Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: The Adventuress

Author: Tasha Alexander

Publisher: 13 October 2015 by Minotaur Books/St Martins Press
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 2 cups
Emily and husband Colin have come to the French Riviera for what should be a joyous occasion - the engagement party of her lifelong friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and Amity Wells, an American heiress. But the merrymaking is cut short with the shocking death of one of the party in an apparent suicide. Not convinced by the coroner's verdict, Emily must employ all of her investigative skills to discover the truth and avert another tragedy.

My Thoughts

This was my first book by Tasha Alexander: knowing her to be an author of light historical fiction I had eagerly anticipated delving into this genre once more. I am unsure of what the other titles were like in the series, but this instalment I found to be predictable and the plot unconvincing. At times it was engaging but overall, a rather disappointing read.

Lady Emily and friends travel to Nice to celebrate the engagement of one of her closest friends whereupon,  murder and the ensuing investigation follow. As stated it was very disappointing that the identity of the murderer was fairly obvious so soon into the book. Therefore I felt it lacked any real mystery, even where the 'why' and 'how' were concerned. It would appear from reading other reviews, that many deducted who, how and why fairly quickly as well. But this provides me with two dilemmas: 1. the only incentive to continue reading, therefore, is from the enjoyment of traveling throughout the French Riviera in the Victorian era (something that was written about reasonably well); and, 2. if I, and countless others, figured it out so early on in the piece, why didn't the clever Lady Emily?

"the obvious solution is not always the correct one." 

Sadly, this red herring was not enough and yes! it was that obvious. You could not help but pine for more suspense and mystery; for even if it were a character based study, some of the secondary characters were lacking charm. Amity, in fact her entire family inclusive of strange brother, were unlikeable. I found the ending to be most unsatisfactory, in fact to my mind, it bordered on ridiculous at times. Strange, weird, rather neatly and clinically wrapped up. 

Having read other Victorian era based murder mysteries, I found this to be rather the poor cousin.

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, October 18, 2015

Review: Wild Lands

Wild Lands 

Author: Nicole Alexander
Publisher: 1 September 2015 by Random House Australia
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups
From bestselling author Nicole Alexander comes an epic novel of bravery, loyalty and impossible love that takes the reader on a spellbinding journey from the streets of early Sydney to the heart of Australia's wild, untamed lands.

New South Wales, 1838, and settlers in search of fertile country are venturing far outside the colony. Literally cutting a swathe through the bush with their bare hands, they lay claim to territory beyond government jurisdiction - and the reach of the law. 

As she accepts a position on one such farm, seventeen-year-old Kate Carter is unaware she is entering a land of outlaws, adventurers and murderous natives.

Because the first people of this new world will no longer accept the white man's advance, and retaliatory attacks on both sides have made it a frontier on the brink of war.

Into Kate's path comes Bronzewing, a young white man schooled by a settler family yet raised within an Aboriginal tribe. Caught between two worlds, Bronzewing strives to protect his adopted people and their vanishing civilisation.

But as he and Kate will discover, 'beyond the outer limits' is a beautiful yet terrifying place, where it's impossible to know who is friend and who is enemy . . .
My Thoughts
"This land belonged to others while in contrast the settlers tried to impose their will on a mysterious place and its people. No good could come of such behaviour."
Let me state it from the outset, I loved 'Wild Lands'. This was my first Nicole Alexander book and I was most impressed. The descriptions are rich and vivid; the characters true and deep; the story strong and heartbreaking. In essence this is a tale of early life in the 1800s in Australia in which white settlers began to expand their habitation beyond the coast and the heartbreak of the Aboriginal people seeing it taken by force.
"The mountains are a buffer from the vast wilds on the other side. The thought of all that immeasurable space stretching towards a setting sun intrigued Kate. 'What's out there?' 'Natives, escaped convicts, bushrangers. I pity a man who must travel to the beyonds."
The story really flowed as characters, settings and scenarios came together and held my attention throughout all of the 400 plus pages. Initially its a story of two journeys - Kate and Adam - as both the white and Aboriginal perspectives are explored. I was in eager anticipation of when their paths would finally cross. Kate is such a strong character you cannot help but admire her.
"Kate only saw two roads that could be taken: abide by her decision to leave and start a new life, whatever that may be, or remain where she was and live as a hypocrite."
And I have to admit that Adam's journey was particularly moving:
"The stars were his ceiling, the warm earth his bed and he was subject to no-one."
 "Adam strides two worlds while we sit safely within ours."
Nicole Alexander's knowledge of the Australian outback is rich and luscious. She details the beauty and danger in words than easily bring to mind the range of locations presented. The history contained here is well researched and keeps you guessing to see what would happen next when fictional characters are poured into the mix. Even if you are familiar with Australian history or someone who would like to delve deeper into the 'Wild Lands' of Australia and the whole black versus white issue, then I urge you to consider this book.
"All people must realise that assimilation is the only way. 'But how can we all live together if we're not prepared to see another's point of view?"
I found it to be a really well thought out novel exploring the good and bad in both sides with characters that will stay with you long after you finish reading. In fact, I wish there was more, for I would love to learn 'where to from here' for many of the characters. And as for Kate's final speech, it's fabulously delivered to those men:
"The law?" Kate spat the word out. "What law, sir?" .... "That is quite enough are overwrought and should return to the house immediately". "No, it is not enough. It is by far not enough." .....
"You are choosing a criminal over justice, the civilised over the uncivilised world."  
"For a long time now the two have been blurred to me."
This story is really very powerful and I highly recommend adding it to your reading list.

