Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Monsieur Ka

Title:  Monsieur Ka
Author: Vesna Goldsworthy
Publisher: 22nd February 2018 by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3 cups

‘Without quite realising that I would do it until it happened, I raised myself on my toes and kissed his frozen cheek. In Paris, it would have been an unremarkable gesture. In Alexandria, an invitation. I still had no idea about London.'
The London winter of 1947. As cold as St Petersburg during the Revolution. The Karenins keep their vodka under the layers of snow in their suburban garden, in bottles entombed like their Russian past. But when a young Frenchwoman arrives to work as a companion to the aged 'Monsieur Ka' he begins to tell his story...
Albertine is the wife of a British army officer who is often abroad on covert government business. Lonely, yet eager to work, she begins to write Monsieur Ka’s life story a as a secret gift to him, and even learns his mother tongue. To her ear it is like 'the sound of falling snow'. As she is drawn into Ka’s dramatic past, her own life is shaken to its foundations. For in this family of former princes, there are present temptations which could profoundly affect her future.
My Thoughts

This is an interesting little book, seeking to cover quite an array of themes and stories. And, if I am completely honest, a few too many irons were in this fire for me; at times, I am found myself unsure of the essence of this book - what was it really all about? I have walked away from it a little unsure and a feeling like it’s unfinished.

‘Toska is one of those Russian words,’ Monsieur Carr had said, ‘which have no English equivalents. It means “a dull ache of the soul”.’

Firstly, you have Albertine and her story (along with others in the book) which is most likely the strongest theme, that being, one of displacement and the struggles - not only after a war in her case, but generally the upheaval of leaving.  This theme can also be linked to that of her husband and the Russians she encounters throughout. I think the author did a good job of conveying the loneliness and isolation felt, especially considering how frequently Albertine was left alone while her husband traveled throughout postwar Europe.

‘I came to hate her (Anna Karenina) because, when she couldn’t have us both, she wanted that other man, my father’s rival and namesake, more than she wanted me.’

The story I probably enjoyed most was that of Sergei Alexandrovich, whos original surname was Karenin, thus making him the son of Anna from the famous Tolstoy story. The creative inclusion of Anna Karenina's story is truly very clever, helping to interweave the major themes of love and family throughout history - Albertine’s family, her husband Albert’s family and of course, Sergei (Monsieur Ka). I also really appreciated the inclusion of Sergei’s later life - marriage and imprisonment - and the decline of the Old Russian order.

“Prague, Paris, Berlin: they were all full of homeless Russians, once princes and generals, now taxi drivers and doormen in fashionable hotels.”

It was interesting to witness the production of Alexander Korda's film version of the Tolstoy book in which Sergei had a consultation role. Cameo appearances by Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier made it seem that much more real - once again, that clever combination of fact and fiction.

“The fictional lives we read about –your Anna, your Emma Bovary here –are so much more authentic than ours, and not just in the sense that they leave a deeper, more permanent mark on the world, while we, so-called real people, vanish without a trace.”

So you can see, there is quite a deal going on here and I think I would have appreciated a more singular focus on one of the above outlined aspects. All up, it’s about the stories we are told, or tell ourselves, but I just feel the delivery could have been a little smoother. That is not to say that the writing suffers - it is clearly evident that Goldsworthy is a serious writer.

‘We harm no one but ourselves by feeling slighted; we carry acid in our soul even when it eats nothing but the vessel it is stored in.’

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 16, 2018

Giveaway Time!

Today I have had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Vanessa Carnevale about her latest book, 'The Memories That Make Us' She has kindly offered to giveaway FIVE signed bookmarks! All you need do is visit us at Facebook (see our link on the side) and be one of the first five people to share our post about Vanessa's new book and you will be sent one of the bookmarks signed by Vanessa!

This offer is opened worldwide!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: The Memories That Make Us

Title: The Memories That Make Us
Author: Vanessa Carnevale
Publisher: 19 February 2018 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women's fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups


Gracie Ashcroft is supposed to marry Blake Beaumont in three months’ time. The trouble is, she doesn’t know who he is…

After an accident leaves Gracie with severe amnesia, she’s forced to decide: live a life that is made up of other people’s memories of who she was, or start a new life on her own. Leaving her fiancé Blake behind, she moves to the country where she takes on the task of reviving her family’s abandoned flower farm.

