Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: Northern Heat by Helene Young

Title:  Northern Heat

Author: Helene Young
Publisher: 27th May 2015 by Penguin Books Australia
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: romantic suspense
My Rating:  four cups


In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is living under an assumed name and rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown's youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and a chance to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark.

After tragedy tore her family apart, Kristy fled to Cooktown with her feisty teenage daughter, Abby. She hoped being part of the small community would help them both heal, but Abby's sports coach is turning out to be a compelling distraction.

When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger in Cooktown. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they'll both lose someone they love

My thoughts:

From the very first pages you are drawn in and I could tell I was going to be in for a treat:

“The street was eerily quiet, as though holding its breath.”

Helene Young has produced an enthralling romantic suspense in ‘Northern Heat’, which will be released the end of May. This is the first time I have read one of her books, but I can tell you, it will not be the last.

The two lead characters, Conor and Kristy have a past - both have faced tragedy and bear the scars. That is what makes it so real - two mature individuals who have dealt with so much, that you cannot help but cheer them on, fingers and toes crossed for that happy ending. This story is contemporary, intelligent, and yet easy to read. It is this authenticity in women’s fiction that is both appealing and refreshing.

“He felt as though a door had been cracked wide open inside him, releasing a flood of memories he wanted to capture one last time before they flew away”.

Romantic suspense – perfectly sums it up. This is not straight chick lit, there is real drama here – both natural and man made – that add intrigue and most definitely suspense. It’s fast paced and you will find it hard to put down, providing the perfect balance between: strong likeable characters, an engaging romance set against the backdrop of quality drama. Overall there is a great cast of characters with even the supporting ones demonstrating such depth, you feel compassion for them also. 

“Life’s not always going to play by our rules… can wait for things to get better or you can go looking”.

I found myself reading this in a short period of time, eager to discover the stories behind Conor, Kristy and so many more. My only disappointment was some issues were not followed through on, especially in relation to the daughter’s health. But these were minor and did not detract from my overall satisfaction.

I also need to make mention of the exceptional descriptions – outback life in remote Cooktown (northern Australia) and what living through a cyclone might be like. Once again, real writing that made me feel as if I was in the eye of the storm.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it has a bit of everything - suspense, action, drama, romance
. Be sure to put this on your pre-order list - you will not be disappointed. Helene Young has gone to one of my fave Aussie authors.

“Find the joy in life again, live in the moment, not the future”

To pre order your copy ready for 27 May, please click on the links below:

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, May 22, 2015

Review: Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella

Title:  Helen of Sparta

Author: Amalia Carosella
Publisher: 1st April 2015 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, Greek mythology, romance
My Rating:  four cups

Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.
A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate. 
My thoughts:

This was a really enjoyable read. There are not many people who have not heard of Helen of Troy -  ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’ – but this story goes right back, long before Troy and Paris and that is what makes it unique. One of the things that set this book apart from so many others concerning this topic is that it comes from Helen’s point of view! Quite the twist on the often male dominated perspectives. You’ll like her, I am sure.

The author seamlessly winds together a riveting tale, combining the famous mythology with a fresh pair of female eyes as we trace Helen’s early years and the adventurous journey she embarks on. So instead of this often passively portrayed woman, we see develop a girl to a woman: one who assumes strong principles, great depth but also one who is flawed and very human. Helen is not a stand-alone; there are many primary and secondary characters that will quickly have you taking sides. I must confess on a personal level, it was refreshing to have a strong, mature and wise male lead in Theseus:

“ I am your servant….even if I cannot bring you to Athens openly as my wife, I will see you made safe. You have my word”.

This tale has it all! Adventure, romance and of course as we well know, tragedy. However, presented in such a refreshing context, it’s as if one is reading new material for the first time - surely a sign of a serious author. For as Carosella states:

“I wanted to give Helen the opportunity for something better – a chance to take her life into her own hands. After more than twenty-five hundred years of texts in which she’s been pushed round by men and gods, I think she’s earned it”.

Where does it lose some points? The highly contentious ending – wow - lots of thoughts on this one from reviewers far and wide. Without giving anything away, suffice to say I found it abrupt. Yes, it can be viewed as a complete novel where enough closure was had for one to reach your own conclusions. However, there is plenty of room for a sequel. Simply put, I was caught out by the abrupt final page and – even though to go on would be into territory many are familiar with – I stormed off to Facebook to shout my indignation, for I had not seen it coming. Truthfully speaking, perhaps all that was left would be a heartbreaking conclusion:

“And perhaps that was the truth of it all. Perhaps this war, this destruction, this death, (was) all mine.”

This book is fast paced and you will find it difficult to put down - the plot is captivating, the characters intriguing. Give yourself leave and immerse yourself in these times long gone. Spend some time with what I would like to consider is the ‘real’ Helen of Sparta.

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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: The Canterbury Sisters

Title:  The Canterbury Sisters

Author: Kim Wright
Publisher: 19th May 2015 by Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, contemporary, British Literature
My Rating:  two and a half cups


Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.

Within days she joins a group of women who are walking the sixty miles from London to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, reputed to be the site of miracles. In the best Chaucer tradition, the women swap stories as they walk, each vying to see who can best describe true love. Che, who is a perfectionist and workaholic, loses her cell phone at the first stop and is forced to slow down and really notice the world around her, perhaps for the first time in years.

Through her adventures along the trail, Che finds herself opening up to new possibilities in life and discovers that the miracles of Canterbury can take surprising forms.

My thoughts:

The book tells the stories of 9 women that are doing a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Canterbury. In the spirit of Chaucer, each will tell a story of love as they progress with their journey. Sounds appealing. Well, I am sorry to say, I had A LOT of issues with this book.

