Saturday, December 10, 2016

Review: Candlelight at Christmas

Title: Candlelight at Christmas
Author: Katie Fford
Publisher: 24th November 2016 by Random House UK / Cornerstone Digital
Pages: 66 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: christmas, chick lit, romance, women’s fiction
My Rating: 3 cups


Welcome back some familiar characters and treat yourself to some extra romance with this exclusive, straight-to-digital short story from the Sunday Times No. 1 Bestseller.

Fenella and Rupert are organising the perfect Christmas, surrounded by their friends in their beautiful Somerby house.

Until Fenella gets a phone call from her ghastly parents-in-law asking if they can join them for the holiday. Fenella couldn't possibly refuse and besides, it could be worse.

But when they arrive and the house is suddenly plunged in darkness thanks to a power cut, Fenella knows she has her work cut out to keep everyone happy and pull off the perfect Christmas feast.

My Thoughts
Having read Katie Fforde's novels before and enjoyed them, I thought it time to try one of her famous Christmas novellas. Although a stand-alone, this clearly features couples from a previous book - this may enhance reading, but in no way detracts from it. However,  if you had read the full-length novel,  you may get more from this novella; but it is perfectly possible to read it without having read the full length novel associated with these characters.
The story is very short and, given this, it is often difficult to get to know characters in such a short space of time. However, Katie Fford is a master writer and she achieves much within these few pages. - a difficult thing to do, but the Christmas atmosphere presented, a time for giving and embracing family (for better or worse) combined with the increase in stress levels,  shine through these pages and succeed in giving you that warm, festive feeling that one looks for from a Christmas book/novella.

Candlelight at Christmas is set at the 'big house' Somerby, which featured in Fford’s full length novel, Recipe for Love. It's a sweet little story, focused on the everyday - dealing with uninvited guests, family dramas and of course, it wouldn't be Katie Fforde if it didn't have a little romance. All up, a satisfying novella for this Christmas period.  

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, November 30, 2016

Review: The Christmas Project

Title: The Christmas Project
Author: Maxine Morrey
Publisher: 14th November 2016 by Harper Collins UK HQDigital
Pages: 263 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: christmas, chick lit
My Rating: 5 cups


Professional organiser Kate Stone has never – NEVER – been tempted to hit a client over the head with a snow shovel, but Michael O'Farrell is the most obnoxious – and heart-stoppingly gorgeous – man she has ever met. If he weren't her best friend’s brother, she would not have waited on his doorstep in the freezing cold for five minutes, let alone an hour.

Kate knows, however, that her job isn’t just about tidying up, sometimes she needs to be part therapist too, and Michael clearly needs her help to declutter his heart as well as his home.

But with the festive season just around the corner there isn’t much time to get Michael’s house ready for the O’Farrell family celebrations, but everyone knows that at Christmas anything can happen…

My Thoughts

“There was a gorgeous man, a lovely dog, a comfy bed and bacon sarnies. If Heaven doesn’t contain those things, then frankly I was far less keen to go.”

Every year around this time, I am in search of a fun chick lit read about Christmas romances. What is there not to love about both, and in the hectic pace of this time of year, one is always in need of light escapism. With just the right balance of fun, wit and a sprinkling of ‘warm fuzzies’, this Maxine Morrey book delivered the goods. My first sample of her writing and sure not to be my last. I loved this book.

“But falling for Michael had been gradual. Unplanned. Unexpected. And now unbearable.”

Is it predictable? Of course! What is chick lit without a HEA (happily ever after). Will you be hooked? Definitely! Why .... well there are a few important reasons. There is the right amount of festivities, given the season; there is a great mix of characters; there is the gradual build up of sexual tension without going over the top. However, the winner for me was the fabulous banter between these two - the shots fired at each other are, at times, hysterical.

‘Add it to my list of faults.’
‘Already done.’
‘How wonderfully efficient of you.’
‘I don’t like to disappoint.’

I also very much appreciated the Jane Eyre references, from the dog named Pilot down to the male comparisons:

“And Rochester so far appears moody, short tempered and frankly a bit of a cold fish. I’m beginning to wonder if there is more to the naming of that hound than your innocent claim of just liking the name?”

Overall, this was a great festive tale that I highly recommend to those who would  like to read something quick and easy that will make you smile and get in the festive frame of mind.

“I loved this time of year–the lights, the decorations, the music. It made me happy.”

