Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: The Hotel on Mulberry Bay

Title: The Hotel on Mulberry Bay

Author: Melissa Hill
Publisher: 1 September 2015 by Simon Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 293 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction; chick lit; contemporary, romance
My Rating: 3 cups
Escape to a hotel by the beach with Melissa Hill, the internationally bestselling author of SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY'S and A GIFT TO REMEMBER. 
Mulberry Hotel, perched on a clifftop above a sweeping bay, was once the heart and soul of pretty seaside town Mulberry Bay. Run by the Harte family for years, the place itself is almost as beloved as cheery landlady Anna. 

The hotel was also once home to thirty-something sisters Eleanor and Penny, and while youngest sister Penny still lives close by, it's been some time since Elle has visited. But following a family tragedy, Elle is forced to return from her busy London life and reassess her past.

When it becomes apparent that the hotel is in dire straits, Elle and Penny are unprepared for the reaction of their father, Ned, He steadfastly refuses to give up the family legacy, revealing that he's given up something equally precious once before. Startled by their father's surprising revelation, the sisters unite, with the local community behind them, in their efforts to save the hotel - and, in the process, heal the fractures in the Harte family.
My Thoughts
"All of these things contributed to the feeling once again that the Bay Hotel was more than just a place, it was somewhere where people's dreams were made a reality."
The Hotel on Mulberry Bay is a very light, easy and enjoyable read - a weekend escape that can easily be picked up and put down as real life demands. I have not read any other Melissa Hill books, but other reviews seems to indicate this was a 'safe' read, none of her usual twists. There certainly was no intrigue here and 'safe therefore seems rather apt. This is a 'feel good' story that tells the tale of a very likeable Irish family and their hotel. It was well written and you could easily imagine yourself at the Mulberry Hotel.
"Oh I wish I was on that live a big adventurous life. To get out of here.' Penny cock her head, seemingly confused. 'What's wrong with here?' she enquired, genuinely curious."
I really liked the range of characters and their various traits and especially how this small community bands together. However it is the main characters - Elle and Penny, the sisters; Ned, their father; and Rob and Colin, the respective love interests that bring a real charm to the story. 
"Over the years in London she had got used to staring at the grey grid of the city streets and the endless rush of people, but it took something from you, watching the endless movement and the drive to be somewhere else. Whereas the more tranquil vistas of the small coastal town replenished you, gave something back that you hadn't known you were missing."
If you are after a light escape for the weekend, a reprieve from the endless rush, take a trip to Mulberry Bay as it is sure to replenish you, ready to face the real world once more.

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, September 24, 2015

Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

Title:  The Secret Years

Author: Barbara Hannay
Publisher: 26 August 2015 by Penguin Books Australia
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction, romance, contemporary, dual time
My Rating: 5 cups
When Lucy Hunter stumbles upon her grandfather Harry's World War II memorabilia, she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as 'George' and a series of heartfelt letters. They are clues about the secret years, a period of Lucy's family history that has been kept a mystery . . . until now.
How did a cattleman from north Queensland find forbidden love with the Honourable Georgina Lenton of London and persuade her to move to his isolated outback property? And why are the effects of this encounter still reverberating in the lives of Lucy and her mother, Rose, now?
As the passions of the past trickle down the years, three generations of one family pull together. Each must learn in their own way how true love can conquer the greatest challenges of all.
From the wild beauty of the Australian bush to England's rugged south coast, this is a deeply moving story of heartbreak, heroism and homecoming by a beloved, multi-award-winning author.
My Thoughts
"His eyes shimmered and she heard the way he drew a quick breath. 'Bloody hell, George'. 'Yes, bloody hell,' she said softly. 'That about sums it up, doesn't it?'
Yup. That about sums it up as I turned the final page of this fabulous read. Bloody hell! To say I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Years, finding myself totally absorbed in this riveting drama, is an understatement. In this dual time narrative (always a risky business) the story flowed flawlessly in BOTH timelines. Bloody hell again!
Firstly, let's take a look at the array of spellbinding locations described in these pages. The rugged Australian outback, to the windswept picturesque Cornish coast, to the blitz in wartime London, to the war torn jungle of New Guinea. 
"the stunning natural beauty of New Guinea. Seen from the air, the colours of the rugged, dark emerald mountains and the glowing peacock-blue seas were more intense than she could have dreamed."
Already I can hear you thinking, sounds pretty ambitious. It is. And does Hannay pull it off? Indeed she does! It worked and oh so successfully. You cannot tie this book down to one genre, it ticks so many boxes - romance, war, historical fiction, contemporary, family drama - is all covered in this tale of the lives of three women from consecutive generations. 
"She couldn't bear the emotions that accompanied her memories of those years she'd spent in England against her will - the secret years, Lucy had called them."
Hannay seamlessly moves the narrative between the two timelines with emotions running high from wartime dramas - WW2 or Afghanistan - to the passion and romance - both past and present. Can I just say now, Nick Myatt moved high up the ladder of my fictional love interests. However, it is the unfolding story between Harry and George, from courtship to marriage, that truly captured my heart. Harry, the Aussie cattleman and Georgina, his aristocratic English soulmate...sigh. This is very well written with loads of appealing characters and a story that really moves along at a cracking pace. 
"The arrival of war had bought that lifestyle crashing to a halt. In a matter of weeks, everything had changed."
The Secret Years  had me chained to my Kindle and will stay with me for some time to come.  The outpouring of emotions throughout this story is real and heartfelt. So much so, the ending had me unsure of whether to smile or cry. It was perfection. A classic ending to what truly is a classic read. Do yourself a favour and go join Harry and George in 'The Secret Years'
"And I know with absolute certainty that every important thing that I want begins and ends with you."

