Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: The Grass is Greener

Title: The Grass is Greener
Author: Loretta Hill
Publisher: 4 January 2016 by Random House Australia
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance, chick lit, contemporary, Australian
My Rating: 4 cups

From the author of The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots and The Maxwell Sisters comes a captivating novel about best friends, family and fighting for what you want, against all odds. 

The grass always seems greener on the other side . . . until you get there. 

For generations Bronwyn Eddings's family has thrived in the legal profession and a position at their prestigious firm is hers by right. Only problem is: she does not want it. 

Her best friend Claudia has always dreamed of being a lawyer, but tragedy struck and she took up the reins of her father's vineyard instead. It was supposed to be temporary . . . now there's no end in sight.

Bronwyn wants Claudia's life so badly. Claudia can't imagine anything better than Bronwyn's job. So the friends hatch a crazy plan to swap places.

Both are determined to be the person they always thought they could never be. But achieving your dreams isn't easy - and falling in love with the men who oppose them is not a good idea.

My Thoughts 

I was excited to finally try my first Loretta Hill book - and I loved it! The Grass is Greener by Aussie author Loretta Hill is a clever mixture of fun, family, a little intrigue to keep you guessing, romance of course and friends finding their own path in life.

"If I don't step outside my comfort zone for a minute I'll never find out who I need to be."

What a great story teller Loretta Hill proved to be as her book is not only entertaining but has an undercurrent of real life issues that are subtly addressed. Behind the veneer of chick lit musings you will find a range of characters dealing with real time issues: learning to assert your own identity, family obligations, older generation retirement, family businesses, family fallouts, people with disabilities - just to name a few. 

Why I think Hill is so clever is that she perfectly blends these issues against great Australian backdrops and flavoured with some Aussie sense of fun. The narrative easily flows that made me want to gobble it up in one sitting as I rode along with drama, wit and fun loving moments.

"This was her defining moment. This was the point where she realised it all had to change."

As Hill herself states, this is a book about starting again and that the adage of, 'the grass is always greener on the other side' has some flaws in it. She states in her conclusion that true happiness comes from being our best selves and not from somewhere or someone else. 
"The truth is, it was never about swapping our lives exactly. It was always about making the most of our own."

So you can see, if you dig a little deeper into this book you will find that The Grass is Greener has it all. Easy to read, perfect weekend escapism.

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, January 16, 2016

Review: The Edge of the Fall

Title: The Edge of the Fall
Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: 12 January 2016 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 2 cups

For fans of DOWNTON ABBEY, ATONEMENT and Kate Morton - a compelling historical saga from the bestselling author of THE STORMS OF WAR.
In the aftermath of the Great War, the de Witt family are struggling to piece together the shattered fragments of their lives.

Rudolf and his wife Verena, still reeling from the loss of their second son, don't know how to function in the post-war world. Stoneythorpe Hall has become an empty shell with no servants to ensure its upkeep.

Celia, the de Witt's youngest daughter, is still desperate to spread her wings and see more of the world. To escape Stoneythorpe and the painful secrets that lie there, she moves to London and embraces life and love in the Roaring Twenties.

My Thoughts

I'll make this short. Reading the synopsis: Downton Abby! Kate Morton! Sounds perfect, however, in retrospect I guess too perfect. Sadly, it was neither. 

"It was as if the war had aged everything, dirtied it all, however much you hid things away."

Where did it go wrong for me? (and I'll say 'me' because this might just be right for others). Firstly, The Edge of the Fall is the second in a planned trilogy from historian Kate Williams. That I only learned upon closer inspection (not highlighted obviously anywhere), so I was behind from the get-go. Having picked this book up and not realising this fact, I was a little lost, and most likely, did not appreciate certain character developments. As an addendum, this book gets you ready for book three, so some answers you will not receive.

Given this, I don't believe it can really be viewed as a standalone due to the plot of the book. Maybe this book was suffering from middle trilogy syndrome? To my mind, the plot jumped around, everything from the narrative (two characters, first person), to the timeline itself. At times, the alternating viewpoints of Celia and Louisa are difficult to reconcile. In fact I found them in the extreme and bordering on major exaggeration. How could two people see the one event SO differently. 

