Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: Daughters of Castle Deverill

Title: Daughters of Castle Deverill
Author: Santa Montefiore
Publisher: 1 September 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 544 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction
My Rating: 3 cups


The sweeping new novel from number one bestselling author Santa Montefiore.

It is 1925 and the war is long over. But much has been lost and life will never truly be the same again.

Castle Deverill, cherished home to the Deverill family in the west of Ireland for hundreds of years, has burned to the ground. But young and flighty Celia Deverill is determined to restore the sad ruin to its former glory. Celia married well and has the wealth, after all, to keep it in the family and she cannot bear to see it stand neglected.

But dark shadows are gathering once more, as the financial markets start to shake. And everything that felt so certain is thrown once again into doubt.

A compelling story of family and history, from the author of the top ten bestseller Songs of Love and War.
My Thoughts

Drawn in by the exquisite cover and premise of  a sweeping, epic (over 500 pages) and romantic saga, I will state from the outset it was  my fault that I didn't realise that this is book two of a trilogy. Some books are easy to read as a stand alone, but unfortunately on this occasion, I found it was not easy to pick up the story that is Daughters of Castle Deverill.

That being said, it was on the whole, a well written story. After the reported actions from book one (I read up as much as I could on that), the main plot appears that everything is travelling along in 1925 with a major refurbishment for the castle (that unearths a mystery) until the financial disaster of 1929 and ensuing fallout. There are characters a plenty and outside the main families there are many other worthy secondary characters who all contribute in some way to this epic tale. Montefiore's deft penmanship transports you to Ireland and America, describing the beauty of both countries at the time. 

For it being a well written tale, I felt it was drawn out in some parts - disjointed and seeming to flit from one thing to the next.  The main characters were not inviting: Kitty was a bit lost, Bridie was bitter and Celia's storyline got interesting towards the end but was not engaging enough from the beginning.  Jack was the one character that was engaging, but sadly he was not present enough. Then, of course, being middle book of a trilogy, there is still much to be revealed and concluded in book three. 

This  book strikes me as one that would adapt well to a television drama series, but just make certain that you jump on board from the beginning. 

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: My Husband's Wife

Title: My Husband's Wife
Author: Amanda Prowse
Publisher: 14 July 2016 by Head of Zeus
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups


Once a week, Rosie Tipcott counts her blessings.
She goes to sit on her favourite bench on the north Devon cliffs, and thanks her lucky stars for her wonderful husband, her mischievous young daughters, and her neat little house by the sea. She vows to dedicate every waking hour to making her family happy.
But then her husband unexpectedly leaves her for another woman and takes the children. Now she must ask the question: what is left in her life? Can Rosie find the strength to rebuild herself? More importantly, does she even want to?

My Thoughts

I was keen to try an Amanda Prowse book as she states that she wishes to write about women we feel we all know. She wishes to bring a true sense of human reality into her novels that undoubtedly will touch the reader in a number of ways. So what you have here is both a true and modern portrayal of family life - from the mundane to the tears and joys. 

'That life was the one she had always wanted; gorgeous kids, a lovely house and her man by her side.'

The exchanges between characters are true and well presented, particularly those between Rosie and her three in-laws - brother, mother and father in-law. In fact I found the most fascinating character to be Kev and wish we had of seen more of him.  I also found Rosie's father to be identifiable and interesting. 

So whilst this was an easy read, I did struggle with a few things. You know from the blurb that the husband is going to leave but that takes quite a while - almost half the book. This makes it a little frustrating, especially as the problems with the relationship are never explicit, decreasing - I believe - the emotional impact. I was not invested in their relationship. 

"I think you need to get over the idea that you can and should punish me because things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to."

There was, however, very explicit coverage of Rosie's grief and whilst I get it, I found her continual torrent of tears a little difficult to bear. At times I wanted to shake Rosie and tell her to be stronger. Did she want to fight back but just didn't know how? In many ways she was a victim of her own making.

‘And I guess the big question is this, Rosie: what are you going to do? How are you going to recapture your life?’

I also found the ending to be somewhat abrupt, the quick resolutions and neat rounding up of everything too quick. In some ways it was quite depressing in parts but as the author states she writes about women for women and there may be some out there that would 'get' this far more than I did.

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, September 24, 2016

Review: A Promise of Fire

Title: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1)
Author: Amanda Bouchet
Publisher: 9 August 2016 by Hachette Australia - Piatkus
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, sci fi, fantasy, magic
My Rating: 4 cups

Kingmaker. Soothsayer. Warrior. Mage. Kingdoms would rise and fall for her . . . if she is ever found

In the icy North, where magic is might, an all-powerful elite ruthlessly guided by a glacial Queen have grown to dominate the world. Now rebellion is stirring in the rough, magic-poor South, where for the first time in memory a warlord has succeeded in uniting the tribal nations.

