Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: Seven Letters From Paris by Samantha Verant

Title: Seven Letters From Paris
Author: Samantha Verant
Publisher: 3rd November 2014 by Random House Australia 
ISBN: 9780857984647
Pages: 304 pages
How We Read It: eARC
Genre: memoir, non-fiction, travel, relationships, cultural-France
Our Rating: 2.5 cups 


In the best romantic tradition of ALMOST FRENCH, a woman falls madly in love with a Frenchman in Paris. But it takes her twenty years to find him again …

Samantha’s life is falling apart - she's lost her job, her marriage is on the rocks and she's walking dogs to keep the wolf from the door.

But when she stumbles across seven passionate love letters from the handsome Frenchman she fell head over heels for in Paris when she was 19, she can't help but wonder, what if?

Surely it wouldn’t hurt to try to find explain why she never wrote back. Closure is a good thing, after all.

One very carefully worded, very belated email apology later, it’s clear that sometimes love does give you a second chance.

Jetting off to France to reconnect with a man you knew for just one madly romantic day is crazy - but it’s the kind of crazy Samantha’s been waiting for her whole life.

Truth may be stranger than fiction but sometimes it's better than your wildest dreams.

Our Thoughts:

Nineteen eighty-nine. Twenty years ago. Paris.  And just like that … we reveled in our past, reliving each moment by glorious moment in a wild romp down memory lane.”

Memoirs often make interesting reading and this one appealed especially so, as the prospect of getting a second chance at love, a second lease on life, would make for an entertaining story. Add to that a window into the lives of two seemingly down-to-earth people, for many it would be a journey, a path they too may have travelled. Although a real connection with the characters is difficult due to the style of writing, it still made for a very easy read.

The memoir is written in an easy going, friendly conversational tone, and true romantics will love how it unfolds. It’s a lovely lighthearted story that will restore your faith in love and life – second chances do exist and it’s never too late to change course and go after your dreams.

By searching my past, I figured, maybe I could figure out my future …. If there was ever a time to change everything in my life it was now.”

An engaging aspect of this book is the dual genre of both romantic tale and travel book. The detail provided of French locations and cuisine is very appealing for any Francophile and serves as a bit of a ‘virtual vacation’ as you follow along with Sam’s experiences.

As the title of the book suggests, a highlight is the seven initial letters sent from Jean-Luc – definitely French and definitely swoon-worthy! And these letters are cleverly interspersed throughout the book – touching, sweet, and 100% romantic.

If life was the sum of the choices I’d made, I was just going to have to make better decisions. Starting now.”

Seven Letters from Paris is a light read that will restore your faith and inspire you to:

Now put this book down and live and love your life to its fullest – without fear, without anger, and without regret.”

Our Rating:

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 11, 2014

Review: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

Title: Lizzy & Jane
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson (October 28 2014)
ISBN: 9781401689735
Pages: 352 pages
How We Read It: eARC
Genre: contemporary fiction, chick lit, food and drink
Our Rating: 2 cups 


Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen’s famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast’s financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane's needs, Elizabeth's powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?

Our Thoughts:

“She was my Mom’s favorite, absolute favorite, to the point of naming her daughters after Austen’s most famous sisters.”

From the very title itself, this tale began with a Jane Austen reference we couldn't pass up. Lizzy and Jane is a story about two sisters who had a falling out when their mother died from cancer. When Lizzy, a New York restaurateur, takes a break to visit her sister Jane, who is undergoing chemotherapy, she thinks she’s there to escape her own stresses and recapture the ‘zing’ that is missing from her cooking, whilst building a bridge with her sister. Instead, she discovers what’s really missing from her life.

“I want to love what I’m doing. I want to not feel heavy all the time. I want to laugh like I used to – to be that kid in the picture…. I want to be whole. I want to be thankful.”

Cancer is a real struggle for all those involved. In today’s day and age, there would be few who have not been touched by it in some way – either personally or through a family member or a friend - which makes this book resonant and poignant on that level.

“I understand. I’ve been on both sides – afraid of where I am and where I’m going to finally feeling comfortable with the journey.”

