Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: A Secret Sisterhood

Title: A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
Author: Emily Midorikawa, Emma Claire Sweeney
Publisher: 17 October 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: biographies, memoir
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Coauthors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, thanks to their discovery of a wealth of surprising collaborations: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.
Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always—until now—tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

My Thoughts

“... misleading myths of isolation have long attached themselves to women who write: a
cottage-dwelling spinster; an impassioned roamer of the moors; a fallen woman, shunned; a melancholic genius. Over the years, a conspiracy of silence has obscured the friendships of female authors, past and present. But now it is time to break the silence and celebrate this literary sisterhood - a glimmering web of interwoven threads that still has the power to unsettle, to challenge, to inspire.”

‘A Secret Sisterhood’ is an interesting book packed with loads of information, new insights and wonderful descriptions of friendship from times long gone. Reading more like a biography, it allows the reader to look at female literary friendships within the context of their writing.

Being a big Austen and Bronte fan, I was eager to see what new snippets would be brought to life. Thinking of these famous female authors (and understanding that writing is very much a solitary pursuit), one often sees them in isolation. This book reveals how much they were actively involved with others, sharing at times, revealing insights into their thinking. Either meeting in person or through their correspondence, one can learn a great deal more about the individual.

You do not have to be well versed on these writers, as a satisfactory amount of detail is provided by these authors. What they succeed in doing is portraying another aspect to these famous lives and how these friendships contributed to the writer’s lives. I learnt more about those I knew well eg. Jane Austen and was introduced to those I was unfamiliar with eg. George Eliot.

This is an extremely well researched book, impressively so. Dedicating three chapters to each of the writer’s, the authors shine a light on the importance of friendship to these famous women, through diaries, letters and other documents. The authors really do a fabulous job of inviting you into a ‘secret sisterhood’ and sharing details I knew little of.

If you are in any way intrigued by any of these literary heroines, or you are interested in literary history, then I highly recommend you take some time to discover this ‘Secret Sisterhood’.

“In piecing together the lost stories of these four trailblazing pairs, we have found alliances that were sometimes illicit, scandalous, and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical, or inspiring but, until now, tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.”



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, October 7, 2017

Review: Another Woman's Husband

Title: Another Woman’s Husband
Author: Gill Paul
Publisher: 29 August 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
Two women, divided by time, bound by a secret...
1911. Aged just fifteen, Mary Kirk and Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp. Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, continents, and the demands of the English crown, until it is shattered by one unforgivable betrayal...
1997. Kendall's romantic break in Paris with her fiance is interrupted when the taxi in front crashes suddenly. The news soon follows: Princess Diana is dead. Trying to forget what she has witnessed, Kendall returns home, where the discovery of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, will lead her to the truth of a scandal which shook the world...
My Thoughts

‘Another Woman's Husband’  is an intriguing tale of relationships, secrets, betrayals and forgiveness. It is a fabulous work of historical fiction - involved and well thought out, bringing characters and stories we all ‘know’ about  to life. Supported by factual information concerning Princess Diana and Wallis Simpson (as well as other historical figures of the time) you will be running to consult Google. Gill Paul does pretty much a flawless job at combining timelines, viewpoints and non/fiction.

Told from two perspectives, that of fictional character Rachel in 1997 and Mary Kirk (who you will be ‘Googling’!) from 1912 onwards. Mary Kirk was the close friend of Wallis Simpson, meeting as teenagers and remaining friends for many years to come. Most of us have heard of Wallis Simpson and her role in British history but this unique perspective is a real eye opener. Told through Mary Kirk’s eyes it’s just fascinating to read from the time they were teenagers through to the abdication and her marriage to a king. Being able to read the story, watching the drama unfold as if you were there, is mind blowing. Being predominantly a work of fiction, it’s difficult to differentiate between the non/fictional viewpoints, however, the author includes which parts were facts  at the end of the book.

This leads onto the skilled storytelling of Gill Paul. With a book focused on two such famous people from recent history - Diana and Wallis - it could easily become sensationalised. However, Paul deals with it in the most respectful and sensible fashion, shedding light on not one, but two scandals with good depth and honesty, thus providing real insight into what it may have been like at that time in history. You will find yourself transported to such a fascinating time and place with vivid descriptions of everything from fashion (lots of fascinating details), to cocktail parties - inclusive of extracts and paraphrased from letters shared between Wallis and Mary. Reading actual accounts at the end makes you appreciate not only Paul’s efforts at research but also how she bought possible events to life.