At the heart of the book is Celia and, sad to say, I just did not like her. She is a sulky character and you never really feel like being on her side. She just whines way too much: 

"She's no fun. Always feeling sorry for herself, wandering around under a cloud."

Then there is her brother Arthur, and he is even worse. What a cad! Meant to be of course, however, I was most unhappy with the predictable outcome. In my humble opinion there was some much needed editing required as topics of conversation were repeated over and over, even events restated time and time again. We get it! Move on!

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Better editing would have cut much of the repetition and had an increased impact. For example, the inclusion of Jonathan visiting Emmeline's children: why include this? In fact I struggled with much of the plot structure/timeline: Celia's personal drama, suddenly switched to brother's drama (her's totally forgotten), switched to this Jonathan (old beau) on the scene - one hot potato dropped for another with no depth or relevance. 

I was bordering on a two and a half star rating, however, by the end, I had 'fallen off the edge' (pun intended) and she didn't care and neither did I!

"She didn't care. She hoped it poured down on her and everyone else for the rest of their lives."

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, January 8, 2016

Review: All the Stars in the Heavens

Title: All the Stars in the Heavens
Author: Adriana Trigiani
Publisher: 1 January 2016 by Simon and Schuster Australia
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, Hollywood, drama
My Rating: 5 cups


Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, David Niven, Carole Lombard lead a magnificent cast of characters, real and imagined, in Adriana Trigiani's new novel set in the rich landscape of 1930s' Los Angeles. 
In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Trigiani takes us back to the golden age of movie-making and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame, success - and love. With meticulous, beautiful detail, she paints a rich landscape, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen. 

My Thoughts

Get comfy .... this review may take awhile. 

"All the Stars in the Heavens" is about the Golden Years of Hollywood: Clark Gable, David Niven, Spencer Tracy, and Loretta Young just to name a few. Reading it felt like being transported back to that time in history, or at the very least, sitting enthralled as if I were watching a riveting black and white movie of the time. And what a perfect title for this book, for it reads just like a movie. 

Now, the details. 

Firstly, you have to appreciate the Golden Years of Hollywood. I love this period in history (thanks to my Mother) and to see the more private side of such unforgettable characters was fascinating. For example: the scene on set with Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel on the set of the 1937 Saratoga movie (where Jean Harlow died - Googled that - one of many that you will upon reading this book) was most memorable. And that is just one of many factual episodes that Trigiani details. It's poignant at this stage to pause and think about the amount of research that Trigiani must have gone into and, that then begs the question, how much of the story is fiction versus fact? More of that in a moment. 

Although the focus is on Hollywood 1930s, it does jump around a bit (especially towards the end - large jumps along the timeline) but I found it all just so engrossing, that I was prepared to overlook these shortcomings. Trigiani introduces you to the leading actors, their glamourous lifestyles but, also, the double edged sword of just how controlling the studios were and the hypocrisy that existed. This was a reflection of the tragic side of movie making - it's not all bells and whistles. 

"The studio controlled the actors' public and private life. Their personal time was not their own."

Now to the controversy (have a look at the Goodreads reviews!). Let me state from the outset, this is a work of fiction. Yes, factual people and events, but just one persons interpretation. Take that for what it is - and I found it fascinating, for Trigiani can write. You will laugh, you will cry and you will be enchanted. 

"She knew that when the bubble burst, the snow globe would shatter like blown glass, and there would be no putting the picture inside back together."

Reviewers have made Trigiani's tale a battle between 'true love' versus 'date rape' (story bought to light a couple of months ago, a recalled conversation with Young who died over 15 years ago) I don't want to get into that discussion, for those answers, we will never know. I am here to discuss what I found to be a really interesting book. Any book that has you running to Google to check places and faces is good. I was hooked. The novel takes real people and imagines what might have gone on behind closed doors. Creating dialogue for characters who were real people fascinates me. You would have to be naive to not appreciate that artistic liberties were taken with the storyline and of course, things may have been very different. However, I can tell you I enjoyed my time researching all of these characters and movies just as much as reading the story. 

