Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Review: Without Further Ado

Title: Without Further Ado
Author: Jessica Dettmann

Publisher: 8th March 2023 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Pages: 368 pages

Genre:  contemporary, romance 

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Can a modern woman take lessons in love from Shakespeare? Beth O'Leary meets 10 Things I Hate About You in this sparkling romantic comedy from beloved Aussie author Jessica Dettmann.

'Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more. Men were deceivers ever ...'

Since she was sixteen, Willa's curious touchstone in life and work has been the 1993 film Much Ado About Nothing. She's always looking for The Feeling, the stirring in her heart - and loins - that she gets when watching the opening scenes. Now she's navigating her mid-thirties, her career as a romance publisher in an unusual family business, and her determination to remain child-free, while quietly holding out for a love as big as Beatrice and Benedick's.

But when relationships start to get complicated between Willa, her cousin Imogen and the four sons of the family she works for, and the events of her own life begin to mirror the plot of her beloved comedy, Willa must consider whether there is such a thing as too much ado.

A delightfully Shakespearean romantic comedy about modern love, women's roles and how the films and stories we grow up with shape us.

My Thoughts

Without Further Ado was not what I expected but a whole lot more fun. With not so much Shakespeare but rather much more quirky, laugh out loud moments,  Jessica has delivered an engaging read that I would definitely recommend. 

‘For a moment Willa felt her heart race with excitement, and she put her hand to her chest. It was The Feeling: the Much Ado feeling. She let it wash over her, this wave of hope and elation and joy.’

Watching Willa’s realisation and growth throughout the story was a highlight. Her quick comebacks and one liners were hilarious! I was most definitely laughing out loud! Willa is surrounded by a cast of characters that likewise bring much to this tale of friends, life, family and futures. 

‘You live too much up here - ’ Kat tapped the side of her friend’s head ‘ - and not enough in here  - ’ she patted the left side of Willa’s chest.’

Don’t be mistaken - this is not all fun, romance and laughter. Sometimes subtle but more often right in your face, Jessica delivers her take on many contemporary issues surrounding life and relationships. 

‘…regret’s not the end of the world. You’ll regret things you do, and things you don’t do. It’s part of the marvelous insanity called the human condition.’

This is a romantic comedy you will not want to miss. Light, quick and easy to read this is the epitome of perfect escapism but with an underlying message that many of us can relate to.

‘… you might learn to just live your life and stop thinking about where everything fits into your story. You don’t get to decide that. Life just goes where it goes. Always seeking some sort of ultimate happy ending can stop you from enjoying the life you’re living right now.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review: Return to Lilacwell

Title: Return to Lilacwell
Author: Sasha Morgan

Publisher: 23rd February 2022 by Canelo

Pages: 300 pages

Genre: romance, contemporary

My Rating: 4 cups


Will Lilacwell work its magic once more?

Times are changing in Lilacwell. Not only have Jasper and Adira settled into The Laurels manor, newly engaged and firmly casting off the shackles of their respective city lives, but Adira’s friend and ex-colleague, Rory, is now also looking to leave London for the quiet beauty of the Forest of Bowland.

Sparks flew when he and Lilacwell’s innkeeper, Cassie, met at the summer party a few months ago, but Cassie has been loved and left before and is reluctant to put all her trust in Rory, who might return to his promising law career for the right offer.

With Jasper and Adira’s wedding just around the corner, love is in the air for Lilacwell, and some big changes are coming to the sleepy village…

My Thoughts

‘… without any hesitation proceeded to book himself a room. Sorted. He was returning to Lilacwell.’

In this second book in the Lilacwell series Sasha once more provides her readers with delightful escapism. Having read the first book I was excited to return to the village of Lilacwell to familiar friends with all the banter and camaraderie. Similar to Adira from book one, on this occasion, it is Rory who has had enough of city living, corporate pressures and makes the bold move to leave. 