Obviously Wallis and Mary’s story is the more engaging one and I found some issues with the Diana link, particularly the relationship between Rachel and Alex. You do wonder how the threads of the two stories will be drawn together, and towards the end, the connections becomes clear and satisfying. I found this a most engaging read and loved immersing myself in the story of Wallis to appreciate the type of person who almost brought down a monarchy.  

‘She always had the air of a person who was searching for something more and would not be satisfied with an ordinary life.’


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 1, 2017

Review: Willow Tree Bend

Title: Willow Tree Bend
Author: Kaye Dobbie
Publisher: 18 September 2017 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary, cultural Australia, mystery
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

An interrupted phone call and a mysterious disappearance brings a family’s secret past crashing into the present…

It’s 1969 and small-town girl Faith Taylor longs for the excitement of the city. Leaving her family home in Willow Tree Bend, Faith lands a job at The Angel — Melbourne’s most infamous nightclub. While Faith relishes her new-found freedom, she can’t help but notice that there are some things about the club that don’t add up. So when a policeman shows her a shocking photograph, and reveals that a former waitress was murdered, Faith realises she must help to bring down the shadowy owner behind the club’s activities.

More than thirty years later, what happened at The Angel remains a closely held secret, never spoken about. When Faith disappears, her sister Hope — now a famous movie star — is left with an intriguing, though frustrating, piece of the puzzle. But with a tell-all documentary film crew constantly by her side, how can she find where Faith is — and what she’s hiding — while making sure her own secrets stay hidden?

Faith’s daughter, Sam, is also concerned by her mother’s uncharacteristic behaviour. When she overhears a clue to Faith’s past, she’s determined to unearth the truth. What is the connection between The Angel and Willow Tree Bend? What does Faith's disappearance mean? And what will happen when the final secret is revealed?

My Thoughts

The previous work of Kaye’s, Mackenzie Crossing, was a superb five star read for me. So I was excited to read her latest tale. Whilst not as captivating, ‘Willow Tree Bend’ was still an engaging read.

“There were things going on here that I didn’t understand, like a dangerous undertow beneath a calm surface.”

Here is another dual timeline story, however on this occasion, it was only a thirty year gap - late 1960s and the year 2000. Dobbie does a great job at moulding and interweaving all the pieces of the puzzle to build suspense and present a good mystery - providing an even blend between both the contemporary and historical tale. This is a story about family secrets and how their revelation will have a major impact on the present.

This narrative is presented through three voices - Faith in the 1960s and Hope (her sister) and Sam (her daughter) in the present. We see Faith as a young girl from the country who finds work in the city and the troubles she encounters. Her sister, Hope (by the year 2000) is a famous Hollywood actress who has returned to her country home and learns herself, about what had unfolded back in the late 60s. Then there is Sam, and her story is all about reaching understandings in her relationships with family members and a prospective partner. Sam is struggling with all these well kept secrets and is trying to ascertain the truth.

“I was becoming more and more convinced that there was a dark underlying thread to this tale that I either wasn’t seeing or no one was telling me about.”

I have to admit to struggling a bit with the slowness of the tale; at times, not a great deal was happening and I found myself becoming disengaged from the story. Nothing really happened by a third way through and the pace only increased in the last twenty percent. I appreciate that Kaye was leaving little clues sprinkled throughout her narrative, but there was just not enough for it to be compelling.

Willow Tree Bend is a solid story with Kaye doing a good job of blending all three stories together very smoothly. Take some time to go back in time with the Taylor girls to unravel well kept family secrets.

‘The pain never goes away, does it? It fades, but when you dig a little, there it is, still hurting.’





