon question whether you can ever truly trust someone, even when they have your heart…

My Thoughts

“I feel sad, and somehow ashamed by it, too. I’m not sure why. It’s just so hard to believe people are capable of such evil.”

I was excited to read Kate Hewitt’s book, Into the Darkest Day - her first venture into historical fiction - and what an interesting and intriguing story she has given her readers. The book had a title change even though I thought the previous title had suited it perfectly. It has everything I look for in a historical read - dual timeline, mystery to be solved and a heartfelt love story.

‘How strange, he thought, not for the first time, that so much has changed, and all because of people who will never know how they’ve affected me. Helped me. Helped us.’

I found that the switches between timelines to be smooth, however, the historical tale was definitely the stronger of the two. I did not fully appreciate the contemporary tale with the exception of it providing good solid links to the historical one - that was an added bonus. The connection between the two tales surrounding ‘survivors guilt’ was a good one though and Kate drew strong parallels in both timelines. 

‘He wanted this man—this paltry, pathetic little tool of the Fuhrer, a tiny cog in the vast machinery of the Nazi party—to know who he was. What he was.’

Into the Darkest Day is an emotional read with rich descriptions of London bombings and concentration camp liberations that are shocking in the telling. To balance this is an uplifting romance that gives a happy ending for some. Kate, a prolific writer, has done a fabulous job with her first foray into historical fiction - a story filled with strength and courage as the past must be laid to rest when the opportunity for new beginnings comes along. 

‘She didn’t want any more secrets. She didn’t want to keep them; she didn’t want to stay silent about yet another thing in her life, or someone’s else life. And she didn’t want to throw away the promise of something—someone—good...’






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, September 3, 2020

Review: The Geometry of Holding Hands

Title:The Geometry of Holding Hands 
Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher: 28th July 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group Pantheon

Pages: 304 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, fiction, philosophy

My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

Isabel Dalhousie applies her moral philosopher's mind to wrongdoings in Edinburgh, and will have to call upon her powers of deduction and her unflappable moral code to unravel another social mystery in the new novel from the bestselling author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

Isabel Dalhousie finds herself entangled in some tricky familial and financial situations that will require all of her kindness, charm and philosophical expertise to navigate.

Just when Isabel and Jamie finally seem to have some time to connect and unwind, a wealthy

Edinburgh resident reaches out to Isabel with an unusual request--he would like her to become

the executor of his large Highland estate. Though Isabel initially demurs, he presses on. He has only a short time to live and, without any direct heirs, is struggling to determine which of his three cousins would be the best caretaker. Should the estate go to the bohemian artist, the savvy city property developer, or the quiet, unassuming bachelor?

And if this weren't enough to keep Isabel occupied, she's also spending more time helping her niece, Cat, at the deli. Cat, perennially unlucky in love, appears to have finally found her match in the leonine Leo. But Isabel is beginning to suspect that Leo might be interested in more than Cat's charms--namely, her access to the family trust. Isabel will need to rely upon her remarkable reserves of intelligence and compassion in order to give all parties exactly what they want and deserve--no more and no less.

My Thoughts

‘The happiness of others was often inexplicable. People got by; people sought different things; they felt their way through the accidental circumstances of their lives. They snatched at small scraps of happiness which, sometimes to the surprise of others, were enough.’

Alexander McCall Smith could write on a serviette and I would pay to read it - it’s pure and it’s simple. I have read some but not all the 'Isabel Dalhousie' series (this volume is number 13) but luckily they can be read as a standalone. These are quick and easy reads that satiate my wish for Alexander’s writing - a quiet, reflective escape to consider life with a cup of tea in hand. For you see, Isabel being the philosopher she is, often finds herself contemplating various everyday ethical issues that, in turn, encourage the reader to do likewise.   

“Things happen,” he said. “We don’t like all of them.” Isabel reflected that sometimes she liked very little of what was happening in the world. “But you have to accept things,” Jamie insisted. He remembered Isabel saying something about the Stoics and acceptance. “Didn’t the Stoics say, ‘Accept what you can’t influence or change’?”

On this occasion her life is increasingly getting busier with two small children and still editor of an Ethics Journal. There are always a couple of issues in each book and it is Isabel’s rumination on each of them that I find so appealing. This is why I love Alexander’s writing - he can take something so simple and ponder the case from all sides - he gives voice, through Isabel’s musings, of wider world issues. Add to this a delightful few days in the celebrated city of Edinburgh and there is much to endear these books. 

‘Perhaps it was only a prolonged education, coupled with the security it brought, that encouraged nuanced thinking. Isabel sometimes wondered whether liberalism was most enthusiastically practised by those who could afford it: you could be generous to others if the likelihood of your ever wanting for anything was remote; you could be kind to asylum seekers if they would never take up resources you would need yourself; you could be tolerant of crime if there was not much of it in your neighbourhood. And so on...’

Much like the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series which I simply adore, The Geometry of Holding Hands has some quirky characters, everyday angst and deliberations to reflect upon over a cup of tea. It’s whimsical and fun, light and easy. Not a bad thing in these uncertain days to lose yourself for a short while.

‘Three figures, in a typical Celtic circle, held hands with one another, arms in a complicated pattern of intermingling. “I love that,” he said. “I think it says everything there is to be said about helping one another and loving one another and being part of . . . well, I suppose being part of something bigger than oneself.” Isabel looked. “The geometry of holding hands,” she said.’





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.