The premise of the book was what attracted me in the first place (well, that and the cover - the relevance of it being a whole other issue). However, it was very different from what I initially expected and the further along I went, the more frustrated I became. There were too many characters and I felt that because of this, there was not enough foundation laid which in turn led it to being somewhat superficial. There were also several inclusions of information that did not make sense; that it appears to be an information dump. For example: a detailed discussion on Cinderella being the one true princess. At times the author jumps around and off topic:

“My mind flashes back to a vineyard tour I took last summer in Sonoma”.

However my main criticism with the book is that the central character, Che, is the least likeable. She's judgmental of others; thinks nothing of ‘hurling insults’ at her fellow travellers; her words and actions leaving a bad taste, therefore I felt little to no sympathy for her:

“ The only black person in the group, which should have made it easier to remember her name, but I can’t think of that one either”.

And her random departure on the trip without informing others, says much about her character –

“You’re thinking that I’m playing a cruel game with him”


Seeing few flaws in herself, being the strong minded individual Che is, I find it hard to reconcile her choices:

“Here’s what I don’t have. I don’t have a mother, or a lover, or a phone, or any fucking clue of why I’m here ….. I do not deny that on occasion I can be clever, witty talented, good in bed, and yes, even attractive”.

At times she is far too flippant for my liking, that I obviously can’t appreciate what can only be described as black comedy:

“An incinerated human body creates a lot of ash. I can afford to scatter some of her willy-nilly along the way…(some ends up in her mouth)…Of course. What else? I spit her out and turn back”.

On the whole I found the stories more often than not depressing, and Che a rather sad individual:

“It isn’t forty that rips a woman’s life into bits, it’s fifty”.

“If you start to think, who knows, you might start to feel and there’s no telling where that winding road might lead. This is why we must have our books and phones, and earbuds and lovers, even if they’re the wrong people”.

So it was a two star read for me until at almost 80% of the book gone, some semblance of genuine voice comes through. Sadly, the problem is, having read through so much angst, the message gets lost. That being:

“That no matter how far or fast we walk, everyone eventually circles back. Comes face-to-face with whatever they were trying to escape”.

This is great stuff, but sadly just too little too late for me:

“Because this is what we have all come for. All this time, all this way. All the weird shit that’s happened. This is what it’s been leading up to, isn’t it?”

How best to sum up The Canterbury Sisters, it’s …

“mile after mile, hour after hour, through the English countryside listening to tales of compromise and reinvention, stories of jealous sisters …. dementia and pornography, because once a woman gets past a certain age…she’s forced to accept that when it comes to love, things will never be simple again”.

Such a sad outlook and having had to wade through so much, I did not find the resolution at the end had been worth the journey.

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, May 12, 2015

Review: One Summer in Venice

Title:  One Summer in Venice

Author: Nicky Pelligrino
Publisher: 14th April 2015 by Hachette Australia - Orion
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit
My Rating:  three cups

'This isn't a mid-life crisis OK? For a start I'm not old enough yet to have one of those. I'm calling it a happiness project. I've stolen an entire summer from my life and by the time it's over I plan to leave this place with a list in my hand. The ten things that make me happy, that's all I want to know. How difficult can it be? They may be small things - a perfect cup of coffee, a day without rain - or bigger ones. It's still the beginning so how can I know?'

Addolorata Martinelli knows she should be happy. She has everything she thought she wanted - her own business, a husband, a child. So why does she feel as if something is missing? Then when her restaurant, Little Italy, is slated by a reviewer, she realises that she's lost the one thing she thought she could always count on, her love of food.

So Addolorata heads to Venice for a summer alone, aiming to find the ten things that make her happy. Once she's found them, she'll construct a new life around her ten things, but will they include her life in London?

My thoughts:

“Am I missing out? Is there another life I ought to be leading?....I wasn’t sure I like who I’d become. Still, I was getting through the days and weeks all right; I was managing”.

I was looking forward to reading about this purported middle-aged heroine taking what could be described as a sabbatical to Venice. Maybe another type of, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ would be forthcoming. Whilst it contained some interesting components, there was nothing really new or enlightening, no real fresh insights to deliver. I did not feel a great deal of empathy for Dolly either (the main character) as she did come off at times as being quite selfish. The draw card is Coco - she is the real story here - such an enigma, charismatic is her middle name and the way her story slowly unfolded was entertaining.

“Do the things that make you happy.
What if I don’t know what they are?
Then I think you really do have a problem”.

I have to give the book credit for the setting. Venice is lavishly described so well, that many a time you could picture yourself walking the narrow pathways. I also have to give the book points for its sumptuous food descriptions – rich like the foods being lovingly prepared. The final interesting aspect is the inclusion of the dance, the tango. Whether professionals or learners, everything from the steps to the interpretation were vividly described.

“I’ve decided my life is just like the tango now. I won’t force it along; I need to let it happen naturally, stay in the moment, stay with the feeling, live with my heart not my head. I’m getting better at it”.

But back to Dolly. There were pearls of wisdom that were sprinkled throughout as she soaked up Venice – the lifestyle, culture and cuisine.  Her objective was to discover what made her happy – really happy.

“What do I want from my life? I want to be happier. Don’t you?...All of us deserve some. But how many days and weeks had I let slip by in a fug of greyness and dejection? How often even did I notice whether I was happy or not?”

So she makes new friends, takes afternoon naps, tries new styles of dressing, discovers the local attractions and learns to cook again for the love of it. Slowly she begins to unwind and formulate the list of things that make her happy. At the conclusion, her lesson is to attempt to live her life differently, ensuring time for the rediscovery of the things that make her smile. Idealistic? Maybe, however, as she learnt from Coco:

“I can’t change the past and undo my mistakes. All I can do is get on with life. Keep going and keep trying. It’s all any of us can do”.

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.