Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review: A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald

Title: A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald
Author: Natasha Lester
Publisher: 26 April 2016 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 5 cups

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.

Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?

My Thoughts

Wow! What a breath of fresh air this book was! I LOVED it! Just before I was about to commence reading it, I came across the short free prequel and that really set the scene. I am so glad I read this short 50 page introduction (not a prerequisite) as it introduced you to characters that will lend itself nicely to the main event. 

One sign of a good read for me, is my lack of highlighting. I am so lost in the prose that I don't think or need to detail any passages. For you see from the time I first opened 'A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald', I became immersed in a whole new world that I did not want to leave. Natasha Lester presents such an absorbing tale, an inspiring plot and characters that are so alive they jump right off the page at you. There is drama, humour, great sadness, philosophical debate and a timeless romance that will make it hard for you to step away from the book.

We follow in the steps of Evie, a determined young woman who longs to become a obstetrician and the lengths and sacrifices she goes to in an effort to accomplish that. This is the 1920s and for a woman to aspire to such a thing, is largely unheard of. My eyes were well and truly opened wide to all that she had to confront in this important time from history, for women, and for females in the medical profession. 

"Suffragettes and sciences. One wonders what some women will dream up next."

I loved the whole historical background and what it was like for women in those days - everything from societal roles and expectations (for both women and men), to breaking down the barriers, to the Ziegfeld girls, to the Jazz Age, to medical practices of the day, to the poor conditions many New Yorkers faced as Evie witnessed how the 'other half' live. 

The book is full of fascinating characters, and set in one of the most sumptuous eras of New York's history. The prohibition-era turns of phrase, cracking societal dialogue of the time, happening places, balls, outfits, even right down to the memorable train ride Evie would daily take. The cast of characters are endless - you will love some, you will despise some, but more importantly, you will easily imagine yourself partying amongst some, doing the Charleston with New York’s high society.

'A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald' is a well written story that will sit with me for quite some time to come. Evie was one of those special individuals born into a time that was not for her. So she took her ideals and aspirations and embarked on an amazing journey with strength and tenacity, kindness and compassion. She alone makes this a reason to pick up this book and lose yourself to the 1920s New York. 

"...this was why she'd come to New York. To feel as if she mattered. As if she was, finally, full of 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.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: A Perfumer's Secret

Title: A Perfumer's Secret
Author: Adria J. Cimino
Publisher: 16 May 2016 by Velvet Morning Press
Pages: 258 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary, cultural-France, romance mystery
My Rating: 3.5 cups


The quest for a stolen perfume formula awakens passion, rivalry and family secrets in the fragrant flower fields of the South of France... 

Perfumer Zoe Flore travels to Grasse, perfume capital of the world, to collect a formula: her inheritance from the family she never knew existed. The scent matches the one worn by her mother, who passed away when Zoe was a teenager. Zoe, competing to create a new fragrance for a prestigious designer, believes this scent could win the contract—and lead her to the reason her mother fled Grasse for New York City. Before Zoe can discover the truth, the formula is stolen. And she’s not the only one looking for it. So is Loulou, her rebellious teenage cousin; Philippe, her alluring competitor for the fragrance contract; and a third person who never wanted the formula to slip into the public in the first place. 

The pursuit transforms into a journey of self-discovery as each struggles to understand the complexities of love, the force of pride and the meaning of family.

My Thoughts

"Zoe was tired of creating the ordinary. She yearned to capture the diaphanous, the element of magic. That was the key to becoming an exceptional perfumer."

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the luscious cover! Gorgeous. Overall it proved to be a well written mystery, all revolving around the stolen formula for a fragrance. All Zoe has is the memories of her mother and one particular fragrance that she associates with her. It was very interesting to learn about the details that go into creating a fragrance - the whole corporate competition, combined with family infighting surrounding the creation of a winning fragrance - was new to me and noteworthy. Likewise, the descriptions of scents that are scattered all over the book, adds to the whole scentual experience; and finally, the setting in the south of France, is the final aspect that, all in all, provides for a pleasurable escape. 