It might be read as a standalone, however, the understanding and satisfaction is definitely enhanced from having read Adira and Jasper’s story in book one. They are very much present with Fletcher but this is Rory and Cassie’s story. Once more Sasha has provided a multidimensional story - this is not just a romantic chick lit - far from it. Sasha’s inclusion of topics such as the cost of maintaining an English manor, setting up a new business, the problems of aging and caring for the aged, workplace issues - truly, it is an impressively written book that touches on some highly relevant issues. I love it when a book such as this offers the reader that little bit extra.

Additionally, this time around Sasha shines the spotlight on the topic of sustainability and explains such in her Authors Note at the conclusion. Taking a strong stance on climate issues through Rory’s character of the ‘Eco Warrior’ and his desire to live off grid was most inspiring. This book was an excellent follow up to reunite with the charming characters and quaint village of Lilacwell. 

‘When Adira had tried to explain how she desired time, space and freedom, they’d just looked blankly at her. Yet, for Adira, it had been the best decision of her life and she didn’t regret it.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Review: The Paris Notebook

Title: The Paris Notebook
Author: Tessa Harris

Publisher: 15th February 2023 by HQ

Pages: 352 pages

Genre:  historical fiction, WWII

My Rating: 4.5 cups


When Katja Heinz secures a job as a typist at Doctor Viktor’s clinic, she doesn’t expect to be copying top secret medical records from a notebook.

At the end of the first world war, Doctor Viktor treated soldiers for psychological disorders. One of the patients was none other than Adolf Hitler. . .

The notes in his possession declare Hitler unfit for office – a secret that could destroy the F├╝hrer’s reputation, and change the course of the war if exposed. . .

With the notebook hidden in her hat box, Katja and Doctor Viktor travel to Paris. Seeking refuge in the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, they hope to find a publisher brave enough to print the controversial script.

But Katja is being watched. Nazi spies in Paris have discovered her plan. They will stop at nothing to destroy the notebook and silence those who know of the secret hidden inside. . .

My Thoughts

With a wide range of WWII books on offer, readers are becoming more selective about their choices. Tessa Harris' latest offering is one I would certainly recommend. The Paris Notebook is well written with Tessa taking a small, often unknown aspect of truth, and building a thrilling piece of fiction around it - a race to reveal details about Adolf Hitler to the Allies.

‘I am Dr Frankenstein,’ he told her flatly. ‘I created the monster and now I must destroy it.’

Suspense and tension builds throughout this narrative with Doctor Victor and Katja working together in their efforts to record, copy and reveal critical details about Hitler. Along the way, with so many secrets to hide and unsure of who to trust, Tessa builds palpable tension throughout the entire timeline. The Nazis are onto them as the reign of terror begins. Traveling from Hamburg to Paris in an effort to secure publication, Katja comes across the Shakespeare & Co bookstore with owner Sylvia Beach. Having read Kerry Maher’s, The Paris Bookseller, I was happy to revisit this future iconic institution with my understanding of what it meant during WWII and beyond. It is here that Katja meets an Irish journalist and their romantic journey adds another layer to this tale. 

‘The finished transcript sat in all its terrifying glory with the front cover proclaiming in bold capitals: Notes & Observations on the Serious Mental Disorders of Adolf Hitler.’

Tessa builds both place and time with some passages being confronting yet realistic. The ride is filled with hope and heartache, strength and buckets of determination as Katja is determined to get this transcript into the right hands. The research is thorough with facts woven throughout this fantastical tale. If this is a genre that appeals to you then rest assured that there is something extra special in this wartime tale - history, romance and a thrilling mystery. 

‘Lying there, untouched, was the notebook. She’d already risked her life for these pages, and she would again.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Review: Nobody Puts Romcoms In The Corner

Title: Nobody Puts Romcoms In The Corner
Author: Kathryn Freeman

Publisher: 26th February 2023 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 384 pages

Genre: romance, contemporary, chick lit

My Rating: 4 cups


The perfect pick me up romcom for fans of Beth O’Leary, Sophie Kinsella and Sophie Ranald!

