Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: Flight of Dreams

Title: Flight of Dreams
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Publisher: 1 April 2016 by Affirm Press
Pages: 340 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, German, mystery
My Rating: 5 cups

With everyone onboard harboring dark secrets and at least one person determined to make sure the airship doesn’t make the return trip, Flight of Dreams gives an utterly suspenseful, heart-wrenching explanation for one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century.

On the evening of May 3, 1937, Emilie Imhof boards the Hindenburg. As the only female crewmember, Emilie has access to the entire airship, from the lavish dining rooms and passenger suites to the gritty engine cars and control room. She hears everything, but with rumors circulating about bomb threats, Emilie’s focus is on maintaining a professional air…and keeping her own plans under wraps.

What Emilie can’t see is that everyone—from the dynamic vaudeville acrobat to the high-standing German officer—seems to be hiding something.

Giving free rein to countless theories of sabotage, charade, and mishap, Flight of Dreams takes us on the thrilling three-day transatlantic flight through the alternating perspectives of Emilie; Max, the ship’s navigator who is sweet on her; Gertrud, a bold female journalist who’s been blacklisted in her native Germany; Werner, a thirteen-year-old cabin boy with a bad habit of sneaking up on people; and a brash American who’s never without a drink in his hand. Everyone knows more than they initially let on, and as the novel moves inexorably toward its tragic climax, the question of which of the passengers will survive the trip infuses every scene with a deliciously unbearable tension.

With enthralling atmospheric details that immediately transport and spellbinding plotting that would make Agatha Christie proud, Flight of Dreams will keep you guessing till the last page. And, as The New York Times Book Review said of her last novel, “This book is more meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”

My Thoughts

"Thirty four seconds of catastrophic billowing flames, followed by total, profound destruction. In half a minute the airship went from flying luxury hotel to smoking rubble."

Say the word 'Hindenberg' and most people know of the disaster. But how much do we really know? I was therefore most intrigued to read this fictional account of the passengers who were on this ill-fated disaster. And what a ride/flight it turned out to be. Credit here must be given to Lawhon who takes a story that everyone knows and leads the reader on a journey where you will be totally committed to the very last page. Was it sabotage? Was it mechanical malfunction? Was it meteorological? Does anybody really know?

"But no one cares about the truth. They prefer theatrics and conspiracy theories."

I learned so much and went in search of more information on the Hindenburg - the craft itself, the crew, the passengers, the inevitable crash. History enthusiasts will be in heaven with this read. Lawhon has done her homework to give a face to this tragedy and the people onboard this fateful day. This fictional piece of work is based on well researched facts, where possible - Lawhon's interpretation of what might have occurred onboard based on passenger manifests - and the result is truly suspenseful. Characters based on real people with Lawhon skilfully fabricating possible stories surrounding them. (This is all explained in her 'authors note' at the conclusion of the tale). From the author's note:

"An uneventful flight. But here's the problem: I don't believe them."

"This novel is my attempt at a theory .... with that spectacular moment in history."

"Until I began researching this book, I couldn't tell you the name of a single person on board the airship ... I wanted to know who they were.'

The final chapters I found to be absolutely exhilarating in a haunting and tragic way. I had to read well into the night until I finished as I could not abandon these characters. I have nothing but admiration for the stirling execution of the meld of fact and fiction here. What Lawhon did here was pace the book to perfection. Separate stories commence on embarkation, with characters slowly crossing paths mid flight. The novel is told in multiple POVs from the main characters e.g. “The Stewardess”, “The Cabin Boy”, “The Navigator” etc, with the date and time being regularly given, inclusive of the time until the explosion. Indeed, as the explosion draws close, the pace increases and by the time of impact you are caught up in a frenetic climax. My heart was racing, I was holding my breath as I frantically consumed those final chapters.
"When I think about it logically. It doesn't seem as though such a structure has any business floating through the air."

To repeat, Lawhon takes what the world already knew to be a dramatic event and moves it to the next level. She gives life to those long forgotten names, bringing them back to life, if even for a short fictional time. Her attention to detail has given witness to a truly great historical drama of the highest calibre. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I was enthralled and captivated. Authors note:

"I claim to have no special knowledge. I simply wanted to find a good story and tell it in a way that would bring these people and their journey to life ... I am deeply aware that I have written about people who really lived. I have assumed things about them. I have put words in their mouth."