"Pleasure came like the rhythm of a perfume: starting with the energetic burst of top notes, and finishing with the richness and depth of the base."

The disappointment for me was that I never fully invested in any of the characters. I would have loved to learn more about Zoe's mother, who is never fully involved or described. With her being so crucial to the whole plot, it would have been good to learn more about her as we went along, as opposed to this unknown mystery always being daggled throughout the story; the famous mother, always living in the shadows, and never really learning enough about her. This, then, has a flow on effect to our overall appreciation (in my opinion).

"She wanted to believe that this woman who could produce the scent of warm Floridian sand and early morning sunshine was a fanciful as her creations."

The characters were, at times, a little too stereotypical and I was more interested in the missing fragrant formula and recreating, or attempting to recreate, the long lost scent. Maybe due to the competitive theme throughout the tale, I found some characters to be dislikable, or silly and very self absorbed. I did not really swallow the 'insta-love', there were lots of 'unwanted tears' and that door was slammed so many times, it's a wonder it did not fall off its hinges:

"for the very last time, she had slammed the front door of the house."

What kept me going was the mystery, and how it unfolded in the end, made me happy I persevered. Finally learning the secret behind the creation of her mother's scent was interesting. I just wish the author had not saved it all up for the final few pages. 

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 20, 2016

Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Title: Lilac Girls: A Novel
Author: Martha Hall Kelly
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (April 5, 2016)
ISBN: 9781101883075
Pages: 496 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3 cups

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.

On the eve of a fateful war, New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline's world is forever changed when Hitler's army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she sinks deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspect neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. But, once hired, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious female-only Nazi concentration camp. The tragedy and triumph of their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, and Germany to Poland—capturing the indomitable pull of compassion to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

In Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly has crafted a remarkable novel of unsung women and their quest for love, happiness, and second chances. It is a story that will keep readers bonded with the characters, searching for the truth, until the final pages.

My Thoughts:

This is an ambitious debut novel, and I found it to be a good read but not a great one. Not an easy one either - but that's no surprise given the subject matter. Tales surrounding the Holocaust are seldom "light" reading, and much of the story here is quite grim and disturbing.

This book spans many years, beginning in the lead up to WWII and continuing well into its aftermath. It is a challenging tale to tell and no small task managing such a long timeline. This author does so with varying success, occasionally skipping over quite large periods of time which can give the writing a choppy feel. As the synopsis states, the story is told from the perspectives of three very different women: Caroline, an American socialite and philanthropist; Kasia, a Polish teenager and member of the Resistance; and Herta, a German physician and Nazi camp surgeon. Caroline and Herta were real people, while Kasia is a fictional character inspired by actual prisoners. Kudos to the author for attempting to represent Herta's viewpoint, which surely must have been a difficult perspective to envision and write. I'm not convinced she was entirely successful with this, but I do respect her effort in taking on such an unsympathetic and unrelatable character.

Much of the story centers around Ravensbrück, Hilter's only exclusively female concentration camp, where Kasia is eventually imprisoned and becomes one of the so-called "Ravensbrück Rabbits" - subjects of the horrific and torturous sulfonamide experiments performed at the camp by Nazi doctors, including Herta Oberheuser. Kasia's story is by far the most compelling, but be forewarned, the reading can be difficult and overwhelming, as Kelly does not shy away from the horrors and desperation of camp life and paints a vivid but harrowing picture. Interspersed chapters describing Caroline's work in New York at the French consulate, while not the most interesting, do help to temper the tale somewhat, but I still found myself having to set this book aside at times to take a break from the more grueling parts of the story.

