Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: Beyond the Orchard

Title: Beyond The Orchard
Author: Anna Romer
Publisher: 1 November 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, mystery
My Rating: 5 cups


A haunting story of yearning, love and betrayal from the bestselling author of Thornwood House

Lucy Briar has arrived home in turmoil after years overseas. She’s met her fiancĂ© in London and has her life mapped out, but something is holding her back.

Hoping to ground herself and find answers, Lucy settles into once familiar routines. But old tortured feelings flood Lucy’s existence when her beloved father, Ron, is hospitalised and Morgan – the man who drove her away all those years ago – seeks her out.

Worse, Ron implores Lucy to visit Bitterwood Estate, the crumbling historic family guesthouse now left to him. He needs Lucy to find something– an old photograph album, the very thing that drove Ron and his father apart.

Lucy has her own painful memories of Bitterwood, darkness that has plagued her dreams since she was young. But as Lucy searches for the album, the house begins to give up its ghosts and she is driven to put them to rest.

And there, held tightly between the house, the orchard and the soaring cliffs, Lucy uncovers a long-hidden secret that shattered a family’s bond and kept a frightened young girl in its thrall ... and Lucy discovers just how fierce the lonely heart can be.

My Thoughts

This is Anna Romer’s third book and I couldn’t wait to read it. I am happy to say that the high standard she set from the very beginning of her literary career has continued. What an amazing author she is proving to be, with this instalment cementing her in the upper echelon of Australian writers.

“Drinking in the night air, he blinked to clear his eyes, clutching her to him, wishing he could turn back time, wishing . . . but no; he would not let his mind revisit what he had done.”

I was hooked from the first page as she deftly wove a superior tale of secrets that seamlessly went from past to present. That takes skill. For you see this is a historical mystery with a touch of romance of the very highest calibre. A story that will draw you in and keep you glued to the very end.

“Through the orchard I went, following the torch beam along the path and down the slope to the dank clearing.”

Beyond the Orchard is yet another atmospheric tale of past tragedies, betrayal, love and of secrets. There is such great depth and character to both the players and plot. At its heart it is a mystery and you are the passenger, as Romer deftly moves the puzzle pieces around the board, with revelations slowly unfolding. It’s so engaging and authentic with snapshots from three past generation, all woven together to a fulfilling conclusion.

“Instinct told me that the developed photos –along with the other items –were all pieces of a much larger puzzle.”

Romer can now be called a master of contemporary and historical family stories with her latest, Beyond the Orchard, up there with her previous two novels. I have no hesitation in highly recommending this book. Much like the main character, as a reader you will be ....

“... drawn into a vortex where past and present existed simultaneously. It made me giddy, made my pulse thunder in my ears, made my skin damp with anticipation. Made me ever more determined to find the explanation.”

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, October 28, 2016

Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

Title: The Lake House
Author: Kate Morton
Publisher:  Atria Books (October 20, 2015)
ISBN: 9781451649321
Pages: 495 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: Women's Fiction, General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Mystery
My Rating: 4.5 cups 


From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours, an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets.

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.

My Thoughts:

"It wasn't so much the discovery of a single clue, as the coming together of many small details. That moment when the sun shifts by a degree and a spider's web, previously concealed, begins to shine like fine-spun silver. Because suddenly Sadie could see how it all connected and she knew what had happened that night."

Kate Morton never disappoints. Her books are always sure to be full of secrets and mysteries woven together like the spider web mentioned in the quote above, and she is a master at revealing and connecting the threads of that web, while throwing in various misdirections to keep her readers on their toes. All counts are true in her latest work, The Lake House, and she has turned out a winner once again.

She ever so skillfully weaves the threads together, revealing the secrets at the perfect pace, and while some twists you can see coming, others take you delightfully by surprise. Her stories are always so well crafted, however, that even when you've guessed the twist it doesn't ruin the reveal.

As always, Morton executes the intricate plot and dual timelines in this tale perfectly, and her descriptive prose is rich and gorgeous.