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, March 29, 2016

Review: The War Bride

Title: The War Bride
Author: Pamela Hart
Publisher: 29 March 2016 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance, historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

LOVE. BETRAYAL. NEW BEGINNINGS. A young English war bride makes a new life in Australia in this romantic story set on the stunning coast of Sydney, by the author of THE SOLDIER'S WIFE.

January, 1920. Young Englishwoman Margaret Dalton is full of excitement as she arrives to begin a new life in the warm, golden land of Australia. She leaves behind the horrors of WWI and can't wait to see her husband, Frank, after two years' separation. But when Margaret's ship docks, Frank isn't there to greet her and Margaret is informed that he already has a wife . . . 

Devastated, Margaret must swap her hopes and dreams for the reality of living and working in a strange new city. And just as a growing friendship with army sergeant Tom McBride gives her a steady person to rely on, news arrives that Frank may not have abandoned her. Where should Margaret's loyalties lie: with the old life or with the new?

My Thoughts

This was a very interesting read and for unexpected reasons. This is not purely a romance novel, there is in fact so much about life in Australia after the First World War that is rich in cultural and societal life. The main character of Margaret is most admirable in how she deals with her supposed abandonment. She is a strong and likeable character, caught between the old and new world and what her role in should be.

"He liked the way she was working to learn more, to be more."

Hart provides an abundance of detail and insight into how the world was at the end of World War One. She has provided characters and factual scenarios which makes reading about them most absorbing. There is a myriad of issues presented that, seen through our present day eyes is unthinkable, but were very much front and centre in the 1920s. She does an excellent job at portraying how times were indeed changing.

"It was a new way of thinking."

"Voting, surfing - was nothing forbidden to Australian women?"
(I particularly enjoyed the bathing suit dilemmas!)

Your current day understandings will be challenged - this is a great history lesson on life after the war and how the old ways were slowly changing but some things such as marriage and divorce were not. The difficulty in gaining a divorce and the impact upon the female were made that more real when a face is put to the story. The religious aspect is handled really well - I had forgotten the stories my mother used to tell me about Catholics versus Protestants:

"He's Catholic. You can't marry a Catholic."

Other social issues briefly touched upon include sex before marriage, child welfare, PTSD and homosexuality. Hart touched on them all. Very brave and well done in my opinion. For a narrative to worthily cover these issues and keep pace with the story is commendable. 

I loved reading about Sydney through the eyes of an immigrant, especially all Margaret's ferry rides, the learning to swim and the entertainment of the day. Be prepared for a range of Australian colloquialisms:

"Two shakes of a lamb's tail"

If I had a complaint it would be twofold. It was at times a bit repetitive especially Margaret restating how she thought Frank had abandoned her and didn't want her. I could not help but find it a little insensible to have not dug a little further, rather than fatalistically accepting her situation. At times it bordered on tiresome how she felt:

"abandoned and having to manage her own life in this new country."

Secondly, an awful lot seemed to come together at the end - I mean like the last 10% of the book! There was a great twist towards the end that I did not see coming; but being so close to the end left much to be resolved in a short space of time. Overall, however, this was a very good read and I would recommend it to those who appreciate depth of narrative in historical women's writing.

"It was as though she had two pairs of eyes, one she'd inherited from her parents and their parents before them and the other new-found, not during the war, but on the instant peace was declared ... she suspected that neither pair of eyes saw clearly."

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, March 26, 2016

Review: The Charm Bracelet

Title: The Charm Bracelet
Author: Viola Shipman
Publisher: 29 March 2016 by St Martins Press - Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups


Through an heirloom charm bracelet, three women will rediscover the importance of family and a passion for living as each charm changes their lives.

On her birthday each year, Lolly’s mother gave her a charm, along with the advice that there is nothing more important than keeping family memories alive, and so Lolly’s charm bracelet would be a constant reminder of that love.

Now seventy and starting to forget things, Lolly knows time is running out to reconnect with a daughter and granddaughter whose lives have become too busy for Lolly or her family stories.

But when Arden, Lolly’s daughter, receives an unexpected phone call about her mother, she and granddaughter Lauren rush home. Over the course of their visit, Lolly reveals the story behind each charm on her bracelet, and one by one the family stories help Lolly, Arden, and Lauren reconnect in a way that brings each woman closer to finding joy, love, and faith.

A compelling story of three women and a beautiful reminder of the preciousness of family, Viola Shipman's The Charm Bracelet is a keepsake you’ll cherish long after the final page.

