Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Mackenzie Crossing

Title: Mackenzie Crossing
Author: Kaye Dobbie
Publisher: 21st  November 2016 by Harlequin (Australia) TEEN/MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, historical fiction, contemporary romance, women’s fiction, culture-Australia
My Rating: 5 cups


An old photograph holds the key to a missing man, a past love and a long-lost mountain village.

A passion for photography draws two stories together across time to Mackenzie Crossing.

Neville ‘Pom’ Darling, is on the hunt for the perfect photograph.

Skye Stewart, is searching for her long lost grandfather.

It’s 1939, and Neville, escaping an unhappy marriage and his memories of the Great War, finds himself in Mackenzie Crossing on the day of the terrible Black Friday bushfires. He meets the beautiful Georgie Mackenzie and in an instant knows that she is the subject he has been looking for. As the heat intensifies, Georgie and Pom begin to wonder if they have a future together; but first, they must survive the blaze.

Almost sixty years later, Sky Stewart returns to the area in search of her grandfather. Did he survive the Black Friday bushfires? Who is the exotic woman in the photograph she found? But when she arrives in Elysian, the closest town to where Mackenzie Crossing used to be, she finds more of her hidden past than she bargained for. A more recent past which she would prefer stayed forgotten…

My Thoughts

“Mackenzie Crossing was wild and lonely, not at all what she’d been expecting, but there was also a beauty about it. A desolate beauty that was beginning to creep into her heart despite herself.”

Checking off another addition to my growing list of Aussie outback authors, Kaye Dobbie delivers a fabulous drama. I found the 1939 and 1997 stories were both compelling, always a hard thing to do when dual timelines run concurrently in a story. I believe this was because both captured my attention with worthy mysteries that kept me guessing right up until the end.

“Royal commissioner who said, and I quote, “… it appeared the whole state was alight on Friday thirteenth of January nineteen thirty-nine”

The infamous Friday 13th January, 1939 – ‘Black Friday’ - when it felt as if the entire state of Victoria was ablaze, presents the story of the Neville Darling. 1997 finds Skye Stewart, having recently discovered her grandfather was not her biological grandfather, undertakes to discover who this mysterious Neville Darling really was. Combine that with the flashbacks to her teenage years, almost 20 years ago and ‘that’ night, and one understands why this book is full of twists and turns.

The narrative alternates between Neville’s story in 1939 and Skye’s in 1997 (with some flashbacks to Skye’s past with Finn as teenagers - you’re going to love him!), Mackenzie Crossing is well paced and has three fascinating plots that will engage you to the very end. It will jump back and forth between time periods but I did not find this difficult to follow.

“It came from familiarity with the summer fires, and possibly the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, which he found in equal measure frustrating and endearing.”

I found Mackenzie Crossing to be a brilliant read - it was extremely well done. The 1939 Black Friday bushfires were horrific and the way the people dealt with it at the time was amazing. Neville’s relationship with those on the mountain is most memorable. But this is also a tale about secrets, both past and present, with the impact it has on those we love or can’t help loving. As Skye struggles to unravel the mystery behind her biological grandfather, in the contrastingly frozen and wintry present, you will inwardly cheer for her progress, especially when it comes to finding true love. I have no hesitation in highly recommending this wonderful Aussie drama.

“Over time, though, being out here in the never-never, the isolation, the stillness of the bush and mountains, began to restore his battered soul. Not completely—he’d probably never be completely mended—and why should he, when so many were dead? But there was a sense of renewal that he’d never expected.”

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, December 25, 2016

Review: The German Girl

Title: The German Girl
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Publisher: 1 December 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, world war II
My Rating: 5 cups


Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now the streets of Berlin are draped in swastikas and Hannah is no longer welcome in the places she once considered home.

A glimmer of hope appears in the shape of the St Louis, a transatlantic liner that promises Jews safe passage to Cuba. The Rosenthals sell everything to fund visas and tickets. At first the liner feels like luxury, but as they travel the circumstances of war change, and it soon becomes their prison.

Seven decades later in New York, on her twelfth birthday Anna Rosen receives a package from Hannah, the great-aunt she never met but who raised her deceased father. Anna and her mother immediately travel to Cuba to meet this elderly relative, and for the first time Hannah tells them the untold story of her voyage on the St Louis.

My Thoughts

‘We would belong forever to the exiles, to the people nobody wanted, the ones who had been forced from their homes since the dawn of time.’

I consider myself a fairly well-read person, but this, I knew nothing about. This is the story of the St. Louis, a ship that promised safe passage from Germany to Cuba, in May 1939. The ship’s 937 passengers were almost all Jews fleeing the Third Reich and seeking asylum. This is truly an unforgettable debut novel and congratulations to Correa for bringing this little known event to the public spotlight. For you see, only 28 were allowed to disembark in Cuba, and the remaining were forced to sail back as few countries would accept them. Powerful stuff, and as expressed in the book:

‘By shedding light onto the tragedies of our past, Correa invites us to reflect on the troubles that are still impacting refugees all over the world today.’

