Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Something To Hide by Deborah Moggach

Title:  Something to Hide

Author: Deborah Moggach
Publisher: 2nd July 2015 by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Chatto & Windus
Pages: 256 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: women's fiction, 
My Rating: 3 cups

No matter where you are in the world, you'll have something to hide...

PETRA, PIMLICO: sixty-several, ever-single. But is she about to find love, albeit with a fatal catch?

BEV AND JEREMY, WEST AFRICA: their marriage is one long adventure, according to Bev in her round robins. But can she, or Jeremy, be trusted?

LI-JING, CHINA: struggling with her husband's inability to have children, and mystified by his strange business trips to West Africa. Is her small, quiet life about to change forever?

LORRIE, TEXAS: about to embark on the biggest deception of her life. But will it be worth it?

Discover how these unlikely characters connect in this warm, witty and wise novel from the hugely popular author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

My Thoughts
Deborah Moggach is the author of 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', a movie I enjoyed and thought to sample the author of that inspiration. The tale, 'Something to Hide' is about the unexpected twists in life and that no matter where you are in the world, everybody may ultimately have something to hide.
"What do I do with all the laughter and all the unsaid words that fill my brain? There's so many things I want to tell someone; where do I put all that stuff?"
The focus of the story is on three women - Lorrie in the USA, Jing and her husband in China and Petra in London - with Moggach attempting to demonstrate the global connectedness (six degrees of separation springs to mind) of what is ultimately universal scenarios: love and lies. There are some interesting characters - which given the above outline, obviously come from very different backgrounds - all of them having 'something to hide'. I think that Moggach does a reasonable job of managing the link between each of these seemingly separate tales (some a little too convenient, however, it was a huge undertaking) and the lengths people will go to in protecting their secrets. 
"It's all chance, the toss of a coin. You meet somebody who will change your life; at that moment, the story of your future begins to be written."
A positive is how Moggach captures four distinct world locations - London, Texas, Japan and Africa. Descriptions were rich and true, from old fashioned English pub's to the dusty markets found in Africa. It's a fast paced read (not that many pages) covering relationships and therefore never really any lull in reading - Moggach's writing is entertaining.
At times Moggach appeared to gloss over some of the character situations, especially towards the conclusion which I found rather frustrating and convenient. The middle aged Petra (London) is given more time whereas I would really have enjoyed a similar insight into Lorrie's (Texas) story especially as her answer to covering up losing the family life savings is extreme to say the least, interesting at best, but not given good closure by the conclusion. The conclusion in fact, left me feeling unsatisfied as, especially with regards to Lorrie's movements, appeared out of character and rather unrealistic. 
I did enjoy the premise and overall it was a satisfactory read. But whether due to the short length or difficulty in making genuine and realistic global connections, some of the developments were a little too convenient and shallow - I had trouble believing some of the results. 
"What if we just started out again and had another life?"

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, July 22, 2015

Review: The Virgin's Daughter by Laura Andersen

Title: The Virgin's Daughter (A Tudor Legacy Novel #1)
Author: Laura Andersen
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (May 26, 2015)
ISBN: 9780804179362
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, alternate history
My Rating: 4.5 cups 

What if Elizabeth the First, the celebrated Virgin Queen, had a daughter? For those who just can’t get enough of the scandalous Tudors, the author of the wildly popular Boleyn King series offers an enthralling new saga of the royal family, set in Elizabethan England. Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

Andersen explores the thrilling possibility of a Tudor heir, the daughter of Elizabeth I, in her new trilogy, a captivating continuation of the alternate history of the Tudors launched in the award-winning Boleyn King trilogy. With her originality and imagination, Andersen breathes fresh life into this ever-fascinating epoch. Peppered with realistic period-details and genuine historical figures to add dimension and texture to her captivating story, Andersen brings the seduction and glamour of the Tudor court to life in this spellbinding new novel.

My Thoughts:

"...who ever said that being friends with royalty was fair?"