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, November 25, 2016

Review: The Liberation

Title: The Liberation
Author: Kate Furnivall
Publisher: 3 November 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 560 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5 cups


Italy, 1945: as British and American troops attempt to bring order to the devastated cities, its population fights each other to survive. Caterina Lombardi is desperate - her mother has abandoned them already and her brother is being drawn into the mafia. Early one morning, among the ruins of the bombed Naples streets, she is forced to go to extreme lengths to protect her family and in doing so forges a future very different to the one she expected. But will the secrets of her family's past be her downfall? This epic novel is an unforgettably powerful story of love, loss and the long shadow of war.

My Thoughts

I have long wished to sample a Kate Furnivall book, and now I know why. It was amazing. ‘The Liberation’ is an epic tale. Long ... over 500 pages ... but gosh! Does it pack a punch! At no stage are you bored or does the story decline - tension and suspense will easily see you through these riveting pages.

“She didn’t recognise her own life any more. It was as if she had fallen into someone else’s and she needed a new map to find her way around it.”

Firstly there is the setting - post war Italy - how they survived one trauma (WWII) to be faced with an ongoing crisis of survival. Here is a tale of tragedy, as people are forced into things, against often insurmountable odds. What an amazing character Caterina is! Out to prove her father’s innocence and protect what remains of her family, you will be floored by her strength. She is a heroine in every sense of the word. In fact, each and every character has real substance, a strength and honour in their convictions and the lengths they will go to in achieving them. This is not a romance, but one cannot help but love the chemistry between Caterina and Jake.

“We think we know the people we love. But what if she were mistaken? What if the father she had loved all those years was not the man behind the bright laughing eyes and the easy way of smiling? What if she had got it all wrong?”

The way Kate Furnivall describes life in Italy, down to the smallest detail, truly captures all the fears and failings, love and compassion. Even though the war was over, its effects were still being felt and the fallout made surviving a struggle. Her writing is at times poetic in the rich descriptions of Naples and Sorrento and you will be lost back in time to this place and culture. You will be crawling over the rubble, running with the street kids and fearing for your life - such are the writing skills of Kate Furnivall.

“But here in the deep shade of old Italy, she could hear the ancient pulse of Naples, feel it vibrating in the smooth black lava slabs beneath her feet. Bombs. Gunfire. Death and starvation. Blood in the streets. Defeat and destruction.”

This is a fabulous book. A story filled with intrigue and violence, set against Italian passions of family and love. I highly recommend you embark on this journey with Caterina, dangerous as it will be, in an effort to both survive and honour all the good that remains in this war torn country.

“ the Allied Army had invaded to save the country from Hitler’s forces, but who would save Naples from itself when the soldiers were gone?”

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, November 19, 2016

Review: Lily's House

Title: Lily’s House
Author: Cassandra Parkin
Publisher: 15th October 2016 by Legend Press
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, women's fiction
My Rating: 4 cups


When Jen goes to her grandmother's house for the last time, she's determined not to dwell on the past. As a child, Jen adored Lily and suspected she might be a witch, but the spell was broken long ago, and now her death means there won't be any reconciliation. Lily's gone, but the enchantments she wove and the secrets she kept still remain. In Lily's house, Jen and her daughter Marianne reluctantly confront the secrets of the past and present—and discover how dangerous we become when we're trying to protect the ones we love.

My Thoughts

Having enjoyed Parkin’s last book, ‘The Beach Hut’, I  was interested to see what her next tale would be like. This book has a little bit of everything – from relationships to domestic violence,  truth and falsehoods, mystery and resolution. I found it a most compelling tale, with relatable characters and a great plot with Parkin, piece by piece, slowly bringing it together to form a fitting conclusion.  

“I didn’t know I still had it in me to be this angry, but this place, this room, it’s faded glamour briefly reawakened by sunshine and the deep clean, has opened the wound again.”

The book begins, with Lily having passed away, leaving her house to her granddaughter, Jen. As the latter begins to sort through her grandmother's possessions, she finds herself puzzling and questioning events - both past and present - that will slowly unlock and reveal so much. This is not an easy thing for Jen to reconcile herself to. I enjoyed the somewhat ‘magical’ element of intuition and premonitions as events unfolded - it lended itself nicely to this tale. Domestic violence is a part of this story and that may be difficult for some, however, it is a crucial element of this plot and handled very well by Parkin.

“I’d like to tell Marianne this is the landscape of my innermost heart, and I could find my way to Lily’s house even if I was dying.”

At times the variance in writing is a little difficult to come to terms with but you become accustomed to it the further in you read. For example: the chapters alternate between past and present and the mobile phone conversations/texts. Slowly and very cleverly, Parkin has you questioning what you think you do and don’t know and the flashbacks and conversations become pertinent and revealing. However, you are never really sure what will come next. Also at times I found the feuding a bit silly, didn’t seem to fit naturally - misunderstandings yes, but tantrums, no.