"Powerless to change the circumstances, she plowed ahead, believing that someday the entire situation would change for the better."

I grabbed this book having read Trigiani before, and with the added attraction of Clark Gable and Loretta Young's tumultuous love affair, which I knew nothing about. I loved reading about them and many others - Spencer Tracy (his family situation), Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, David Niven and even Young's delightful sisters -  all who are long gone. Their lives, their loves, their flaws, their joys, their hopes, their sorrows - became mine. I felt angry at Young, felt sorry for Gable, then felt empathy for Young. 

"Loretta would explain why she had to hide the truth on paper. She was protecting her baby, Clark Gable's career, her own livelihood, and the reputation of her family."

A fascinating read that had me thinking long after I turned the last page. I highly recommended it and congratulate Adriana Trigiani on another winning book. I couldn't put this down and suffered badly from withdrawals upon completion, that's how involved I had become. 

"You know, Sister, we think we have the luxury of time. We figure that there will always be a moment to have the conversation that we meant to have, and then the moment passes and it's too late."

ps. this is similar to 'A Touch of Stardust' (click on title to go to our review of that book) that involved some of the above mentioned actors also.

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, January 3, 2016

Review: The Seafront Tearoom

Title: The Seafront Tearoom
Author: Vanessa Greene
Publisher: 1 December 2015 by PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW
Pages: 370 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary, chick lit, contemporary, romance
My Rating: 4 cups


From the author of The Vintage Teacup Club.
The first rule of afternoon tea: never rush. Take time to savor it. Just like friendship…

The Seafront Tearoom is an insider secret in small-town Scarborough – a beach-front haven with the best tea and cakes in town – and  journalist Charlie Harrison would love to put it on the map with a feature in her magazine. But single mom Kat Murray doesn’t want to see her favorite sanctuary overrun by tourists, and begs Charlie to seek out other options. She offers her help, as a “tea obsessive,” and so does French au pair Séraphine Moreau, whose upbringing makes her a connoisseur of everything sweet and indulgent.

Together the three women will scour the countryside for quaint hideaways and hidden gems, sharing along the way their secrets, disappointments, and dreams – and discovering that friendship, like tea, takes time to steep. But learning too that once you open your heart, the possibilities are endless. 

My Thoughts

There is just so much to like about this book. Let's start with the delectable cover. It gives you a window into what to expect from this book. And what can you expect once you open the cover (or click the button) - tea, cakes, love, and friendship. What more could a person ask for, as these are most definitely some of the essentials in life. 

"With a good book you can enter into whichever world you want."

The Seafront Tearoom is a light-hearted, inviting novel about the growing friendship of three women who meet in a tea room. All three women are going through challenging times, having reached crossroads in their respective lives, and working together, support each other without too much encroaching angst or over the top drama. It's chick lit at its best with a good storyline, well crafted characters facing realistic problems. With perfect backdrops, the growing friendships, romances and challenges all come together nicely. Throw in tea and cakes and we have a winner!

"Kat sipped her tea slowly, gazing out of the window. Life moved on, and places changed. She'd find a way to move forward to."

It was a real attraction to read about all the tea and tea shops they visited: what tea they requested and scrumptious cakes they ordered. It made me want to embark on a similar journey. There is even the added bonus of recipes found in the back of the book. The whole concept of tea rooms is just so warming for the soul, finding a peaceful corner with your worries and concerns left at the door and indulging in some quiet respite. 

"The champagne of teas" Kat said, lifting the lid of the teapot and drinking in the aroma."

There are a few unexpected plot twists that keep the reader engaged and the expected, heart warming conclusion to satisfy everyone. The Seafront Tearoom is a lovely novel that I enjoyed and, as I stated, what could be more perfect for a light weekend read: tea, cake, friendship, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. 

"Spending all evening in the bath with a glass of wine and a good book - you can't beat that."

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.