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, October 11, 2015

Review: The Broken Hearts Book Club

Title: The Broken Hearts Book Club
Author: Lynsey James
Publisher: 12 October 2015 by Carina UK
Pages: 242 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: contemporary, chick lit
My Rating: 2 cups
Lucy Harper has always been good at one thing: running from her past. But when her beloved Nana Lily passes away she has no choice except to return to the one place in the world she most wants to avoid...
Luna Bay hasn't changed much in the eight years she has spent in London. The little Yorkshire village is still just as beautiful, but the new pub landlord is a gorgeous addition to the scenery!
Lucy only intended to stay for a day, yet when she discovers that Nana Lily has not only left her a cottage but also 'The Broken Hearts Book Club', Lucy is intrigued. Her Nana never mentioned the club and Lucy can't wait to get started, but walking into her first meeting she is more aware than ever that her past is finally catching up with her. 
One way or another, Lucy must finally face the secret she's kept buried for so long - or spend the rest of her life on the run...
My Thoughts
"I had the chance to live in the house I'd loved so much growing do that, I'd have to confront everything that made me leave Luna Bay behind. I wasn't sure I was ready to do that just yet."
As ratings go for chick lit genre, this book fell a little short. I felt all of the ingredients were there, but were not mixed together correctly for a satisfying read. I love the cover of the book and the title is what drew me in.  There were some positives: there is romance, great location and of course, the compulsory happy ending. I particularly liked the use of well read favourites such as, 'The Book Thief' or 'The Rosie Project', and how the author attempted to tie to lessons/morals from the book club read to the issues they were dealing with:
"It had become a source of comfort and support when they'd needed it most. I loved the thought of ... finding strength in books and using them to escape from troubled times."
Unfortunately, however, as easy as the book is to read, it is predictable and often repetitive. Lucy's narration throughout grew rather tiresome. I particularly found issue with the 'the terrible tragedy of eight years ago' that coloured Lucy's outlook since high school and made her a supposed outcast of the town. The big reveal of that event was too long in coming and in the end I just didn't care that much for it. The suspense was well and truly worn out and you just knew it wouldn't be 'that' big to begin with. 
You also have to be up for some good ol' fashioned British writing. By this I mean the 'snogging' and the use of language that it most circumstances would be unacceptable. I also found Lucy to be somewhat of a drama queen and would be high maintenance to have a relationship with. Her narration, at times, could only really be described as juvenile.
"Not that he deserved any of my help or experience, especially after being so rude to me."
I was also not comfortable with the character of Jake. I doubted his maturity as well. His actions, particularly in regard to his ex partner, left me in doubt as to his sincerity. Likewise, when together with Lucy, things were trivialised: 
"What have we got to lose?" Jake squeezed me tight and kissed me on the lips. "Absolutely everything, but who gives a stuff."
So, as stated at the outset, there was potential, that was just not fulfilled. Lucy started with: 
"I'd gone from being a lost soul floating round London to someone with roots and connections and a chance at a future in a beautiful place."
But deteriorated to:
"its been nothing but complications from the start."

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, October 1, 2015

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell

Title: A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale (Twisted Tales #1) 

Author: Liz Braswell
Publisher: 1 September 2015 by Disney Group Books
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: fantasy, young adult, fairytale retellings, Disney
My Rating: 1 cup
What if Aladdin had never found the lamp? This first book in the A Twisted Tale line will explore a dark and daring version of Disney's Aladdin. When Jafar steals the Genie's lamp, he uses his first two wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Agrabah lives in fear, waiting for his third and final wish.To stop the power-mad ruler, Aladdin and the deposed princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion. But soon their fight for freedom threatens to tear the kingdom apart in a costly civil war. What happens next? A Street Rat becomes a leader. A princess becomes a revolutionary. And readers will never look at the story of Aladdin in the same way again.
My Thoughts
Sitting down to write this review, it's difficult to come up with some positives to start with. Admittedly, there is a lot of action throughout and the plot moves along at a good pace. It's comforting, in some respects, to revisit familiar characters ... and that's about where it ends. 
The first quarter of this book is the movie, literally - just about word for word. That in itself is predictable and disappointing, unless of course, you would love a written version of the movie. I, however, found it rather boring. The problem then is, even when you get past that first 25% there really is no improvement - it's not engaging and really rather juvenile. Yes, it is 'young adult' but this really is just 'young' .... very young. For example, one interaction between Aladdin and Jasmine went along the lines of:
"We were catching up. Jealous?"
Maybe it is geared to a young audience, however this supposed 'twisted', 'dark' tale would not fit - even if I found it to be more 'off white' than dark. Instead it's filled with 'goofy' terminology where the plot is stated as:
"how about we not give Mr. Revengey-pants here ideas"
Were Disney prescriptive in how this was to be written? Was this meant to be a simple fan fiction retelling for Disney fans? Or did the author just fail to deliver? For apart from its immaturity, Braswell's characters were lacking depth, were very much one dimensional and stereotypical heroes and villains. 
"From naive, lonely princess to winner of hearts and minds in less than a month."
When the story was no longer just the movie - verbatim - it still wasn't engaging, with juvenile writing and the characters leaving a lot to be desired, overall, it was just plain yawn worthy. This is very disappointing as the whole concept of twisting it, making it darker was enticing but sadly fell flat - very, very flat. 
"Jasmine surveyed the scene around the room and found that she didn't even have the energy to cry. Death, mess, sadness, confusion all around. Not a good place to start."

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.