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 28, 2017

Review: The Girl from Munich

Title: The Girl from Munich
Author: Tania Blanchard
Publisher: 1 September  2017 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 5 cups

Synopsis:
Germany, 1943. The choices she makes will change her life forever.
Growing up in Hitler’s Germany, Charlotte von Klein has big dreams for the future. Her mind is full of plans for a sumptuous wedding to her childhood sweetheart Heinrich while working for the Luftwaffe, proudly giving her all for the Fatherland.
But in 1943, the tide of the war is turning against Germany, and Lotte’s life of privilege and comfort begins to collapsing around her. As Hitler’s Reich abandons Germany and the country falls to the Allied forces, Lotte is forced to flee from the unfolding chaos to the country with the darkly attractive Erich Drescher, her Luftwaffe superior.
Amid the danger, pain and heartbreak of a country turning on itself, Lotte must forge a new life for herself. But as the country struggles to find its future, shadows of the past come rushing back and Lotte finds herself questioning everything she has fought for - love, duty and freedom.
My Thoughts

‘It was as if a tiny crack in the very ordered, planned world of mine had appeared, allowing me to look at life around me, at the life I might want to take for myself.’

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Girl from Munich’ by Aussie author Tania Blanchard set in the final years of World War II. It was refreshing to read a book from the perspective of a young German girl during this period and I found it to be excellent historical fiction, especially considering it is her debut. Inspired by tales from her German grandmother, it most definitely rings true and I am thrilled to see that she intends to continue the story with a new novel set in the 1950s.

‘The war had opened doors to exciting possibilities never available to a girl like me before but my mother made sure I walked the rigid path of tradition.’

I confess to being completely swept up in this tale of duty, love, survival and new beginnings. However, it is learning about German civilians during the war, that I found the most compelling. You cannot help but feel for these people who were also victims to Nazi brainwashing - ordinary people who truly believed that the Fuhrer was doing the very best for their country. This tale provides real insights into how many Germans felt during the war and at their shame in the end when the terrible atrocities were brought to their attention. It is a most compelling narrative.

‘All the reports over the wireless, at the cinema and in the local newspapers stated emphatically that Germany was winning the war. Slowly to be sure, but winning all the same, and I had no reason to doubt those reports.’

This is a coming of age story for Charlotte and the writing has you invested in many of the characters with whom you will make an emotional connections.  You will be inspired by Lotte’s strength, courage and fortitude throughout; appreciative of Erich’s dedication and compassion; understand Lotte’s ‘Vati’ (father) love, unsure of Heinrich motives - just to name a few. It may for some at times, be a little too wrapped up in the romance, but it ticked all the right boxes for me at this time.

If you enjoy a good wartime story, especially one with a most unique perspective, then I highly recommend ‘The Girl from Munich’. It is easy to read with a good mix of fiction and nonfiction that will have you swept away as the tide turns against Germany and the impact it had upon its people.

'How could he have let these things happen? How could Germany have stooped so low? After all I had seen and heard, I had to accept that Hitler wasn’t the perfect man I had believed him to be. Germany was no better off. It was destroyed, its citizens left destitute, scarred and bereft.'


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 24, 2017

Review: Map of the Heart

Title: Map of the Heart
Author: Susan Wiggs
Publisher: 10 August 2017 by Harper Collins
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary & historical romance
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:

An accomplished photographer, a widow, and a mother, Camille Palmer is content with the blessings she’s enjoyed. When her aging father asks her to go with him to his native France, she has no idea that she’s embarking on an adventure that will shake her complacency and utterly transform her. Returning to the place of his youth sparks unexpected memories—recollections that will lead Camille, her father, and her daughter, Julie, who has accompanied them, back to the dark, terrifying days of the Second World War, where they will uncover their family’s surprising history.

While Provence offers answers about her family’s past, it also holds the key to Camille’s future. Along the way, Camille meets a handsome American historian who stirs a passion deep within her she thought she’d never experience again.

My Thoughts


‘The moments of life are ephemeral and unpredictable. We must capture the best ones and keep them safe in our hearts.’

I was eager to read a Susan Wiggs book and was pleasantly surprised by this dual time narrative with characters that a range of readers should identify with. With idyllic French Provencal settings and a plot to keep the reader engaged to the end, it proved a wonderful read. The insight into photography is a real bonus and I appreciated the section opening quotes:

‘Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.’
DOROTHEA LANGE, AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER

I am a big fan of dual narratives and this one was well done, although (and not surprisingly) I found one story to be stronger than the other. The modern day story of Camille and the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, was at times a little too drawn out and repetitive.  Whilst on the one hand you empathised, Camille would then act in an immature and annoying way. The story of her  grandmother, Lisette, and her tale of life and love in small town France during WWII was far more engaging. A French resistance heroine and downed American paratrooper was a classic tale. Overall, however, it is a good mix of the historical and contemporary stories.