Sally is a classic romantic and Harry is a classic cynic, but when a drunken bet leads the new flatmates to (badly) recreate ‘the lift’ from Dirty Dancing, and the video goes viral (#EpicRomcomReenactmentFailure), they both realise there’s potential financial benefit in blundering their way through the romcom lexicon for their suddenly vast social media following.

Now, as Harry and Sally bring major romcom moments to new life – including recreating that classic diner scene – their faking it turns to making…out and suddenly they’re living a real life romcom of their own! But like all the greatest love stories, the road to happily ever after is paved with unexpected challenges for this hero and heroine…

My Thoughts

Kathryn Freeman has slowly been sneaking up as one of my favourite ‘go to’ authors for a solid romcom escape. Her current offering was no exception, in fact, the content material was such fun that it was like sitting with a friend as you reel off all the iconic moments from romcom films. If this sounds like you, then pull up a seat and settle in.

‘What is the lift?’ Kitty let out an exasperated breath. ‘Only one of the most iconic film moments. Ever.’ …. ‘That’s just a guy catching a girl.’ ‘Just?’ She stared at him like he’d just spoken a totally different language to her. ‘The shared trust in that moment, the way they communicate without words. It’s a symbol of love, of belief in each other. It’s beautiful.’

Nobody Puts Romcoms In The Corner is filled with nostalgic movie scene reenactments from Dirty Dancing, Pretty Woman, Ghost, Love Actually - just to name a few - and it is just so much fun! Stereotypical Sally loves all things romance yet her new flat mate Harry does not (and yes! They do the scene from When Harry Met Sally!) What starts off as a dare, quickly becomes a TikTok sensation with requests from followers to reenact more iconic movie scenes. Of course, acting them out slowly seeps into real life and then follows the usual narrative path with bumps along the way until the happy ever after.

‘When she said the next words from the film, it didn’t feel like acting. It felt like the truest words she’d ever spoken. ‘If I forget to tell you later, thank you. I had a really amazing time tonight.’

Apart from all the fun movie references, I truly appreciated Kathryn’s efforts to capture true to life feelings that are often associated with the genders. Sally with her head in the clouds and Harry the not so romantic male. The light and fun moments are interspersed with serious themes of loss and grief, family drama and much more. Kathryn does such a wonderful job of providing two stereotypical characters who go both individually and together on a journey of real growth and understanding. 

‘You know, in a way your love of romcoms isn’t helping. The films make us want the words, because that’s what steals your breath, what touches your heart when you watch them. But all the words, they’re no guarantee. Plenty have said them, and it’s meant nothing. Equally, just because the words aren’t there, it doesn’t mean love isn’t there. It means you have to look for other signs.’

If you love romcoms, then this is without doubt the book for you. It is fun, charming with great chemistry and vibes between the two romantic leads. Readers of this genre are sure to fall in love with Nobody Puts Romcoms In The Corner .

‘Isn’t that what life is about? Not how it ends, but the experiences enjoyed on the way?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Review: The War Pianist

Title: The War Pianist
Author: Mandy Robotham

Publisher: 16th February 2023 by Avon Books UK

Pages: 400 pages

Genre:  historical fiction, WWII

My Rating: 5 cups


Pianist: NOUN. Informal. A person who operates or controls a radio transmitter – often in code.

July, 1940

Blitz-ridden London: Marnie Fern’s life is torn apart when her grandfather is killed in an air raid. But once she discovers that he’d been working undercover as a radio operative – or Pianist – for the Dutch resistance, Marnie knows she must complete his mission – no matter the cost…

Nazi-occupied Amsterdam: At the other end of the wireless, fellow pianist Corrie Bakker is caught in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse as she desperately tries to keep her loved ones out of the line of fire – even if it means sacrificing herself…

Bound together by the invisible wires of their radios, the two women lead parallel lives in their home cities, as both are betrayed by those they trust the most. But when the Nazis close in on one of them, only the other can save her…

My Thoughts

‘… when the streets outside are layered in dust and debris, as if Hitler has shaken the contents of a giant vacuum cleaner bag across Britain’s capital.’