My Thoughts

"The things I never told you, the questions you never asked .... it's time for me to share them. And the best way to do that is by telling you about these charms around my wrist."

I have quite a fetish for charm bracelets, so was instantly attracted to this book. It tells the tale of three generations of women: a grandmother slowly losing her memory, but so full of wisdom; her daughter who never really lets her true self shine; and, the granddaughter trying to hard to please her mother at the expense of her own happiness. 

Each section of the book is themed by a particular charm and its inherent meaning. For example: Part Two - the dragonfly charm: to a life filled with good fortune. What would follow was usually a reflective tale that concerned how that charm developed significance to the person involved. 

"None of us every really dies as long as our stories are passed along to those we love."

So to start with I was enthralled - this was right up my alley. However, as the book progressed and the thin plot remained so, my enthusiasm waned. I think it fair to say, that the pure focus here is a thin plotted story fashioned around charm bracelets and symbolism. Now whilst that in itself is a great concept, that alone does not hold a tale of fiction and drama. Each chapter could almost be viewed in isolation as you await for the deeper meaning and significance to be revealed of a particular charm.The life lessons and meanings are uplifting and make for reflective reading, for at its heart, its about sharing stories and passing them on. Yet by about three quarters way through, it became just a tad cliched as seeming situations conveniently arrived for another meaning to be conveyed. It was by no means subtle in delivering the contrived life lesson to be had. 

"That sounds like a bumper sticker." 

"I feel a story coming on."

I did enjoy the book and would recommend it (as an aside I really enjoyed the descriptions of Lake Michigan). You do, however, need to be in the right frame of mind for warm fuzzies and swallow the sweet (at times sickly sweet) feel good passages. It is, above all, a tale about hope and how the past may impact upon the present and indeed the future. 

"These charms capture every moment of my life .... they tell the story of where we've been, how far we've come and where we still hope to go."

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, March 19, 2016

Review: Jane Steele

Title: Jane Steele
Author: Lyndsay Faye
Publisher: 22 March 2016 by Penguin Group - G.P. Putnam's Sons
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, gothic, retellings, mystery
My Rating: 2.5 cups

A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and The Wall Street Journal called “thrilling.” 
“Reader, I murdered him.” 
A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past? 
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

My Thoughts

As readers to this blog will know I am a huge Bronte fan. I was unsure about this title with its gothic, dark theme but was swayed when a favourite author of mine highly recommended it. I should have gone with my first instinct. It proved an interesting interpretation of a classic story, but to my mind it definitely had some issues - not my cup of tea here at Great Reads & Tea Leaves. 

Firstly, I found the writing style most convoluted. It was so wordy at times that I got confused and had to read the same passage over to try and comprehend it's true meaning. It just did not work for me - overtly descriptive, robust in presentation, which all proved a distraction. 

"In a mansion, blessings are lost amidst bric-a-brac; in a pit, they shimmer like the flash of dragonfly wings."

As a positive, I actually liked the main character of Jane. The murders fit the story, rather than the nature of the character which I had been expecting.  They were not ruthless killings, but rather justified in some respects, resulting from threats to herself or those she cared for. She was bold, righteous and strong, kind to those she cared for.

Strangely though I found the book took a perplexing turn for the worse once Jane become governess for Mr Thornfield and the story lost momentum. From a promising start, the pacing suddenly slowed and it became far less compelling. I was not swept up in the romance with Thornfield as I would have wished. This becomes the tale of a different Jane and one far less appealing.

Goodreads reviews would beg to differ from my account here, so maybe this was just not the book for me. I enjoyed the first third, so perhaps Jane should have just kept on murdering to keep this reader engaged!?!?

"I hope the epitaph of the human race when the world ends will be: Here perished a species which lived to tell stories."

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, March 17, 2016

Review: Daughter of Australia

Title: Daughter of Australia
Author: Harmony Verna
Publisher: 21 March 2016 by Harlequin (Australia) MIRA
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 5 cups

In a stunning debut novel that evokes the epic scope of Colleen McCullough's classic The Thorn Birds, Harmony Verna creates a poignant, beautifully told story of love and courage, set in Australia and America in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The desert of Western Australia is vast and unforgiving. It's a miracle that the little girl dressed in rags and abandoned in the sand is still breathing when an old miner discovers her. Even more so that he is able to keep her alive long enough to bring her to the town from which she'll take her name: Leonora. Sent to an orphanage, mute with grief and fear, Leonora slowly bonds with another orphan, James, who fights to protect her until both are sent away - Leonora to a wealthy American family, James to relatives who have emigrated from Ireland to claim him. 