Lily's House is as enchanting as it is quirky , with a deep rooted tale of unconditional love between a grandmother and granddaughter. To me, Lily  is the star of this book, endearing as she is determined - both in life and in death. Indeed, from beyond the grave she is the guiding light for her granddaughter and great-granddaughter in their time of need, as she foresaw so much and was intent on providing for them in so many ways.

“What a contrast with Lily, mysterious and magical, capable of conjuring wonders.”

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick

Title: The Sparrow Sisters
Author: Ellen Herrick
Publisher:  William Morrow Paperbacks (September 1, 2015)
ISBN: 9780062386342
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: women's fiction, magical realism
My Rating: 3 cups

With echoes of the alchemy of Practical Magic, the lushness of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and the darkly joyful wickedness of the Witches of East End, Ellen Herrick’s debut novel spins an enchanting love story about a place where magic whispers just beneath the surface and almost anything is possible, if you aren’t afraid to listen

The Sparrow sisters are as tightly woven into the seaside New England town of Granite Point as the wild sweet peas that climb the stone walls along the harbor. Sorrel, Nettie and Patience are as colorful as the beach plums on the dunes and as mysterious as the fog that rolls into town at dusk.

Patience is the town healer and when a new doctor settles into Granite Point he brings with him a mystery so compelling that Patience is drawn to love him, even as she struggles to mend him. But when Patience Sparrow’s herbs and tinctures are believed to be implicated in a local tragedy, Granite Point is consumed by a long-buried fear—and its three hundred year old history resurfaces as a modern day witch-hunt threatens. The plants and flowers, fruit trees and high hedges begin to wither and die, and the entire town begins to fail; fishermen return to the harbor empty-handed, and blight descends on the old elms that line the lanes.

It seems as if Patience and her town are lost until the women of Granite Point band together to save the Sparrow. As they gather, drawing strength from each other, will they be able to turn the tide and return life to Granite Point?

The Sparrow Sisters is a beautiful, haunting, and thoroughly mesmerizing novel that will capture your imagination.

My Thoughts:

"For a second he was almost frightened. Not by Patience exactly but by this place where sisters sensed each other in the dark, this town that believed a young woman could keep them well with nothing but her garden: an ordinary place where flowers bloomed long past the first frost and people sniffed the air to guess what Patience Sparrow might be feeling before they checked the weather."

I'm a fan of magical realism and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is a particular favorite of mine, so the description for The Sparrow Sisters immediately piqued my interest. I dug in eagerly, and whilst it was entertaining and I did like this book, I didn't quite love it.

The premise is interesting, but some of the execution just doesn't deliver. Although there are some wonderful descriptions, the writing overall lacks some of the lyrical quality and charm found in SAA's work. This tale is also considerably darker, with more sadness and tragedy to be found as it unfolds, and there are some inconsistencies in the magical abilities.

Even so, there are several compelling themes explored here which make it a worthy read - small town dynamics, science vs. the mystical, conventional medicine vs. folk healing, the dangers of gossip, public opinion and mob mentality. I also particularly enjoyed the relationships between the Sparrow sisters themselves and even more so the 'sisterhood' of the women of the entire town as this story resolved.

The ending hints that there may be more Sparrow books to come, possibly dealing with the other two sisters, and I would be most willing to give those a read. These characters interested me enough to continue on with their story, and hopefully it will only get better as it goes along.

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

Review: Tamer of Horses by Amalia Carosella

Title: Tamer of Horses
Author: Amalia Carosella
Publisher:  Thorskona Books (October 3, 2016)
ISBN: 9781535240499
Pages: 375 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, mythology, romance
My Rating: 4 cups 

More than two decades before the events of Helen of Sparta...

Abandoned as a baby, Hippodamia would have died of exposure on the mountain had it not been for Centaurus. The king of the centaurs saved her, raised her as his own, and in exchange asks for only one thing: she must marry the future king of the Lapiths, Pirithous, son of Zeus, and forge a lasting peace between their peoples by giving him an heir. It would be a fine match if Pirithous weren’t more pirate than king and insufferably conceited, besides. But Hippodamia can hardly refuse to marry him without betraying every hope her people have for peace.

After the death of Dia, queen of the Lapiths, tensions are running high. The oaths and promises protecting the Lapith people from the Myrmidons have lapsed, and the last thing Pirithous needs is to begin his kingship by making new enemies. But not everyone wants peace on the mountain. There are those among the centaurs who feel it comes at too high a price, and Peleus, King of the Myrmidons, lusts for the lush valley of the Lapiths and the horses that graze within it. Pirithous needs a strong queen at his side, and Hippodamia will certainly be that—if he can win her loyalties.