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, September 23, 2015

Review: Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Title:  Salt Creek 

Author: Lucy Treloar
Publisher: 1 August 2015 by PanMacmillan Australia Picador
Pages: 360 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, cultural-Australia
My Rating: 3.5 cups
Salt Creek is set in the Coorong in the 1850s: a remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region in the new province of South Australia, which has been opened to graziers willing to chance their luck. Among them are Stanton Finch and his family, including sixteen-year-old Hester Finch.
Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the travellers passing along the nearby stock route - among them a young artist, Charles - and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Hester witnesses the destruction of their subtle culture and begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?
My Thoughts
"If the land was an ill-patterned plate, the sky was a vast bowl that curved to meet the ground a very great distance from us in any direction we cared to look."
 Lucy Treloar certainly did her research and has produced a thorough and comprehensive story of life for the first white Australian settlers. It's a very rich and detailed account of both the loneliness and struggles of those first settlers combined with the angst between how to approach the Indigenous population. 
"I would like to return to that day and stop the dray and shout at our ghostly memories and the natives: 'I am sorry. I am sorry for what is to come."
The Finch family has well and truly fallen on tough times and the move to a remote part of the colony to try and establish a fresh start is fraught with tragedy. Bring to that the impact on the lives of the local Indigenous Australians and its a recipe for disaster. This is not an easy read and at times is difficult to get through. Overall, however, I think it is worthwhile for the reader to persevere, for herein lies a very real account of not only the personal impact and ensuing family disintegration, but also the tragedy that the First Indigenous Australians faced.  Treloar captures that personal and communal destruction as the characters are very real and the events deeply moving at times. 
Narrated by the eldest daughter, Hester Finch, it tells the story of the initial family relocation and then the ensuing heartache and sadness that was to follow.
"I have no fear of  my own company...It is the tedium. The sun rises and sets; the wind blows strong or a little; the rain falls or does not...but I have little interest in them."
Interspersed with this are detailed descriptions of the remote, yet beautiful, region they called home. The story of the Finches, their trials and tribulations at Salt Creek, I found at times a struggle to read. There is just so much heartbreak and so many sad moments in this book. To say more about the story would ruin it for future readers. Overall, however, if you are into early Australian history and the plight of early settlers with the Indigenous population, I recommend it.  It is a haunting story, unbearably sad at times, and yet beautifully written. 
"And I feel always that I carry Australia with me. I am thrifty when I need not be; I have a longing for space and heat, the scent of eucalyptus."