While attempting to restart a business with an uncertain future, she tries to come to terms with the grief of losing a mother she can’t remember and a fiancé she so badly wants to fall in love with again. What she doesn’t count on is developing a deep connection with Flynn, a local vet. Worst of all is having to confront the fact that she might lose either chance at love.

Forced to examine the person she has become, Gracie confronts the question: if you had your time over, would you live the same life twice?

My Thoughts

I read Vanessa’s first book, ‘The Florentine Bridge’ (review HERE) and loved it - would her second novel be equally as compelling? Let me just say, I have only now come up for air - finished it in a day - beautifully compelling, I could not put it down. What not to love - the delectable cover, my home state setting (love Daylesford), the storytelling and the twist - yup, this is one special book to lose yourself in for a weekend.

‘Somehow, even if not by choice, you’ve been given a clean slate, a way to create a life you want that’s free from all the baggage and the drama that most people spend their whole lives trying to escape.’

Where to start? Well, how about at the beginning. What’s this book really all about, the blurb states it outright: ‘if you had your time over, would you live the same life twice?’ So very interesting and Gracie’s story here really gets you thinking what would you have done if in her shoes? Written in the first person throughout, you are totally aligned with all Gracie is going through with her amnesia. I love her decision to remove herself to her late mother’s flower farm for perspective and reflection.

‘I don’t want to be told stories about how things were and what I felt. I want to know it and feel it myself. Otherwise, how am I going to know if what I feel is real?’

Secondly, I have to make note of the setting - a small country town, Daylesford, in my home state of Victoria (Australia). This is a beautiful part of the world and Vanessa really captures everything about it - from the main street, to the local pub to the past glory of her mother’s flower farm. An area full of natural beauty and on this occasion, the perfect setting for all the reflection and memories that were to unfold. Next, let’s talk about flowers - my gosh! Has Vanessa done her homework here and how interesting is it! Without being overly burdened with facts, you are provided with an honest introduction to many things involved with not only flower farming but also individual flower meaning and significance (I loved the character of Tilly!)

Finally the characters - both primary and secondary - are so well thought out. You feel for Gracie and what her obvious frustrations must be. You understand her best friend Scarlett trying so hard to help remind her of all she once was. Even the likes of Charlie and his wife Maggie (suffering alzheimer's) have their part to play. Then there is the romance and Flynn ... sigh ... no words - just read the book.

‘But isn’t it our past that shapes our future?’
‘To a degree …’
‘Exactly,’ I say. ‘It’s our memories that make us who we are.’

This is just a really beautifully told story full of heartbreak, fear and ultimately, trying to discover who one really is, especially when all seems lost. I feel like I have been on a real emotional journey and that is just how one wants to walk away from a book of this nature. Considering, just how much does our past shape our future? Or ....

‘Maybe what matters is simply how I feel about you all, now.’

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 11, 2018

Review: The Phantom's Apprentice

Title: The Phantom’s Apprentice
Author: Heather Webb
Publisher: 6th February 2018 by Sonnet Press
Pages: 350 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, retellings, historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 crowns

In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…
Christine faces an impossible choice: be a star at the Paris opera as Papa always wanted, or follow her dream—to become a master of illusions. First, she must steal the secrets of the enigmatic master who haunts her, survive a world of treachery and murder, and embrace the uncertain promise of love. To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.
My Thoughts

Let me start by saying ... I love ALL things Phantom Of The Opera - books, musicals, score, movie - you name it! I feel it in my bones and know every word of every song. So of course I immediately had to read this book and can glady state that Heather Webb has presented a fabulous take on this much loved classic.

‘What had happened to the poor man to make him hate everyone—and himself—so much?’

In this version Christine is an illusionist as well as an opera singer and the Phantom is someone with whom she may have crossed paths in the past (not to give away any spoilers). So be warned - this is not the romantic love story we all know and love - this is a completely new and satisfying approach.