But no matter their differences, neither Hippodamia nor Pirithous expected their wedding banquet to be the first battle in a war.

My Thoughts:

"Her dark hair was crowned with a wreath of white wildflowers, but even so, she had not lost the stray bits of leaf and stick, the disarray a reminder of her upbringing. A wild creature, born of the mountain and the wood, only waiting to be tamed by her king."

I loved Carosella’s previous two books, Helen of Sparta and By Helen’s Hand, so snapping up the ARC of Tamer of Horses as soon as it became available was a total no-brainer for me. The first two books reimagined the well-known tale of Helen and the lead up to the Trojan War, complete with the author's own unique twist upon the story. Taking place some 25 years prior, Tamer serves as a prequel to those books but can easily be read as a stand alone as well.

Although most everyone is familiar with the story of Helen, this book tells the story of one of the somewhat lesser known side characters of the Helen books, King Pirithous of the Lapiths, and his Centaur–raised bride Hippodamia. As an extra treat for readers of the previous books, King Theseus of Athens is once again present and plays a significant part in this story, and we also get to meet his first wife Antiope, the Amazon Queen.

Carosella’s writing is immersive and exceptionally readable. Her knowledge of Bronze Age Greece and Greek mythology is obvious and she does a marvelous job interpreting and fleshing out the classic myths and filling in any gaps that exist in those tales. Her characters are engaging and she truly brings the time period to life. I did feel there was a bit too much sexual/romantic angst at the beginning of this book, which slowed things down somewhat, but once the war with the Centaurs began the story picked up steam quickly, and I was completely engaged from that point on.

As Carosella states in the author’s note: “To be frank, I couldn’t imagine Pirithous taking just any woman as his wife. She had to have been exceptional and unique. Exceptional enough that decades later, he would accept nothing less than a daughter of Zeus for his second wife…” And, indeed, the author has succeeded in creating a strong and interesting female lead in Hippodamia. She is fierce, wild and stubborn yet loyal and honorable, and I found myself rooting for her in spite of her flaws.

Theseus is a favorite of mine from the Helen books, and experiencing his relationship with his Amazon wife was a definite highlight here. Antiope is a fabulous character in her own right, and I would love to see a future book entirely devoted to their story. In the meantime, I eagerly look forward to any and all new releases from this author. I am most certainly a fan and will pick them up without hesitation!

"She was queen. The only woman Pirithous thought worthy of the role. The only woman he trusted to rule in his place. She was his queen. And she must fight."

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, November 11, 2016

Review: The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid

Title: The Diabolic
Author: S. J. Kincaid
Publisher: 1 November 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA, Dystopia
My Rating: 4 cups


A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

My Thoughts

“I had only two goals going forward: to fool people into thinking I was Sidonia, and of course, to try not to die.”

If you are looking for a good dystopian mix of action and political manoeuvering, then this is the book for you. For all its cut throat (literally!) barbarism, there is indeed another side to this story concerning all of humanity, friendship and love. With an amazing cast of characters, this tale of friendship and love versus family and politics will keep your attention.

The beginning is a little slow but the pace certainly does increase the further you get into the story. In fairness, there is a vast world to create for the reader, and to do it justice, this took time. The various planets/worlds are detailed and interesting with strains of other tales (Star Wars etc) seemingly apparent, as senators and rebels scheme against their autocratic rulers. There is a lot to take in, but the author does a great job in the creation of these worlds and how they function. As a type of ‘cat and mouse’ game ensues, you will be absorbed by the political plotting and how humanity - and Diabolics - will fair.

As some have claimed, there is a ‘Game of Thrones’ feel about some of the political jousts as planets/families jostling for recognition and power. Lots of plotting, corruption and backstabbing (literally!) take place in this struggle for dominance. There are simply loads of plot twists and turns, passion and betrayal that will keep you guessing right up to the end.

Another point I had issues with was the romance and some friendships - they did not ring true for me. It seemed at times clinical and distant, the raw emotion was stated but not felt (by me). However, this can be overlooked as this is a most worthy sci-fi saga that you will enjoy. The story and worlds are compelling and even if you are not a fantasy/sci fi/dystopian reader, there is a deeper tale of the future of humanity and what it is to be not only human, but alive.

“I’d accepted for so long that I wasn’t a real person, and I never would have questioned it but for the pain I felt now. How could a creature that wasn’t real experience the depth of anguish I’d experienced.”

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