The Author's Note at the end of the book is a highlight and well worth reading. It is full of additional information that sent me scouring the internet for more accounts of the actual events and people. Caroline Ferriday was a true hero in championing the cause of the "Rabbits" and bringing them to the States for medical treatment after the war. Unfortunately, she doesn't come across as quite so interesting in this book. Like several other reviewers, I found the fabricated romantic relationship between her and Paul Rodierre to be unnecessary and distracting. It seemed to serve little purpose other than to help introduce further effects of the war throughout Europe via the French storyline, and frankly, it became a bit of "information overload." In this and many aspects I feel the author simply tried to include too much and needed a more focused approach.

A little more selectivity in the storytelling may have evened things out and resulted in a better book, because I believe more time could have been spent shining a light on the courage shown by the imprisoned women in the face of the atrocities they endured. This aspect is touched on, to a point, but in my opinion is outweighed by their victimization and is not showcased enough. For these women truly were incredibly brave - helping each other, protecting and hiding the "Rabbits", secretly getting the story of their abuses out, staging a near mutiny in protest of those abuses. Theirs is a story worth telling, and they deserve to have their strength remembered just as much as their suffering, if not more.

"But it's fitting in a way...a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter."

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, May 15, 2016

Review: The Little Pieces of You and Me

Title: The Little Pieces of You and Me
Author: Vanessa Greene
Publisher: 21 April 2016 by Hachette Australia - Sphere
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups

Best friends Isla and Sophie made each other a promise a long time ago: to never let life pass them by. Years later, Isla is in love, living abroad and fulfilling her dreams. But for Sophie, things haven't turned out the way she was expecting and she hasn't achieved any of the things she and Isla talked about.
And then, in one sudden moment, life irrevocably changes for both women.
Isla and Sophie have hard decisions to make but above all else they must face up to the uncertainty that lies ahead. It's only when they realise that this is easier together, two friends standing side by side, that each woman can embrace whatever the future holds for them.
Emotional, poignant and uplifting, The Little Pieces of You and Me is a story about old friends, new beginnings and what happens when being strong is your only choice. It will take your breath away.
My Thoughts

"Life was no longer about the little pieces of her, of him - of anyone. It was about the big picture - about what happened when those pieces fell together into a whole."

Having read a Vanessa Greene book before, I was eager to dive into another of her famous female orientated stories.  With yet another tea cup on the front cover - reading and tea ... the two just go together so naturally, don't you think - I was ready to pour a cup myself and sit down to read. 

With Greene's tales you are guaranteed some good female leads, beautiful settings and just an all round feel-good ambiance. Friends coming together to battle some antagonism and never giving up hope.  This particular story focuses on two firm friends and, although there are the obvious relationship dramas, I particularly enjoyed the health aspect twist to this one. If you are looking for a read on genuine friendship and fresh starts, then this is the book for you.

However, I have to confess that although I very much enjoyed my first Greene book, I found this story to be lacking somewhat, I found myself wanting that little bit more, that extra something. Overall it did not really work for me and I think the problem was that things all seemed a bit contrived and too convenient. The potential was there, however, there was not enough depth to evoke real sympathy. For example, personally, I found the whole saga with Sophie hypocritical - just as she herself labelled it - so there went my true sympathies out the window.

This was a 'nice'/3 star/average read. I wanted to like it so much more, but it was just a bit too simple for me. Perhaps it needed more tea included and not just the lone cup on the cover. 

"Life can be complicated - but those complications don't make it any less worth living - in fact, sometimes they're the very things that make it worth living. Those little pieces are what make you, you , and me, me". 

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 13, 2016

Review: I Let You Go

Title: I Let You Go
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: 3 May 2016 by Berkley Publishing Group
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: thriller, mystery, fiction, crime, contemporary
My Rating: 4.5 cups


The next blockbuster thriller for those who loved The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl...a novel with "an astonishing intensity that drags you in and never—ever—lets you go." (Daily Mail, UK)
On a rainy afternoon, a mother's life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street . . .