Correa bases a fictional story around the 1939 Saint Louis journey and there is just much to love about this book. I loved the story of Hannah and Leo so much, their relationship is memorably heartbreaking. Not to mention the heroic captain, Gustav Schroder, that will have you running to Google more on the short and long term fallout of the whole disaster.  I was also fascinated by the parallels drawn between Nazi Germany and Communist Cuba - something I had never considered. Then there are the rich and evocative descriptive scenes set in  Berlin, the St Louis and Cuba which  are vivid and real.

‘We, the ridiculously gullible ones, had believed the Ogres when they authorized us to leave after handing over our businesses, our homes, our fortunes. How on earth could we have been so stupid as to trust them?’

The story alternates between that of Hannah and Anna, their joys and heartbreaks, their friendships and fears. Given the material for this story, you might be thinking it is depressing - and no doubt there is plenty of tragedy that is confronting; however, it will move you in a more reflective way. It is powerful and emotional, with moments of joy that brought a lump to my throat. Let’s be frank, even after all these years the author bravely presents a fresh angle on a sensitive topic. But gosh! It is done well. I would go as far as to say this is a stunning debut novel that moved me to my core.

“Millions of men with no work. Millions of children with no future. Save the German people!” I am German, too. Who was going to save me?”

I highly recommend this book to historical fiction fans. Take Hannah’s hand and run along the streets of Berlin, sail to Cuba with her and hold her hand even tighter as she finally confronts her memories and promises made. ‘The German Girl’ will pull at your heartstrings and rates as one of my best reads for 2016.

“Every day I wonder why I’m still alive!” she whispers, suddenly bursting into tears.

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, December 22, 2016

Review: Walking the Line

Title: Walking the Line
Author: Mandy Magro
Publisher: 21st  November 2016 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN/MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: chick lit, contemporary romance, women’s fiction, australian outback
My Rating: 4 cups


For how long can secrets stay buried?

Country-loving Dallas Armstrong is a hard-as-nails bull rider, who dreams of becoming Australian champion, just like his father, Mick, was. But when he discovers a shocking secret about his father on the same day Mick dies in a car accident, Dallas’s world is turned upside down. Now it’s up to him to protect his mother from the truth, and to keep the family farm Rollingstone Ridge afloat. And he will do everything in his power to do so.

Charlize Dawson is a successful city journalist whose marriage is in tatters. Begrudgingly sent to the country to write about Dallas, she is surprised to find that he isn’t the arrogant cowboy she’d assumed he’d be. Instead she and Dallas and share an intense chemistry and deep connection that lead to a stolen kiss at the Rodeo Ball.

But when Charlize’s research for her article puts her on the path of uncovering Dallas’s secret, he demands she stop or lose him forever. Dallas or her career, which should she choose? How can she turn her back on the people who have welcomed her into their lives with open arms, all in the name of her job? Her career is all she has left, and she has worked so very hard to be where she is. But how can she reveal what she knows, if it means losing the love of her life?

My Thoughts

‘He liked to walk the line, stay on the straight and narrow, his search for love going beyond the pleasures of the flesh. He yearned to meet a woman that intrigued him, that challenged him, but also allowed him to be himself.’

On my continuing crusade to discover Aussie female writers in the increasingly popular rural romance category, I am happy to report that Mandy Magro provided a solid performance with her tale, ‘Walking the Line’. As she writes in her acknowledgements, it’s about forgettingthe dreaded housework, (keeping) you up until the wee hours of the morning (which it did! - and making)  you laugh out loud, as you reach for the tissues, leaving you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end.’

“His mother screamed the most heart-wrenching cry.”

The prologue threw you in right from the start, I found myself tearing up in the first few pages! For the remainder of the novel, that powerful prologue had started a journey, as the secret is slowly unfurled, with intrigue keeping you turning the pages. I thought it might be a predictable secret but it had the necessary twist that I did not foresee, which I was relieved with, as it was constantly alluded to.

‘Was it just her feeling the sexual energy around them, or did he feel the sparks too?’

Yes, this is a rural romance, so if you are seeking that kind of fix, then you won’t be disappointed. It’s light, with a tried and true formula, that will prove an engaging read. There are many forms of love throughout the generations - grandparents faithfulness, parents loyalty and lustful sparks for the two main leads. I liked many of the secondary characters and what mother could not love Dallas for the way he wanted to protect and care for his mother:

‘Katherine Armstrong’s big beautiful heart was already broken enough and it was his job to protect her, and to make her life happy again.’