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, September 22, 2015

Review: The Saddler Boys by Fiona Palmer

Title:  The Saddler Boys

Author: Fiona Palmer
Publisher: 23 September 2015 by Penguin Australia
Pages: 370 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: romance, chick lit, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups
Schoolteacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead.
When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the swarm of inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew. 
As Nat's school comes under threat of closure, and Billy's estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her life in Perth and the new community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she's really made of – and where she truly belongs. 
My Thoughts
Australian author Fiona Palmer has written a solid Aussie drama with, 'The Saddler Boys'. Set in a tiny West Australian rural town it covers so much more than just an easy, sweet romance. There are strong characters, a great sense of Aussie fun and some topical issues, all set against the backdrop of the Australian outback. Being a teacher myself, I was intrigued to read about this city girl taking the plunge with a year's teaching sabbatical in a remote community.
"Part of her welcomed that challenge. It was time for her to experience something out of her comfort zone."
This is the story of a struggling rural community facing regional school closures and how the locals and farmers in the surrounding areas will be affected. It is an easy to read tale that flows naturally to a fitting conclusion. What gives it substance above your average 'chick lit', is the serious issues explored like the rural issues, domestic violence and single parenting - all covered in the quintessentially Aussie, down to earth, way. 
"It was fascinating to watch how a small community worked together. People cared. They loved their community, they were outraged over the government's decision and the effect it would have on their kids, the town and its future."
At times there were a few too many characters introduced at once that left my head spinning:
"Then she was introduced to Georgie, Gary's uncle Chris's new girlfriend".
However, on the whole, I enjoyed my escape into the Aussie outback and this book did not disappoint as a light weekend read. 
"Sometimes the simple things in life were just what the doctor ordered."

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, September 20, 2015

Review Coming!

The Saddler Boys 
From bestselling author Fiona Palmer, hailed as Australia’s queen of rural romance, comes
The Saddler Boys, a heart-soaring new romance between a city schoolteacher and an outback single dad, all set in a tiny town in rural Western Australia. In The Saddler Boys, city girl schoolteacher Natalie craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead with her fiancWhen Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing father, Drew Saddler, a single dad with a complicated past. As Nat's school comes under threat of closure, and Billy's estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her life in Perth and the new community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she's really made of and where she truly belongs.

Fiona does not disappoint in her seventh novel in seven years. In The Saddler Boys she brings us what we have grown to love and expect in her stories strong women, colourful country characters, a sense of home, the Australian landscape and a sprinkling of good old romance.

'Fiona Palmer just keeps getting better.'
'Palmer's passion for the land bleeds into the story, and her scenes are vivid and genuine, just as her characters are.’

Fiona Palmer
Fiona Palmer lives in the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia, three and a half hours south-east of Perth. She discovered Danielle Steel at the age of eleven, and has now written her own brand of rural romance. She has attended romance writers' groups and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her first novel, The Family Farm. She has extensive farming experience, does the local mail run on occasion, and was a speedway-racing driver for seven years. She spends her days writing, working as a farm hand, helping out in the community and looking after her two children. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

Title:  The Beast's Garden

Author: Kate Forsyth
Publisher: 3 August 2015 by Random House Australia
Pages: 440 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, romance, World War II
My Rating: 5 cups

'Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world .' 
It's August 1939 in Germany, and Ava's world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler's spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.

Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him. 

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo's hang in the balance. 

Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast's Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers' 'Beauty and The Beast', is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