The tale may start out a little slowly but once Christine joins the Paris Opera Company, the pace certainly increases. I also very much appreciated the authentic detail Webb went to in presenting the magic and illusions - it was new and fitted in very well with the theme - I mean the Phantom was the Master of illusions! Learning more about this Phantom’s back story is also new and well presented. I liked it.

I really enjoyed this book! Heather Webb does a fine job of paying respect to the original whilst simultaneously delivering new and creative reimagining on certain plots within the overall tale. It was refreshing to learn of things solely from Christine’s viewpoint and have her character demonstrating so much more strength and independence.

‘This ghost would show himself—now—and explain his motives! If he didn’t, I would expose him to the directors. The charade was over, like it or not.’

Full of magic and atmosphere, rich in historical detail, with a fresh but still reassuringly comforting enough retelling for avid fans, you will quickly turn the pages of this suspense filled tale. Enchanting, delightful and thoroughly engaging for both original devotee’s and newcomers alike.

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review: That Old Black magic

Title: That Old Black Magic
Author: Cathi Unsworth
Publisher: 8 March 2018 by Serpent’s Tail
Pages: 364 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 2.5 cups


April 1943: four boys playing in Hagley Woods, Essex make a gruesome discovery. Inside an enormous elm tree, there is the body of a woman, her mouth stuffed with a length of cloth. As the case goes cold, mysterious graffiti starts going up across the Midlands: 'Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?'

To Ross Spooner, a police officer working undercover for spiritualist magazine Two Worlds, the messages hold a sinister meaning. He's been on the track of a German spy ring who have left a trail of black magic and mayhem across England, and this latest murder bears all the hallmarks of an ancient ritual.

At the same time, Spooner is investigating the case of Helen Duncan, a medium whose messages from the spirit world contain highly classified information. As the establishment joins ranks against Duncan, Spooner must face demons from his own past, uncover the spies hiding beneath the fabric of wartime society - and confront those who suspect that he, too, may not be all he seems ...

My Thoughts

I was attracted to this book as it was based around two incidents from history: the Hagley Woods Murder of 1943; and also, the events leading up to the 1944 trial of Helen Duncan, a Scottish medium ( one of the last people convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735).  Add into the mixture, World War II and Nazi spies and one would think you were on a winner.

The positives of this book was indeed the concept. A mixture of witchcraft and German spies set during the war is fascinating, especially considering it’s formation from real time events. The attention to detail from the time period was also well presented - a good mixture of fact and fiction that was obviously well researched and informative with the right balance of imagination. I also particularly liked the main lead of Spooner - easy to appreciate and empathise with. Sadly, however, these aspects were not enough to carry the book over the line for me. I struggled to finish it, finding it to be pretty dry and confusing at times.

My first confusion came with the synopsis and what I thought would be the initial catalyst for the story. No - this did not occur until well into the book and I was unsure of how it would all fit together. I felt misled. Some events were built up, but later left out to dry - not as important as I initially anticipated - whilst others led to nowhere. This provided another confusion for me,  as I found the writing rather disjointed regarding who, what or where events were taking place. There are loads of characters that make it difficult to really engage in the plot and sift through who was pertinent and who wasn’t.

So all up I was deflated after what at the outset had appeared a good basis for an engaging story. Perhaps it would have been better served if the stated synopsis and the discovery of 'Bella in the Wych Elm' had indeed been the initial hook and then the author had worked back from that point? Who knows?

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, March 3, 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window

Title: The Woman in the Window
Author: A.J. Finn
Publisher: 25 January 2018 by Harper Collins
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, mystery, suspense
My Rating: 3.5 cups


What did she see?

It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.

Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.

But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

My Thoughts

This book is presented as a psychological thriller which reads at a good pace, even if the plot appears somewhat familiar. I quite liked the book as it reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 mystery/thriller film with James Stewart, ‘Rear Window’. Here, instead of a broken leg, we have a lead who, not only suffers from agoraphobia, but also is presented as an unreliable narrator with the amount of alcohol and prescriptions drugs consumed. Anna Fox is suffering from a personal tragedy and her connection to the outside world is through the internet and the few visitors to her home. Basically she spies on her neighbours and witnesses a crime. Or did she?