Stuck in the middle is Cat - circus performer and soothsayer - safely hidden behind heavy make-up, bright colours and the harmless illusion of the circus. Until someone suspects she's more than she seems . . .
Captured by the Southern warlord Griffin, Cat's careful camouflage is wearing thin. For how long can - or should - she conceal the true extent of her power? Faced with dragons, homicidal mages, rival Gods and the traitorous longings of her own heart, she must decide: is it time to claim her destiny and fight?

My Thoughts

"There's magic in spoken language. It's binding. There's a reason people ask for someone else's word. Every sentence a person utters can be a promise - or a betrayal."

I'm at odds to review A Promise of Fire. From one perspective it is YA (young adult) and reads very much so. From another perspective it's fantasy and fun. At times these two seem to conflict, but overall I found it an entertaining read. It's the reader's approach that counts. You will at times cringe but ultimately I found this to be an enjoyable read, fanciful, fun and romantic. 

"You don't get it," I say ... '"she won't  let anyone take me from her." 
"You don't get it ... you're mine. Not Cat the Soothsayer. Not Cat the Kingmaker. Just Cat."

The two leads are romantic, independent and strong. Combine that with loads of adventure and magic and that easily gets it across the line. What I found refreshing is how funny it is, the banter is, at times, hilarious. Cat is spunky yet at times so unsure of herself. Griffin, whilst an 'alpha' male, is most swoon worthy - protective and considerate he will do anything for her. Then there is the 'Beta' team and ... well, the list of characters is long and interesting. So whilst at times I find the petulance perturbing, the strong characters, action, humour and romantic tension definitely wins out for me in the end. 

"You're not who you think you are. You're better, and you're more".

If steamy sex scenes don't make you blush,  then you are in for a treat. Here, is where it moves away from young adult as it is rather explicit. Going into this read with an open mind will see you rewarded with an epic read full of magic and romance. I took a star away for the immaturity that annoyed me at times and also at the beginning you really need to concentrate on not only the scenario, but also the  explanation of the kingdoms. However, throw into the mix some Greek mythology and you have a well-rounded magical fantasy read. 

“Kingdoms rise and fall for you. Because of you.”

I think A Promise of Fire will be one of those books that you don't fully appreciate until viewed as a trilogy and retrospectively. The first book has to set things up and may seem confusing and juvenile at times. But later instalments will hopefully reveal that all of this provided the necessary and natural stepping stones.  A Promise of Fire shows great potential as the author seems to have a strong sense of how this is all going to unfold. Am I excited for the second book - you betchya! 

"Something in the warmth flutters, cautious, like a nascent bird’s wings. Like a fledgling, though, I don’t know whether I’ll crash or fly."

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 15, 2016

Review: Mata Hari's Last Dance

Title: Mata Hari's Last Dance
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: 19 July 2016 by Touchstone
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3.5 crowns


From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.
From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

My Thoughts

"Tell me where you learned to dance?"

Thus begins the tale of Mata Hari. I am a huge Michelle Moran fan and her take on strong historical women. I did not know much about Mata Hari - an exotic dancer who reportedly worked as a double agent during the war. This book, as many have commented, was most definitely on the light side coming in at under 300 pages. Sadly that may be a key factor in why this tale seemed to lack depth and what we came to learn about Mata Hari seemed superficial. She came across (as some have described her) as naive and easily duped (American historians Norman Polmer and Thomas Allen) and only cared about enjoying life, not fully appreciating the impact of war.

If Moran could have provided more historical detail - both on her thoughts and of her sad past/upbringing/marriage - it may have provided a greater appreciation of what made Mata Hari into the woman described. From this respect it was certainly disappointing as all Moran's previous novels were rich and detailed. I mean, Mata Hari is a great figure from history to choose to write about and it was interesting to learn about some of her life story and the struggles she overcame. However, when compared to Moran's other books, this one just lacked depth and did not delve enough above the simple course of events. Even then, I found the timeline unclear at times and months at a time would somehow disappear. 

"You have a living daughter?"

For without that detail I failed to develop a sympathetic connection with Mata Hari and often viewed her thoughts and actions as selfish and silly, immature really. Instead of giving us more of her past, we were presented with a list of her liaisons and conquests, when all I really wished was to understand more of what made her into this exotic woman that the world remembers. I also felt more time needed to be dedicated to the political dramas unfolding at the time, from all viewpoints French and German. However, much detail is given of the cities and places that Mata Hari performed at - from France to Spain to Germany. 