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of the alternate history Laura Andersen began in her Boleyn Trilogy, so I was incredibly excited to learn she was releasing a new series of books set in that same world and focusing on the next generation of characters. While this book is listed as Book #1 of this new series, it very much builds on the story of the first trilogy. While you could read it as a standalone, I would not recommend it. Your enjoyment and appreciation will be so much greater if you are aware of and love the previous books - I am and I do, so I can say without hesitation that I absolutely adored this book as well.

It feels almost like a reunion with old friends. Nearly all of our favorite characters from the first three books are present, albeit more in the background than on center stage, and established fans of the series will appreciate the manner in which Andersen flawlessly captures and conveys these much loved characters even in small scenes and snippets of dialogue. She also effectively illustrates how these characters have evolved over the unseen intervening years, particularly Elizabeth and the subtle changes the weight of the monarchy has wrought on her personality.

"She had always cared about her appearance, but as queen her appearance was as much a part of ruling as her edicts. The nobility wanted a woman they could admire and pretend to understand, and the people needed a figure of myth so that they might not remember that she was only a woman."

To carry the main crux of the story this time, we are introduced to a captivating new cast in the children of Elizabeth, Dominic and Minuette, and Renaud. Just as The Boleyn King did not solely focus on William, here too the title character is not the only star of the show. In fact, this is actually more Lucette's story than it is Princess Anne's, and I'm fine with that. Lucette is a terrific character, and this focus on her story allows a few remaining questions from the prior books to be explored and dealt with. Andersen writes characters that are easy to care about and does a marvelous job with an ensemble cast, giving them all great depth and individuality. I have high hopes that the upcoming books will delve deeper into each of these newly introduced family members because the glimpses we have seen here are most intriguing.

I found all aspects of this novel to be extremely well done. Andersen once again weaves her altered events in amongst historical fact with great skill and believability. As always, I found it fascinating to discover what changed and what didn't in her version of events, and how even altered timelines might lead to identical outcomes. The plot is multi-faceted and very cleverly done. The romance is handled well and complements rather than dominates the story. This author has a lovely writing style and a great sense of pace that makes the reading fun and effortless. Her prose immerses you in this world perfectly, and I could happily spend a great deal of time there.

My only minor complaint would be that the reader is never really shown 'why' the bad guy came to be bad. I can't fully explain without venturing into spoiler territory, but perhaps others who have read this book will understand what I mean. Don't get me wrong, he totally works as the villain and we know the motivations for his present actions. We simply don't get a clear explanation or trigger for what started him on the path to badness. That was the only real issue I had, and it was in no way troubling enough to spoil my enjoyment of this book. To put it plainly, I loved this book and savored every minute spent with it. It was over much too soon for me, and I am already anticipating the next installment, with fingers crossed that it includes an extra large helping of Dominic...because, even though he's no longer a true lead character in these new books, we could all use a little more Dominic Courtenay in our lives.

"What we think and feel, for good or bad, is all we can honestly offer another human being."

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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Title: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press (June 25, 2015)
ISBN: 9781250054807
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, magical realism, mystery
My Rating: 1.5 cups 


A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother's name. What is the book's connection to his family?

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.
His younger sister, Enola, ran off to join the circus six years ago.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things-including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned-always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he stop it in time to save Enola?

The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

My Thoughts:

The Book of Speculation seemed to have all the makings of my kind of book. The description sounded perfect - "a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic" (check); it included a dual narrative (check); and it promised to combine my favorite genres of historical fiction, magical realism, and mystery (check, check, and check). So how did this book tick all these boxes and still fail to 'wow' me? Good question. I'm not entirely sure I can express it exactly, but I will do my best to explain.

The beginning was promising as the author set up the past and present storylines and introduced the characters. However, it quickly became apparent that things were going nowhere fast. Though not a particularly long book, it began to feel like one because the pacing is so incredibly slow. I was never drawn in and immersed in the story, and the narrative frequently felt dry and dull. This is not one of those books that demands you keep reading. Frankly, I was bored much of the time and easily able to set this book aside.