At it’s heart it is a traditional wartime love story that unfolds into present day and the granddaughters second chance at love, whilst unfolding the mystery surrounding her father’s family. I like that there is more to it than just pure romance and the family mystery is noteworthy. You get a real feel for the lead characters and the journey of self discovery they are on - the trauma and anguish and how they deal with it. There are also a range of secondary characters that add real depth to the story - Henri, Hank, Julie - are well written and bring their own story to life and it all blends together very well.

The loss of one star rating had to do with Camille and Finn’s relationship - the way they met (his anger was so understandable and I could not comprehend his complete turnaround) and how they  initially interacted, I found cringe worthy and, at times, the banter was silly - it just took credibility away from what is otherwise, a really good story. The stereotypical widow single mother, meeting handsome professor, initially resistant but flirting and circumstances working it’s magic in trying to bring that happy ending.

However, do not let this distract you from what is essentially a very engaging and satisfying story. There are enough unique aspects to this tale to rate it higher than your average women’s fiction story. More than just a romance, this is a story of family, love, loss, healing and the courage to take the second chance.

‘She used to take pictures, wandering for hours on her travels, a favorite camera thumping against her sternum. She used to disappear into the act of capturing an image, exposing its secrets, freezing a moment.’


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 21, 2017

Interview with Jodi Perry of 'Nineteen Letters'




‘Nineteen Letters’ Q&A with Jodi Perry

Before I was an author I was . . . a full-time mother. I’ve always been a passionate reader and writing my own stories was something I aspired to do. When my son started school, I had a lot of spare time so I thought I’d give it a try.
The best part of writing Nineteen Letters was . . . I loved every part of this journey. It was not only the easiest book I’ve written but in my opinion it’s the best.
Nineteen Letters was inspired by . . . a story I saw on the television one morning. It was about a woman who had a car accident a week after her wedding. She hit her head on the steering wheel and had no memory of her wedding, so her husband recreated their special day. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth a few minutes later when the idea for Nineteen Letters came to me. I wrote the blurb in less than two minutes.

When I’m not writing I . . . spend time with my family and friends or travel the world for book signings and to meet my readers. I love the opportunities my writing career has given me.


The book that changed my life was . . . It wasn’t a book that I read, but rather a book I wrote. It rocketed straight to number one on release day – and it is what landed me my publishing contract with Hachette Australia. That story was translated into other languages and will always hold a special place in my heart.


Review: Nineteen Letters

Title: Nineteen Letters
Author: Jodi Perry
Publisher: 29 August  2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary romance
My Rating: 4 cups

Synopsis:
Nineteen. There’s something about that number; it not only brought us together, bonding us forever, it also played a hand in tearing us apart.
The nineteenth of January 1996. I’ll never forget it. It was the day we met. I was seven and she was six. It was the day she moved in next door, and the day I developed my first crush on a girl.
Exactly nineteen years later, all my dreams came true when she became my wife. She was the love of my life. My soul mate. My everything. The reason I looked forward to waking up every morning.
Then tragedy struck. Nineteen days after we married, she was in an accident that would change our lives forever. When she woke from her coma, she had no memory of me, of us, of the love we shared.
I was crushed. She was my air, and without her I couldn’t breathe.
The sparkle that once glistened her eyes when she looked at me was gone. To her, now, I was a stranger. I had not only lost my wife, I had lost my best friend.
But I refused to let this tragedy be the end of us. That’s when I started to write her letters, stories of our life. Of when we met. About the happier times, and everything we had experienced together.
What we had was far too beautiful to be forgotten.
My Thoughts

“I thought that nineteen was the number that symbolised everything we were. Every important milestone we’d experienced together. The number that not only brought us together, but bonded us forever. “

It’s all about the significance of the number ‘19’ for Braxton and Jemma in this love story. However, what happens when everything they had is gone? After a tragic car accident, can Braxton rekindle all that he has lost due to Jemma’s amnesia?

The best thing about this story are the letters - you kind of get two stories for the price of one here, as Braxton so lovingly relates all that Jemma has forgotten (inclusive of charms for a memory bracelet, no less). All the significant dates are strategically placed throughout her tale of recovery, but will it be enough to win her back?