 Moran's still remains one of my favourite authors. Who knows, maybe she wanted to leave it up to the reader as to whether Mata Hari was selfish and sinful or really that smart double agent? All of this said, I did enjoy the book, not one of my preferred Moran tales, but nevertheless, a worthwhile introduction into the woman the world came to know as, Mata Hari. 

"I think of all the people in my life who know the truth, but all of them are gone."

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 9, 2016

Review: The Art Of Keeping Secrets

Title: The Art Of Keeping Secrets
Author: Rachael Johns
Publisher: 19 September 2016 by Harlequin (Australia) TEEN/MIRA
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, womens fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Little secrets grow up to be big lies…

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.

But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.
Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.

My Thoughts

‘Is it a secret?’ He leant forward a little and whispered, ‘I promise I’m good at keeping secrets.’

The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns is my first book by her and I was eager to finally sample her writing, especially considering, many claim this to be one of  her best books so far. I was not disappointed. In a nutshell, this is the story of three women who are the best of friends and the secrets that they have kept not only from each other but from their families as well. One of the best things about this book, is that you don't have to wait until the closing stages for any big reveals. As their secrets slowly start to unfurl, the absolute heartache is so real you will find it difficult to put down.

‘Please, say something,’ she pleaded, her whole body trembling from the knowledge she’d finally revealed her biggest, darkest secret.'

Each of the lives of these three very different women is told from their perspective in alternating chapters. There really is something here for everyone as not only do you find yourself immersed in a highly engaging story but, just below that surface, Johns is examining the fallout of kept secrets: What happens when the truth is hidden to all of those involved? United by friendship they may be, but is it a strong enough foundation to see them through some testing times and differences of opinion? What will be the eventual and heartbreaking consequences when all is revealed? 

Each of the women bring their own unique thoughts and perspectives when faced with the cards life has dealt them and how they choose to then act upon that. Flick is solid and stoic and faced with a terrible decision; Neve has a hidden past that could really damage her future; and, Emma goes through a truly traumatic experience. 

It's a little difficult to reveal more because I mean, after all, it is a book about secrets. So without giving any spoilers away, suffice to say it's a highly engaging read that kept me up past my bedtime and I would recommend to readers across a range of genres.

'The time for secrets and lies was over.'

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 4, 2016

Review: The Woman Next Door

Title: The Woman Next Door
Author: Liz Byrski
Publisher: 28 June 2016 by Pan MacMillan Australia
Pages: 343 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary
My Rating: 4 cups

Over the years, the residents of Emerald Street have become more than just neighbours, they have built lasting friendships over a drink and chat on their back verandahs.
Now a new chapter begins with the children having left home. Helen and Dennis have moved from their high maintenance family property to an apartment by the river with all the mod cons. For Joyce and Mac, the empty nest has Joyce craving a new challenge, while Mac fancies retirement on the south coast.
Meanwhile, Polly embarks on a surprising long-distance relationship. But she worries about her friend next door. Stella's erratic behaviour is starting to resemble something much more serious than endearing eccentricity...
With her trademark warmth and wisdom, Liz Byrski involves us in the lives and loves of Emerald Street, and reminds us what it is to be truly neighbourly.

My Thoughts

"You know you're the same person but suddenly you see yourself in a mirror or reflected in a shop window and think - who is that old person that looks a bit like me?"

I was attracted to this book for two reasons. Firstly the names of the characters were very close to home which was fun. More importantly, Byrski's novels were purportedly about women in their 40s, 60s and 80s. Now, that makes a change. 

On the surface it may appear that this is a simple tale about friends caring and watching out for each other, as they pop next door for a cup of tea or to share a glass of wine on the back verandahs of their homes.  Dig a little deeper and you can see there was much more to it. This is a tale about ageing and the anxieties that come with it. Taking a range of people living in a neighbourhood together, Byrski is able to touch on just about something for everyone - whether you be single, married or divorced. How to move forward and create a new life for yourself whilst at the same time deal with social, emotional and physical issues that come with this period in life. It's a huge undertaking and I think Byrski has done a good job. I was particularly touched by the impact of Alzheimer's - something many of us fear for ourselves or those we love. 

There were also a couple of really surprising events that I did not see coming that provided additional authenticity to the story. All up I was happy to read this book for the reasons I had selected it - mature women and men and some of the issues they try to navigate in today's world. Its may be about redefining yourself or learning to accept what is.

"The past is the past. We do what we can, what seems right at the time."

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