Not surprisingly, as it involves traveling circus/carnival performers, most of the characters are intended to come across as a bit odd or quirky. Instead, they seem flat and one-dimensional, especially the main character of Simon, and I was unable to connect or empathize with them. The cast in the historical portion of the novel is slightly more engaging than that of the modern timeline, but only to a minor degree, and even they lack real depth. Although we are told the characters feel certain things, those feelings and the relationships between the characters did not resonate with me. To be honest, I simply wasn't invested enough in any of these characters to care what became of them.

The premise for the mystery was intriguing and held great potential but completely failed in the execution, in my opinion. I could see the direction everything was heading pretty early on, and the way the two timelines eventually intersected felt contrived and more convenient than I would have liked. Rather than crafting a cleverly interwoven tale in which the pieces of the puzzle are gradually unearthed and slip together, the author gives us dumps of information from Simon's research (or the conclusions he jumps to without any clear basis in the story) that allow her to merely tell us how the various dots connect. And yet, even with all the info dumping, the mystery is still never delved into fully - certain aspects of it are never explained at all, while the ones that are don't entirely make sense or satisfy. Ultimately we are left with many remaining questions and only superficial, if any, answers.

Based on reviews, there are a number of other readers who enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, the storytelling here just did not work for me. I wanted to love this book, but instead found myself disappointed, underwhelmed, and drowning in the tedium of it, just as the 'mermaids' in the story drowned in the watery depths.
  "I was hoping for a bit of happy providence and now I can't help thinking I've opened Pandora's Box."

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reviews: Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin

Title:  Fairytale Beginnings

Author: Holly Martin

Publisher: July 10th 2015 by Bookouture
Pages: 230 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary romance, chick lit
My Rating: 3 cups

Fairytale Beginnings: A heartwarming romantic comedy

Love is an open door…except when it keeps slamming in your face.

Hopeless romantic Milly Rose has had her fair share of heartbreak. Obsessed with all things Disney, she refuses to give up on finding her Prince Charming – he’s out there somewhere, isn’t he?

When Milly is given a job to investigate the origins of an historical building in the village of Clovers Rest, she’s not sure what to expect. What she discovers takes her breath away - a beautiful real life Cinderella castle, complete with turrets, a magnificent drawbridge AND a very handsome owner…Cameron Heartstone.

As Milly and Cameron begin to unearth the secrets of Clover Castle, they can’t ignore the intense chemistry building between them. But they’ve both been hurt badly before. Can they take a big leap of faith and find their own happily-ever-after?

My thoughts:

"Rather bizarrely, she could already imagine herself living here, swanning around in beautiful medieval style gowns".

Okay, time to leave reality at the door and step inside for some fun and romantic escapism. I put my hand up, I would love to swan around a castle in a gown, so Holly Martin had me 'Hello'. I am the first to admit I need to take a break at times from the heavier reads and what better way to escape than into a fairy tale for grown ups - castle included! What girl doesn't love a fairy tale? And yes! Given the 'Fairytale Beginnings' one can make the obvious jump to fairy tale endings. Done deal.

"This was ridiculous, a fairy tale, nothing more. She didn't believe in fairy tales."

Fairytale Beginnings is chick lit at its best: little bit ridiculous - corny, silly, repetitive - a lot romantic and fun. As someone claimed, it's Disney for adults (and I particularly enjoyed the 'Tangled' tribute). There is the awesome castle, the good looking Lord, the wannabe Princess in sparkly Converse's, throw in an evil PA, a few odd villagers and, oh! Don't forget a ghost! What's not to love? 

For those who look for maybe more than one aspect to a story, fear not, learning about relationships is just one part of the book The history behind the castle and going with Milly and Cameron as they explore Clover Castle unlocking its mysteries and secrets is fun. I liked that aspect of 'Castle Heritage/National Trust' and the options available for the upkeep of these historic buildings. 

"She thought it might date back to the fourteenth century. She swallowed down the shock of this sudden unexpected discovery".  