I believe the author has done a solid job here in making you a part of Anna’s world through her thoughts and fears - even at times if it is somewhat repetitive. It can be difficult to sympathise with Anna with her counting of wine bottles and daily pill intake. Whilst trying to make you fully appreciate the depths of her despair, it just makes the story drag. The writing is short, sharp and engaging, but somewhat predictable in areas, with twists that may or may not surprise you.

I did enjoy the throw back to ‘Rear Window’, especially Anna’s  love for old movies that run in the background as I have always adored the old classic Hollywood movies. There were often interesting parallels and it made you question whether something really did happen, or if Anna just saw it in a movie. Ultimately, if you're looking for a readable mystery, this one definitely fits the bill. I don't think it's one where you'll find memorable characters but it certainly keeps you turning the pages.

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 23, 2018

Review: The Bookworm

Title: The Bookworm
Author: Mitch Silver
Publisher: 6th February 2018 by Pegasus Books
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, fiction, thriller, World War II
My Rating: 3 cups

Why did Hitler chose not to invade England when he had the chance?
Europe, 1940: It’s late summer and Belgium has been overrun by the German army. Posing as a friar, a British operative talks his way into the monastery at Villers-devant-Orval just before Nazi art thieves plan to sweep through the area and whisk everything of value back to Berlin. But the ersatz man of the cloth is no thief. Instead, that night he adds an old leather Bible to the monastery’s library and then escapes.
London, 2017: A construction worker operating a backhoe makes a grisly discovery—a skeletal arm-bone with a rusty handcuff attached to the wrist. Was this the site, as a BBC newsreader speculates, of “a long-forgotten prison, uncharted on any map?” One viewer knows better: it’s all that remains of a courier who died in a V-2 rocket attack. The woman who will put these two disparate events together—and understand the looming tragedy she must hurry to prevent—is Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion Larissa Mendelovg Klimt, “Lara the Bookworm,” to her friends. She’s also experiencing some woeful marital troubles.
In the course of this riveting thriller, Lara will learn the significance of six musty Dictaphone cylinders recorded after D-Day by Noel Coward—actor, playwright and, secretly, a British agent reporting directly to Winston Churchill. She will understand precisely why that leather Bible, scooped up by the Nazis and deposited on the desk of Adolf Hitler days before he planned to attack Britain, played such a pivotal role in turning his guns to the East. And she will discover the new secret pact negotiated by the nefarious Russian president and his newly elected American counterpart—maverick and dealmaker—and the evil it portends.
My Thoughts

This book promised a lot with a forged document from World War II and its implications in a present day oil price fixing scheme between powerful countries. Therein lies the issue - whilst clever, it did perhaps try to undertake too much for the one book. Without a doubt, it is a fascinating concept but overall due to the intricate complications, there just lacked a greater depth to both characters and subplots. Towards the end there was a lot of action but it all seemed to come together a little too neatly. I also found the short, sharp chapters did nothing to help in the required elaborations.

Present day figures of American and Russian leaders were easy to recognise, as with the historical figures ranging from Churchill to Kennedy. The conspiracy theory is quite involved with a young JFK suggesting a war on both fronts, to present day oil dealings - be prepared to go with the outrageous ideas and pay attention as, at times, it gets a bit confusing. Personally, I would have preferred the focus to remain on the British attempt to trick Hitler as that in itself was engaging and to have left out the contemporary political dealings.

So whilst an interesting read it did not strongly deliver. The idea of the forged book was extremely clever - even to have it tied in with a present day unveiling. However, the problem was undertaking too vast an arena of characters and ideas and getting lost in modern day espionage. The Alaskan component, Lara’s brother and even her estranged husband were difficult to understandably incorporate - especially Lara’s final decision which was just utterly ridiculous given her thoughts throughout.

If you are at all interested in past or present espionage and conspiracy theories, then you will find this an engaging read. For me, it just tried to do too much and ended up lacking substance in the necessary areas. Much like Lara, the book was ‘pulled in too many directions’.

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