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past. 
At the same time, the novel tracks the pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of this hit-and-run. As they chase down one hopeless lead after another, they find themselves as drawn to each other as they are to the frustrating, twist-filled case before them. Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into the Darkest Corner, says, “I read I Let You Go in two sittings; it made me cry (at least twice), made me gasp out loud (once), and above all made me wish I'd written it . . . a stellar achievement.” (*Peter James, author of Want You Dead)

My Thoughts

Let You Go is a psychological mystery by Clare Mackintosh. For a debut novel it is quite impressive. It's difficult to review as I want to give nothing away. Suffice to say, it is a cleverly written plot, with twists that will have you backtracking to double check what you read was correct ... "Wait. What?" How the story intertwines is seamless and done superbly. Even the title, 'I Let You Go', could pertain to a number of characters and situations. The complexity of plot, depth of characters, right amount of visual descriptions and killer twists all lends itself to one highly entertaining read. 

You will find yourself cruising along for the first half of the book and then WHAM! It becomes a whole new ball game - darker, sinister and excruciating disorientating.  From there on you will be compelled to push on until the end to discover the truth.  The detective and police work described in this book feels authentic, and it all makes sense when you read the Author's Note at the end where  Mackintosh wrote about her years as a police officer and all she encountered. 

I think I'll stop there as I don't want to give anything away.  Clare Mackintosh has ticked so many boxes with this one, it will appeal to a wide ranging audience -  a read for anyone who enjoys a great thriller with elements of mystery. 

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 6, 2016

Review: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

Title: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee
Author: Agnes Martin-Lugan
Publisher: 10 May 2016 by Weinstein Books
Pages: 256 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 2 cups


Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, a mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary cafe in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her beloved husband and daughter in a tragic car accident, the world as she knows it instantly vanishes. Trapped and haunted by her memories, Diane retreats from friends and family, unable and unwilling to move forward. 
But one year later, Diane shocks her loved ones and makes the surprising decision to move to a small town on the Irish coast, finally determined to heal and rebuild her life alone—until she meets Edward, the attractive yet taciturn Irish photographer who lives next door. At first abrasive and unwelcoming, Edward initially resents Diane’s intrusion into his life of solitude . . . until he can no longer keep her at arm’s length, and they fall into a surprising and tumultuous romance. But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland, and Edward, for the home she once ran away from in Paris? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane’s story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring.

My Thoughts

I was drawn in by the title of this book, "Happy People Read and Drink Coffee" - what book lover wouldn't be. Unfortunately, the title proved way more inviting that the actual story. So consider yourself warned. This is not a book about reading, it's not even really about coffee and it certainly is not about happy people. How ironic. 

It's a short read, more like a novella but everything about it was sadly caricatured and stereotypical. It was simplistic and adopted the overused storyline of: woman loses everything, moves to another country to find herself, meets handsome but moody neighbour and eventually they link up.

The only thing that was not thankfully predictable was the ending. It is not what you would have expected. However I did not feel any connection with the one-dimensional characters and very quickly tired of their constant smoking, and then another smoke and then, let's just have another. 

It wasn't terrible but it just wasn't any good. It had such potential with such an inviting title, but it didn't deliver at all. I think the major flaw of the book is its shortness. With such a sweeping array of emotions, its difficult in such a short span to find them believable! The author portrayed desperate grief to new found resolutions in the intake of a breath. It is a tall order to ask the reader to take that on board in the space of less that 300 pages. 

The bickering between the lead characters was juvenile and mundane, bordering on rude. A sign to me of the amateurish writing. I found the main character just so unlikeable - she was drama filled, depressed and depressing.

"Who'd want anything to do with you you? There's nothing interesting about you."

The later actions are unbelievable because of the vehement dislike openly spoken and acted upon between the two leads. All up, a majorly disappointing read. 

"Before going inside, I glanced at the sign. Happy people ... " and it was anything but!

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.