"This house might easily have been forgotten but for the story attached to it, the infamy of that little boy’s disappearance. Over time the infamy had gained an echo and eventually it had ripened into folklore. The fairy story of a little boy lost and a house cast into an eternal sleep, holding its breath as the garden continued to tumble and grow around it."

One of the main characters in this book is an author of mystery books, and I loved the many observations on storytelling and parallels to Morton's own craft interspersed throughout this novel.

"She'd realized recently (an awareness that coincided with her new obsession for Agatha Christie) that what her previous story attempts were missing was a puzzle, a complex, knotty twist of events designed to mislead and bewilder readers. Also, a crime. The key to the perfect novel, Alice had decided, was to revolve the story around a crime's solution, all the while tricking the reader by making it seem she was doing one thing when in fact she was merrily doing another."

Although it may not take over the top spot as my absolute favorite Morton novel, The Lake House is an outstanding read which further cements this writer's position on my list of "must read" authors. You simply cannot go wrong with a Kate Morton book!

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 23, 2016

Review: The Invitation

Title: The Invitation
Author: Lucy Foley
Publisher: August 2nd 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical/general fiction, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups


An evocative love story set along the Italian Riviera about a group of charismatic stars who all have secrets and pasts they try desperately--and dangerously--to hide.

Rome, 1953: Hal, an itinerant journalist flailing in the post-war darkness, has come to the Eternal City to lose himself and to seek absolution for the thing that haunts him. One evening he finds himself on the steps of a palazzo, walking into a world of privilege and light. Here, on a rooftop above the city, he meets the mysterious Stella. Hal and Stella are from different worlds, but their connection is magnetic. Together, they escape the crowded party and imagine a different life, even if it's just for a night. Yet Stella vanishes all too quickly, and Hal is certain their paths won't cross again.

But a year later they are unexpectedly thrown together, after Hal receives an invitation he cannot resist. An Italian Contessa asks him to assist on a trip of a lifetime--acting as a reporter on a tremendous yacht, skimming its way along the Italian coast toward Cannes film festival, the most famous artists and movie stars of the day gathered to promote a new film.

Of all the luminaries aboard--an Italian ingenue, an American star, a reclusive director--only one holds Hal in thrall: Stella. And while each has a past that belies the gilded surface, Stella has the most to hide. As Hal's obsession with Stella grows, he becomes determined to bring back the girl she once was, the girl who's been confined to history.

An irresistibly entertaining and atmospheric novel set in some of the world's most glamorous locales, THE INVITATION is a sultry love story about the ways in which the secrets of the past stay with us--no matter how much we try to escape them.

My Thoughts

“You know, my friend, I have found that the best way to come to terms with one’s past is like this, through talk. It is painful, but, little by little, it helps to diffuse its power.”

This is a beautifully written book, with rich descriptions of settings along the Mediterranean - from the coast of Italy, to the south of France. Having read Lucy Foley’s first book and enjoyed it, I was eager to see what she would come up with next. Although I was interested to read to the end, I have to confess to skimming some sections, at times never fully engaged, feeling somewhat detached from characters and actions.

“It is only afterwards, with the clumsiness and misunderstanding of speech, that the distance grows once more.”

I had trouble connecting with the two main characters of  Hal and Stella, and indeed, felt that even they lacked that deep connection that was supposedly apparent to justify their actions.  I didn’t feel their passion. In fact, many of the characters lacked depth with only Stella being given flashbacks (interesting why only her past was deemed necessary). I did, however, enjoy the character of the Contessa, reminiscent of some famous film star. She was the one who demonstrated real warmth and understanding. Alternatively, Truss - a major player - was seriously underdeveloped. It would have been so beneficial to understand his motivations to better appreciate his role as the ‘bad guy’.

“I mean, you only have to look at us all. Apart from Giulietta, perhaps. We’re quite a ragtag bunch. She collects hopeless cases.”