Years later, Leonora is given a chance to return to her beloved Australia. There, in Wanjarri Downs, she will again come face to face with James, who's grown from a reticent boy into a strong, resourceful man. Only James knows the truth about Leonora - that her roots and her heart are here, among the gum trees and red earth. And they will fight to find a way back to each other, even as war, turmoil, and jealousy test their courage again and again. 

Sweeping in scale yet filled with intricately drawn characters and vivid details that conjure the fascinating setting, Daughter of Australia is storytelling at its best.

My Thoughts

One is always a little wary of 'debut' novels, and to be compared to the Australian classic, 'The Thorn Birds', brings with it high expectations. Let me tell you now, this book did not fail to deliver. It was epic: it tore at your heartstrings and was truly unforgettable. I do believe a new Australian classic has been born.

Lucky for me it was a long weekend and I indulged, allowing myself to be swept away by this stirring tale. I could not put this book down. It truly is beautifully written, with evocative and heartfelt words:

"The stitches that held his hard parts together, sutured over a lifetime, disintegrated with the touch. He fumbled for each strand, trying to quickly sew them back into place, but the look was too soft. The simple purity hurt."

Equally commendable is the well researched detail of life in the outback at the time of the First World War. The hardships involved with the life of being a miner; the life and loneliness of outback station living and the sad tale of the Stolen Generation:

"We help the children - the natives and especially the half-breeds - find permanent homes where they can be raised properly."

I was immersed from the very first page. From the moment that little girl is abandoned in the desert and rescued by 'Ghan' (what a poignant and sincere character he turned out to be) until the end when Leonora draws the strength from her Australian roots to face her demons and carve out the life she deserves. This book is absolutely littered with characters that will draw you in, make you laugh and make you cry. 

Verna conveys the very essence of the Australian bush, the harshness and the rewards. I really did not highlight that many passages as I was just lost in the very being of the who and what this story was about. It was quintessentially Australian. 

"Twilight ... the insects took over in a worldly purr; a kookaburra cackled between the ghost gums."

At the conclusion, I am happy to concur that Harmony Verna has done Colleen McCullough’s novels proud. Indeed, this book can take its place amongst the Australian classics. It's pages overflow with tales of love and courage, hardship and endurance, friendships and family. This is one of those books that will sit with you long after the last page has been turned. 

"She hadn't changed, only emerged from hibernation. Australia was her spring and she would never retreat again."

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, March 13, 2016

Review: The Syndicate

Title: The Syndicate (Timewaves #1)
Author: Sophie Davis
Publisher: 1 March 2016 by Sophie Davis Books
Pages: 586 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: science fiction, teens/young adult, time travel, fantasy
My Rating: 3 cups

In a future where time travel has been outlawed, a black market exists for anyone with the money, connections, and nerve to request items from days past. As a Runner for one of the underground syndicates that now controls the timewaves, Stassi 2446-89 has seen it all: the fall of Rome, the rise of Hitler, the end of democracy, the establishment of time tourism, and the devastating consequences of it. Her job is to seamlessly slip through the past, in search of items of value to the syndicate's clientele.

Stassi's next assignment takes her to Paris in the 1920’s, in search of a lost manuscript by one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. She and her partner, Gaige, are swept up in the City of Light during the height of fashion and culture—as alluring a locale as they’ve ever visited. But a seedier side of life lurks beneath the glamorous façade, and the pair quickly learns this run is more dangerous than any of their previous missions.

Because history isn’t playing out as it should be—a first for the syndicate. When the stakes are raised and it becomes a matter of life or death, Stassi and Gaige must ultimately decide how far they’re willing to go to ensure the future as they know it.

My Thoughts

I was excited to read this book. It comes with a great premise - time travel to secure historical items:

"Runners studied people, events and cultures, learning to blend within past societies without becoming a part of recorded history. And without causing ripples in the timewaves."

Unfortunately for me, it did not live up to expectations. Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad book by any means, in fact it was an easy read. It just was not for me for a few particular reasons. Firstly, it was really wordy. Really. The almost 600 pages could easily have been culled to make a more dramatic and engaging read. Some sections really dragged and others failed to contribute to the plot in my opinion. Pages and pages of nothing solid in contribution, going nowhere fast and so very repetitive. 