“If Jemma won’t listen to my spoken words, she might at least read my written ones. She needs to know what our lives were once like.”

In each of the nineteen letters, Braxton chronologically recounts many of the memorable events in their long history together - from childhood friends through to marriage. Each installment see’s Jemma become more understanding and open to the reasons of why they fell in love and were soul mates. It seamlessly correlates to the present day and never appears to be out of sync or just thrown in for good measure.

This brings us to one profound aspect of this tale - it is a love story, pure and simple. No added drama or outside distractions - just a man trying to win (again) the heart of his soul mate. You will find yourself eagerly anticipating the delivery of a new letter and what the matching charm will be. Braxton is every girl’s dream - from stalwart supporter as childhood friends, to pure devotion and commitment of not let going of all they once shared. One simply has to let go of reality and fall under his spell as Braxton has a way with words that will reach right into every woman’s heart.

Naturally there will be those that cannot swallow such sickly sweet devotion and adoration. This man can do no wrong! However, if  you can see past all that and embrace your inner hopeless romantic, delve into a true romance read as you join ‘Team Braxton’ and each of his nineteen letters, hoping that you will get your happily ever after.

‘Then you started writing the letters.’ Although there are tears brimming in her eyes, there’s a smile on her face as she speaks. ‘You have no idea what those letters have done for me. They’ve given me hope where there was none.’



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 8, 2017

Coming Soon!


Review: Secrets Between Friends

Title: Secrets Between Friends
Author: Fiona Palmer
Publisher: 12 September 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Synopsis:

Friendship is a million little moments, but can it survive this one? Three friends embark on a luxury cruise to celebrate their ten-year reunion in this heartfelt story of how long-held secrets can catch up with even the best of friends

Life was about living, experiencing and emotions. The good and the bad. You had to laugh to cry. You had to love to hurt. You had to jump to fall or fly.

Best friends Abbie, Jess and Ricki are set to recreate a school trip they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia.

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn't chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a school teacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

SECRETS BETWEEN FRIENDS is a poignant novel of romance, family dynamics and friendship. Through her highly relatable, sympathetic characters, beloved Australian storyteller Fiona Palmer writes about issues, experiences and emotions we have all faced while posing the ultimate question: What is really important in this life?

My Thoughts

I was keen to sample Fiona Palmer’s first time dalliance out of her ‘rural romance’ genre. Here is a tale of best friends, Jess, Abbie and Ricki (and Ricki's boyfriend, Peter) who decide to take a three-day cruise down the coast of Western Australia. As the title of the book indicates, there most definitely are some very serious ‘secrets between friends’ that all come to a head during this short cruise. Will their long term friendship be able to withstand the revelations and confrontations that, in the confines of ship life, there will be no escape from?

Once again I reveled in the setting - Australia - and this time, sailing on a familiar cruise line. As the girls and Peter make the most of life onboard the ship and the trip to Albany and back, there was much to enjoy. Being a ‘cruiser’ myself, I found the descriptions realistic and accurate. For those of you in any way interested in cruising, this gives a lovely little insight into life onboard.

‘Gee, they really pack a lot of events into a day aboard the ship don’t they?’

‘... that was life on the ship. You could partake in all the activities, some or none.’

The concept of secrets amongst friends is not a new one, however, I just found their tiffs and selfishness difficult to swallow at times. Sadly, I didn’t really enjoy the characters that much because of it.

‘Problems going on with my friends. Secrets and indiscretions, surprises.’ She shrugged.
‘We came here to celebrate, but today all we’ve done is yell at each other.’

Each of the girls have personal issues to contend with from the desire to follow a dream, to single motherhood, to health concerns. So there is much to relate to and it was interesting to see how events played out. I appreciated the realism and how confrontational certain aspects were presented and handled. I am sure that many of Fiona Palmer's fans will enjoy taking a trip alongside the three friends and appreciate that life is not always smooth with bonds often being stretched to breaking point.

‘Life can seem great one minute and then a shit-hole mess the next. What do we do, Abbie?’
‘We do the only thing we can do. Live each day as it comes, try to be good people while pursuing happiness.’
It sounded easy. But it wasn’t.


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