My Thoughts

Simply stated, the 'Beast's Garden' is an EXTRAordinary book. Kate Forsyth does an exceptional job in blending the fiction and non fiction of this tumultuous period in time. This World War II thriller encapsulates so much that the reader is enveloped within the pages and it's difficult to come back to reality. The multifaceted components are seamlessly bought together - romance, action, fairytale connotations - leaving you in awe of the penmanship of Forsyth.
The setting is Berlin 1938-45, covering the rise of the Nazi’s and the effect of the regime on the Jewish-German Berliner’s but refreshingly, also on those who struggled to watch their country torn apart by this ruthless ideology. The historical detail is rich and true without being overwhelming. Yet it is the way Forsyth weaves the actions of the real players of the time with her fictional ones that provides such insightful perspectives. It is so engaging providing such personal and unique perspectives on some of the key moments and prominent people during this horrific time in history. 
"Besides, it's more than that. To stand by and do nothing is to help them. So you see .... I cannot stand by ... no matter the consequences. Because the alternative is too awful.".
Each component, alongside a strong cast of characters, provides such depth and therefore understanding and empathy. Forsyth takes you inside a concentration camp, to life in everyday Berlin as the war progresses, to the elites of Nazi German society and their lavish lifestyle and so much more. This all combines to present the reader with an intensely emotional journey written by a superior author. At it's heart, it explores how such horrific events can impact and transform people.  How your morals and very essence are put to the test when confronted with such an evil regime. 
Cleverly, Forsyth brings that personal element to the story as you journey along with Ava and her growing relationship with Leo: 
"You see me in my uniform and think that is all that I am. You don't look to see what kind of man I am within."
You cannot help but invest in these two special characters who are faced with so much deception and horror:
"He pressed his cheek into her hair. 'Oh God, Ava ... I wish we lived in some other place, at some other time ... but we don't. We can only live the life we've been given as best we can."
The fairytale elements are subtle yet insightful. They compliment as they highlight the unique connections, enhancing the understanding of the wisdom and folly of events:
"Otto had always said more wisdom was to be found in that collection of tales (Grimms' Fairy Tales) than in any textbook."
"By listening to the language of dreams and old tales ... all humans could learn to understand themselves, and the world, better."
In her 'Afterword', Forsyth wrote that:
"The Beast's Garden was the most difficult book I have ever written. The material was ... emotionally harrowing and the research exhausting ... but it was more than that. I think on reflection, that I was afraid of failing to do the story justice. I was afraid to fail all those people who suffered so terribly during the seven years of my story."
She need have feared not. The Beast's Garden is a 'must read' for 2015. If you are a historical fiction fan and love an enthralling story, then this is for you. You will not regret it.

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, September 11, 2015

Review: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (July28, 2015)
ISBN: 9780345534187
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, Africa
My Rating: 4.5 cups 


Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

My Thoughts:

"Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet still somehow new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain."

With that first line of Chapter 1 Paula McLain drew me in and never let me go until the final page was turned. So begins her account of the life of Beryl Markham, a remarkable and resilient woman who became the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya as well as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. This book begins with her unconventional upbringing in Africa and culminates with that famous flight in 1936. In between, we are witness to her successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies, loves and losses, and through it all, her deep and lasting connection to the country that became her home.

"I had come alive here, as if I'd been given a second birth, and a truer one. This was my home, and though one day it would all trickle through my fingers like so much red dust, for as long as childhood lasted it was a heaven fitted exactly to me. A place I knew by heart. The one place in the world I'd been made for."

McLain tells her tale with prose that is rich and immersive, full of breathtaking descriptions of the African landscape and thought-provoking passages that make one stop and ponder and then read them over again to savor every word. I knew nothing about Beryl Markham before reading this book, but it soon had me searching the internet to learn more about this fascinating woman. She was flawed and not always the most likable person, and yet, one could not help but be on her side because of her sheer determination and tenacity.

"But you've never been afraid of anything, have you?"
"I have, though," I said, surprised at my own emotion. "I've been terrified...I just haven't let that stop me."

It's hard not to admire such strength of will, particularly given the attitudes of the time, for she was unquestionably the master of her own fate and refused to be forced into a box or restricted by societal norms. She made her share of bad decisions, for which she paid the price - failed marriages, scandalous affairs - but time and again was able to rise from the ashes like a phoenix to recreate herself and move on in a new direction. A quality she shared with the land she so loved:

"It's always new. It always seems to be reinventing itself, doesn't it?"
"Kenya was forever shedding its skin and showing itself to you all over again."

Fans of Out of Africa will appreciate the further insight into Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton given here as well as the interesting dynamics within the love triangle that existed between the three. However, even readers unfamiliar with that work will have no trouble following the story and should find great enjoyment in this book in its own right. I must confess I fall into that category, and I don't feel my appreciation was hindered in any way. I loved this book from cover to cover. And ultimately, while her relationship with Finch Hatton may have been the great romance of Beryl's life, it was only one part of her extraordinary life. All things considered, it seems perhaps her truest and most enduring love affair was actually with Africa itself, for it was there her free spirit was able to soar.

"...Leaving Kenya? I've never thought of that. I wouldn't be the same anywhere else."

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.