So the 'happily ever after' is a given needless to say, but on the way to it there is a whole lot of comedy, flirting, chemistry and mysteries to solve. This book is a must-read for pure fun escapism. Who doesn't need a little happy ending in a castle every once and awhile?  Suspend scepticism and embrace, to appreciate these fairytale beginnings.

"Life is short and precious and we never know what is around the corner. So you live for now, seize every moment that comes your way and if you're going to look back on your life with regret, it's easier to regret the things that you did do, rather that the thing you didn't.

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, July 10, 2015

Reviews: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Title:  The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Author: Katarina Bivald
Publisher: 18th June 2015 by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Chatto & Windus
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction, books about book, contemporary, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

This is a book about books. All sorts of books, from Little Women and Harry Potter to Jodi Picoult and Jane Austen, from to Stieg Larsson to Joyce Carol Oates to Proust. It’s about the joy and pleasure of books, about learning from and escaping into them, and possibly even hiding behind them. It’s about whether or not books are better than real life.

It’s also a book about a Swedish girl called Sara, her elderly American penfriend Amy and what happens when you land a very different kind of bookshop in the middle of a town so broken it’s almost beyond repair.

Or is it?
My thoughts:
This is such a fabulous book. Strangely though, nothing much happens, no great plot twist, no major drama - it just gently draws you in, as it ambles along until you find yourself so engaged with each and every character, you can't put it down. What clever writing. Joy to be found in the simple things.
"For her, it was an evening when she had joked and laughed, been relaxed with a man, an evening where she had somehow .... lived. Just lived".
Yes, it is a book about books - so all you bibliophiles out there take note!  M.U.S.T read! It contains such a love of books, stories and all literature that it will make your heart skip a beat. And yes! There is even a section on the wonderful smell of books! 
"Can you smell it? The scent of new book. Unread adventures. Friends you haven't met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you".
However, there is so much more to this tale than just a love of great reads. Full of whimsical charm, humour and a great cast of characters that bring small town America to life. It's a delight to read and you can just see it would make a great film as the story plays out in your reading mind. Sara, who could curl up with a good book for hours, brings that passion to an eclectic but loveable group of people. 
"There was something sad about the town, as though generations of problems and disappointments had rubbed off onto its bricks and roads".
The tale of Broken Wheel and it's inhabitants - each of them facing their own fears and disappointments, hopes and dreams - is like a balm to the soul .This is a story of many and we travel along with Sara and the evolving friendships that ensue. There is a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. It's complex yet simple, quirky yet loveable, funny and heartwarming. 
"She had kept well behind the safety barrier her entire life, but now she was standing there, at the edge of the precipice for the very first time, fumbling blindly at the realisation that there were other ways to live, at how intense and rich life could be".

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, July 9, 2015

Review: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

Title: The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight #1)
Author: Melissa Grey
Publisher:  Delacorte Press (April 28, 2015)
ISBN: 9780385744652
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: young adult fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy
My Rating: 3 cups 


For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

My Thoughts:

“Every good fairy tale has a kernel of truth to it.”

I must confess to having some difficulty pinning down my perspective on this young adult title. It is not a bad book; however, I do feel it is lacking somewhat in originality. I entirely agree with the reviews that compare it to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the Mortal Instruments series, with even a few echoes of The Hunger Games thrown in. There are many parallels here, particularly to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and having read that series previously, I found the numerous similarities put a bit of a damper on my enjoyment of this story. To be clear, while obviously heavily influenced, this is not a complete carbon copy. There are a few unique twists in this tale and the writing itself is solid, although, in comparison, it lacks some of the lyrical quality and sophistication found in Laini Taylor's work.

This book is slightly more superficial and definitely leans more toward the 'young' side of young adult, which in itself is not a bad thing. The romance in particular is fairly predictable, with too much teenage 'hormonal swooning' for my taste, and there are some weaknesses in the plot. Specifically, it lacks depth overall, and certain events happen 'just because' without sufficient background or explanation. These events seem to be shallow plot devices, necessary to advance the plot in the desired manner, but are not well integrated or supported and result in a rather clunky feel to the narrative at times.