I also found that there were too many current day references for a book set in 2446 and travelling back to the 1920s. For example:

"Even that wasn't enough to combat the neon signs flashing 'Danger Will Robinson?' in my head".

Really 'Lost in Space' reference from the 1960s! Would teenagers of today actually get that?

I also understand that the main idea was to find a manuscript for a book which had been lost, and that the lead character was trying to work out where the locket that she had been given originated from, in the hope of discovering her birth parents. However, the story just seemed to take forever to get anywhere, and I would lose interest and begin to skim through sections. 

The biggest factor is that this book is definitely more for teenagers than young adults and about half way through this became really apparent. Adults, like myself, who like to engage in YA reading will struggle with what I consider the immaturity on occasions:

"Being the mature professional I was, I stuck my tongue out at him."

Therefore if you know any young teenagers who are into science fiction time travel tales, this is the book for them.

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, March 4, 2016

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs

Title: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Publisher: 8 March 2016 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 407 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction (adult), contemporary, mystery, about books, romance
My Rating: 5 cups

Think you know all about Charlotte, Emily and Anne? Think again.

Samantha Whipple - a young American woman - is the last remaining descendant of the famous Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. After losing her father, a brilliant author in his own right, Samantha travels to Oxford in search of a mysterious family inheritance, described to her only as 'The Warnings of Experience'.

While at Oxford, Samantha studies under Dr J. Timothy Orville III, a disarmingly handsome tutor who seems nothing but annoyed by her family heritage. With Orville as her tempestuous sidekick, Samantha sets out on a mission to piece together her family's history - which, it turns out, could also be literature's greatest buried secret.

A witty modern love story that draws from the enduringly popular classics.

My Thoughts

"Do you think that Charlotte Bronte invented the madwoman in Rochester's tower? ... I had an inkling that the madwoman in the attic was not quite as fictional as the world might have hoped."

WOW! What a complete surprise and amazing read. I shall try my best to convey how I was absolutely enraptured with this novel, however suffice to say, if you are a Bronte fan this is a MUST.READ! I did not expect to be so taken with it, but I was, and availed myself of every available opportunity to read. Such fascinating literary discussions - this book nerd was in heaven! I felt like I was back at university highlighting passage after passage, or at the very least, my Year 12 English class having rich literary discussions. Oh joy! 

"... the ones who believed in the sanctity of a text and judged a novel based only on the words on the page ... Dad, to him, books were living breathing things. Once a book left the brain of the author, it took on a life of its own, and served as the only liaison between the reader and the author."

All things said, this really is such an entertaining and witty novel that takes the works of the three Bronte sisters, has an academia backdrop and pursues a literary treasure hunt. The main lead, Samantha has grown up living in the shadows of her Bronte ancestry and now, with her beloved father dead she is off to Oxford to study literature. 

"I once again tipped my hat to my three dead female ancestors. Even in the grave they managed to exert a power I could not."

I really enjoyed Samantha’s character: she was funny yet charming, awkward and a loner. You will love her sarcasm and humour - she is a fabulous lead and this must all be attributed to Lowell and her amazing style. What a debut. Her romance with Orville was very ‘Bronte-ish’.

"I did not ask whether you are literate. I asked why you are studying English literature. What do you imagine it will provide you?"


It's been many years since I delved into a Bronte novel and this had me running back to my collection as memories came flooding back. To fully appreciate the inferencing and homage paid to the Brontes' in this book, it would be beneficial to be in some way familiar with Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It will enhance your appreciation of the depth of research and commentary that Lowell has undertaken. However, it is not essential - the book is that good. 

The history of these particular writers was a history of censorship. Their work was defined not by what they wrote, but by what they had been forced to cut out."

Samantha attempts to make sense of what these books mean via the clues left behind by her father. She wants to make sense of these literary works, her legacy, and in doing so reconcile her past in an effort to become her own person. Gosh, I love books about books and I love the Bronte’s novels. 

If you love literature and the Bronte sisters, with a touch of mystery and romance, then this is the novel for you. It is quirky and wonderful, totally compelling as I lost myself in the well written prose. It will give you pause to ponder the reasons why and how we read. 

"We force ourselves to acknowledge what did exist in the Brontes' world: generations of women, who, silent and confined, reined in their passions and lived a life of seclusion."

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.