I have read and loved all of Mandy’s books and I believe her latest offering, The War Pianist, may very well be one of her best! As always Mandy offers her readers a story packed with everything historical fiction readers love - espionage and betrayal, to plights and flights whether it be in blitz ridden London or Nazi occupied Amsterdam. 

‘… a mesh of letters and numbers … the vital work of a radio ‘pianist’ with nimble fingers … this fleeting stream of dots and dashes spells out ‘hope’ in her mind.’

There is never any doubt on the amount of research Mandy undertakes for her books. I learnt so much as I had never heard of radio operators being referred to as ‘pianists’ for their lightning finger movement in sending coded messages in quick time so as their position may never be compromised. Mandy’s war stories come alive off the page as she makes each and everyone of her characters someone you care about. You not only see the rubble in the streets of London but you feel the fear as Nazi boots are heard approaching on the streets of Amsterdam. Mandy’s writing is so vivid that despite all the knowledge readers bring, she still can invoke fear and shock as events play out.

‘Only inside are you allowed to die and scream and pummel your heart back into life and weep into your WVS tea, which swills alongside the swallowed-back tears.’

The story is brilliantly paced with twists and turns, with courage and bravery and with a touch of romance (shout out to the Jane Austen references, “Darcy to her Lizzy”.) Told from multiple points of view, Mandy’s writing is sure to hook you especially as Marnie is just an ordinary person like many of us and therefore so relatable in her thoughts and actions. Congratulations Mandy on yet another winning book. I have read and adored all your books and recommend them highly to all lovers of historical fiction. 

‘Is she strong enough to withstand it? Equally, can she walk away and pretend this doesn’t exist?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Review: The Private Lives of Spies

Title: The Private Lives of Spies
Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher: 14th February 2023 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 216 pages

Genre: historical fiction, short stories, spy

My Rating: 3 cups


From Alexander McCall Smith, one of the world's most beloved and bestselling authors, comes a marvellous collection of stories about intrigue and espionage, told in his inimitable style.

During WW2 there was a rumour that German spies were landing by parachute in Britain, dressed as nuns...

Conradin Muller was an unusual spy. He was recruited in Hamburg in June 1943, much against his will, and sent on his first, and only, mission in late September that year. He failed to send a single report back to Germany, and when the War came to an end in May 1945, he fell to his knees and wept with relief.

From a highly reluctant German spy who is drawn to an East Anglian nunnery as his only means of escape, to the strange tale of one of the Cambridge spy ring's adventures with a Russian dwarf, these are Alexander McCall Smith's intriguing and typically inventive stories from the world of espionage.

My Thoughts

"Do you want to spend your life in the shadows? Now there are shadows, and it is the lot of some to work within them or, indeed, on their periphery, in their liminal territory. But if you are one who prefers to be in the clear light of day, then perhaps it is best not to dwell in penumbral regions."

I am a huge fan of the author Alexander McCall Smith. He is a prolific and incredible writer with his No.1. Ladies Detective Agency being a firm favourite of mine. Therefore I am always eager to read his latest which, this time around, is a short story collection surrounding intrigue and espionage. 

Here the reader is presented with five short stories that are a combination of fiction and nonfiction. The first is my favourite, a tale recounting the supposed legend of German spies dropped into England as nuns during WWII. You cannot help but be drawn to the plight of this reluctant spy and his effort to both hide and survive. Other tales include a Cambridge spy ring's adventures with a Russian dwarf and another on the Vatican Secret Service. 

Each of the short stories is imbued with Alexander’s typically clever prose and sprinkled life musings surrounding intrigue and espionage. Not one of my favoured of his books but still an entertaining read with themes of transparency and forgiveness in our lives.

“… you can create an identity for yourself that can then become the real you. Then people think that you were always what you claim to be, that you were born to it, so to speak, rather than having made it all yourself. And that can be important in the world of spies. They are accustomed to maintaining one identity while really being something else altogether.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.