This book took some time to get going and dragged a bit in the middle. I also found the ending to be inconclusive/confusing in some ways, as it was open to interpretation. Overall, however, it was an enjoyable piece of historical fiction and like I stated, Foley does write beautifully. Sadly, however, I was not as enamoured with this tale as I was with her first book.

“When you find something that rare, amico, it is seldom a matter of choice. If you find it, you must hold to it, fast.”

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, October 5, 2016

Review: The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy

Title: The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy
Author: Beau North and Brooke West
Publisher: 4 October 2016 by Beau North
Pages: 242 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4.5 cups


“He could no longer claim to be Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire, brother to Georgiana, master of Pemberley. In that moment, he was but a man. A man filled with more frustration than most souls could bear. A man torn asunder by his desperation, his fruitless dreams and desires.”

After Elizabeth Bennet rejects his marriage proposal, Fitzwilliam Darcy finds himself in the most unusual of circumstances. At first believing the extraordinary turn of events has granted him an inexplicable boon, he is eager to put the humiliating proposal behind him.

He soon discovers that he is trapped in the same waking dream with no end in sight and no possible escape. All that he holds dear—his name, his home, his love—remains ever out of reach. How will he find his way back to his normal life? Will one mistake haunt the rest of his days? It will take all of his fortitude to weather the storms of his strange new fate, and all of his courage to grasp the promise of his future.

My Thoughts

“In vain I have struggled, it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Okay….I admit it - I am an Austen fangirl who can recite that above quote word for word! Still, with the plethora of adaptations out there, I like to think I am somewhat discerning. As to this book …. I loved it! In this clever adaptation, Darcy is trapped in a time warp (think Groundhog Day) after his disastrous proposal to Elizabeth. How? He knows not. Why? To give Darcy a second chance to right a wrong, to make good, to show the real Darcy we all know and love.

Darcy was more convinced that he was presently serving some type of punishment for a crime still unknown to him.

“Good God, what is happening to me?” he wondered aloud. “It is the same day.”

If you know the famous Pride and Prejudice, you know how this is all going to end. But how clever of these authors to take this much loved story, add a twist and have us all on the edge of our seats to see how we will arrive at our happily ever after.

Could she know how she affected him, setting his every thought aflame? He had to put his hands against the pianoforte, holding himself in place to keep from going to her.

I will admit that it lost a little for me as we entered something like ‘Day 70’ of the repeat performance and I found myself thinking, ‘okay, time to move on now’. There were only so many variations in Darcy’s repertoire to try and change the outcome that found him trapped in reliving his agonising rebuttal. Don’t despair, the humour and poignancy will keep you turning the pages to the very end.

And let’s just think about that Epilogue - sweet, sentimental and pulled at your Austen heartstrings. Overall, this book is most definitely creative and delightful.

“No,” he said through his clenched jaw. “You will not take this from me. Perhaps I never knew you, but I think it is clear that you never knew 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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review: To the Bright Edge of the World

Title: To the Bright Edge of the World
Author: Eowyn Ivey
Publisher: 9 August 2016 by Hachette Australia - Headline
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction,
My Rating: 3 cups


Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she bought to stunningly vivid life in THE SNOW CHILD, Eowyn Ivey's new novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska's hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.

A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated THE SNOW CHILD, and with the sweep and insight that characterised Rose Tremain's The Colour, this new novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent.

My Thoughts

This is a fictionalised story of an apparent real life expedition of 1885 into what what would become Alaskan territory. I had hoped to like this story more than I did. It contained many beautiful descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness, a love story and interesting cultural information about the Indian tribes during that time period and some magical legends that came to life.

Sadly, the story moved at too slow a pace, with not enough engaging moments to induce me. Told entirely through journal entries, military logs or letters, written by five different characters during two time periods, the focus was most definitely shared and, at times, rather passive. The characters were interesting, but lacked depth with me feeling I didn't get to know them very well. However, the descriptions of the climate and surroundings of life in Alaska at the time was well done.

This book is well written, if at times, overly descriptive and a little drawn out.

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