The characters themselves are likeable enough, but I was not quite as emotionally engaged as I could have been. I would have especially liked greater exploration of the war at the center of the conflict between the Avicen and the Drakharin. As the primary motivating factor for so many actions and events in this tale, I believe a deeper understanding of this age-old clash would have lent resonance and allowed me to feel more invested in the characters and their struggles. 

"War is like a drug...You spend so long chasing victory that you become blind to the fact that you'll never find it."

All that being said, there is potential here. I think actual teens and young adults who are fans of this genre would greatly enjoy this book, more so than I did as an adult, and some of the issues which concerned me may not be nearly as bothersome to younger readers. There is much here to appeal to such readers - plenty of action, snarky dialogue, magic, romance, even tantalizing food descriptions to awaken their sweet tooth. And, honestly, not all YA titles need to (nor should) captivate an adult audience. The demographic is classified as it is for a reason, and books that cater to the YOUNG in Young Adult are every bit as worthy as those that deal with subject matter more suited to the upper limit of that age category.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this novel enough to continue on with this series and see how Grey progresses the story, but I would hope that she also progresses as an author by developing more of her own unique voice rather than drawing quite so much inspiration from other works. Although, such influences, as well as the many references to books and book collecting throughout The Girl at Midnight, speak to her deep and genuine love of books...and that is something all fellow bibliophiles can certainly relate to.

"...I like to be around all these books. They're very good at making you forget your troubles. It's like having a million friends, wrapped in paper and scrawled in ink."

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, July 8, 2015

Review: Cocktails at Le Carmen by Isabelle Andover

Title:  Cocktails at Le Carmen

Author: Isabelle Andover
Publisher: 19th May 2015 by Simon & Fig
Pages: 299 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction; chick lit
My Rating: 3 cups

When job cuts at Chloe Saddler’s London communications firm result in an unexpected transfer to Paris, she finds herself leaving behind her friends, family, and boyfriend Scott to start a new life in the City of Light. Getting to grips with La Vie Parisienne and keeping a long-distance relationship afloat is not made any easier by the culture shock. Committing the odd French faux pas and inadvertently indulging in a few too many flirtations with her very sexy (and very taken) boss, Jean-Luc, is just the start of it. Factor in her bridezilla of a sister’s wedding (the hottest event of the year in the Saddler family’s social calendar), an unexpected session of hot, naked yoga, a slightly psychotic stalker, and one incredible kiss at an infamous Montmartre nightspot, and Chloe can say au revoir to her old, safe London life and bonjour to the romance, splendour, and glamour of Paris.

A delightful debut that harks back to the early days of Chick Lit when heroines were flawed, funny, and forever battling for love and happiness. With quirky characters and classic comedic charm, Cocktails at Le Carmen is pure fun from page one.
My thoughts:
Cocktails at Le Carmen is a very light, fun story about shopping, girlfriends and of course cocktails, all in the city of light, 'Paris'. Simple as that - a light easy chick lit. No deep and meaningful revelations, no mysteries to unravel. Just a story about a girl called Chloe and her move from London to Paris to live.
It was enjoyable to read about the settings as they came across as interesting and realistic. It could be described as somewhat down-to-earth, as it was not all glamorous and smooth sailing. Chloe encountered problems that any person could come across in moving to a new country for work.
"Oh right, the meeting, "I said, turning fifty shades of pink".
If you are into designer labels as well, the clothing references - footwear inclusive - will be of interest. You will appreciate the references to designer labels girlfriends lend her or Chloe comes across on her own shopping trips. 
Both the characters of Amanda and her Bridezilla sister were bordering on annoying - meaningfully placed - but ridiculously so. Overall, however, it's light and simple humour that provides for easy going reading:

"a map of the city, which was an absolute necessity, as my sense of direction was so poor, I'd once got lost in Westfield shopping centre".

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.