This book is full of culinary descriptions and literary food references. We had never really considered how food is used in literature that much, but this idea is explored throughout the novel, as Lizzy takes inspiration from several classics for her new creations in the kitchen. In many respects, this story reads like a literary ‘Feast’ (name of the restaurant) for the senses. If you like food and the thought behind its inception, this will prove an intriguing component of the read. 

“It’s never about the food – it’s about what the food becomes, in the hand of the giver and the recipient.”

However, we struggled with the melancholy that permeated this read. The struggles, the misunderstandings – fights with harsh words, painful medical situations, recurrent family discord, insincere communications – not easy reading at times. The story is written solely from Lizzy’s perspective, which significantly limits your appreciation and connection with other characters on a deeper level.

Overall the author attempts to provide a reflection of real life and a message of forgiveness and second chances, reconciliation and realisation of what is truly important in life.

“It was about love and our definition of it, our striving for it. And it was about how that love gets accepted, returned, or rejected.”

Our Rating:
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher (thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing us with an e-ARC) and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Nightingale by Fiona McIntosh

Title: Nightingale
Author: Fiona McIntosh
Publisher: October 21st 2014 by Penguin Australia
ISBN: 9781921901966
Pages: 357 pages 

How We Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, war, romance

Our Rating: 4 cups

Amidst the carnage of Gallipoli, British nurse Claire Nightingale meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren. Despite all odds, they fall deeply in love. Their flame burns bright and carries them through their darkest hours, even when war tears them apart.

Jamie's chance meeting with Turkish soldier Açar Shahin on the blood-stained battlefield forges an unforgettable bond between the men. It also leaves a precious clue to Jamie's whereabouts for Claire to follow.

Come peacetime, Claire's desperate search to find Jamie takes her all the way to Istanbul, and deep into the heart of Açar's family, where she attracts the unexpected attention of a charismatic and brooding scholar.

In the name of forgiveness, cultures come together, enemies embrace and forbidden passions ignite – but by the breathtaking conclusion, who will be left standing to capture Nurse Nightingale's heart?

 A heart-soaring novel of heartbreak and heroism, love and longing by a powerhouse Australian storyteller.

Our thoughts:

“You already love him; it happens. Accept love comes out of nowhere for the majority of us. And the best love is unexpected, while the least successful in love are those who plan it or force it. This young man has flown into your heart and made a nest.”

From the harrowing trenches of Gallipoli to the bustling cities of Cairo, London, and even post-war Istanbul, this novel will take you on an emotional journey of war, love, faith, heartbreak and hope. Yes, this is a romantic tale, the classic love triangle, but for us, the real attraction to Fiona McIntosh’s tale is in the descriptive diversity.

From the shores of Gallipoli in World War I and the hellish circumstances that soldiers faced there, McIntosh captures everything, from the chaos and camaraderie to the heroism and tragedy, that will leave you drained yet riveted. We found her writing to be so vivid at times that a real authenticity flowed through her words and we were transported effortlessly to another place and time.

This story serves as a great reminder of the brave work done by the nurses and doctors who worked tirelessly to save and care for the wounded in horrific conditions. At the heart of this novel is the firsthand account of – in this instance – the women, primarily nursing staff – who worked in difficult and unsanitary conditions for ridiculous amounts of time, under the sorrow of so much carnage. One could not help but feel their fears and frustrations, yet unquestionable dedication.

This novel illuminates not only the horror of war but also the human side, and the truce declared to clear No Man's Land of the dead, which allowed a relationship to be struck between the harmonica-playing Jamie and the kaval-playing Açar, provided a moment to surely pull at one’s heartstrings.

Another highlight of the novel was Claire’s trip to Istanbul – once again McIntosh’s descriptions of the post-war Turkish city were vivid, intriguing and culturally captivating.

There is an array of secondary characters that bring a quintessential quality to the story as well. Jamie’s friend Spud at Gallipoli and the heart breaking tale of Açar, who provided the focal motivation in all that would transpire, felt real, the descriptions ‘too’ real as the horrors hit home.

Ultimately this is a well-researched historical fiction novel by an author we will surely read some more from. We were totally absorbed in this compelling story, finding it difficult to put down and eager to pick up when time once more permitted. We have no hesitation in recommending this novel.

"Leave some room for oddities because life, I have found, is rarely neat. Drink your tea. It has magical properties to make every shock feel less dramatic.”

Our Rating:

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