Walking the Line is a perfect holiday read with it’s romance and suspense. It will appeal to a wide audience, especially fans of the rural romance genre. So give yourself a break and escape to the country for a breath of fresh air:

‘Country air has a way of revitalising you from the inside out and making you see things from a completely different angle.’

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, December 13, 2016

Review: The Trouble with Henry and Zoe

Title: The Trouble with Henry and Zoe
Author: Andy Jones
Publisher: 1 December 2016 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, chick lit
My Rating: 4 cups


Henry and Zoe have more in common than they realise. For a start, they both have pasts they'd rather leave behind.

After jilting his childhood sweetheart on the eve of their wedding in the small town where they both grew up, Henry runs away to London, planning to reinvent himself and start afresh.

Zoe has her own healing to do and so she plans to leave London, travel the world, and figure out just what it is she wants out of life. She doesn't know where she's going, but she is determined to go there alone.

If Henry and Zoe had met one year ago, perhaps things could have worked out differently. But that's not the way it works; they meet seven months after their worlds have been turned upside down. And four months before Zoe is due to climb on a plane...

My Thoughts

‘I know, but Zoe’s .. . it’s complicated.’
‘Newsflash, Henry, life is complicated. You deal with it, you move on.’

This was such an interesting, little quirky book - real and very honest. It’s all about relationships - relationships with lovers, friends, one’s parents, even the love you should hold for yourself. It’s a ‘rom-com’ for literature yet, looking beyond the superficial, it asks some very pertinent questions -  should one stay in a relationship if you are not in love?

‘Should you smile and say ‘for better or worse’ when you suspect that of the two options the latter is by far the more likely?’

There are many engaging characters that will surely keep you turning the pages. However, for the two main characters, the author comes at it from a different angle. For you see they meet having just come out of relationships (and not the way you think!) Herein lies the tension, as they get to know one another. The problem is, however, Zoe has a planned overseas trip:

‘It feels like we’re at the start of something, and the more I learn about him and reveal about myself, the more I want . . . more. I don’t want to leave him, but the whole point of my year away is to find and fend for myself –and I’m not sure you can do that with someone holding your hand.’

Being a fan of the Golden Years of Hollywood, I also love the throwback to old movies and how they are tied in:

‘Brief Encounter, An Affair to Remember, Roman Holiday, His Girl Friday. Stories about love, thwarted by timing, pride, circumstance, politics, family, money, war, others. Stories with only two endings; will they/won’t they stories, although you can usually guess which.’

As I said, it is a very real and honest portrayal and I found that most appealing as it makes more believable. There are sad parts, funny parts and frustrating parts, with an ending that might surprise you.

‘Ten more Saturday nights and then it’s over. I knew from the outset that this .. . thing . . . was running out from the moment it started, but this official deadline hits me like a rejection. It feels like we’re just getting started –we are just getting started –but now the calendar has been marked with a hard ‘X’.

Will they? Won’t they? I couldn’t guess! Yet the story  left me feeling satisfied that there does not have to be complete romantic closure; that anything is possible, especially when having the confidence to start over. If life is unsatisfactory in some way, then find ways to become inspired and choose a new path.

‘We won’t be together when the credits roll, but we will have a story. But a lot can happen in seven weeks, so I remind myself to shut up, sit back and enjoy the final act.’

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, December 10, 2016

Review: Candlelight at Christmas

Title: Candlelight at Christmas
Author: Katie Fford
Publisher: 24th November 2016 by Random House UK / Cornerstone Digital
Pages: 66 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: christmas, chick lit, romance, women’s fiction
My Rating: 3 cups


Welcome back some familiar characters and treat yourself to some extra romance with this exclusive, straight-to-digital short story from the Sunday Times No. 1 Bestseller.

Fenella and Rupert are organising the perfect Christmas, surrounded by their friends in their beautiful Somerby house.

Until Fenella gets a phone call from her ghastly parents-in-law asking if they can join them for the holiday. Fenella couldn't possibly refuse and besides, it could be worse.

But when they arrive and the house is suddenly plunged in darkness thanks to a power cut, Fenella knows she has her work cut out to keep everyone happy and pull off the perfect Christmas feast.

My Thoughts
Having read Katie Fforde's novels before and enjoyed them, I thought it time to try one of her famous Christmas novellas. Although a stand-alone, this clearly features couples from a previous book - this may enhance reading, but in no way detracts from it. However,  if you had read the full-length novel,  you may get more from this novella; but it is perfectly possible to read it without having read the full length novel associated with these characters.
The story is very short and, given this, it is often difficult to get to know characters in such a short space of time. However, Katie Fford is a master writer and she achieves much within these few pages. - a difficult thing to do, but the Christmas atmosphere presented, a time for giving and embracing family (for better or worse) combined with the increase in stress levels,  shine through these pages and succeed in giving you that warm, festive feeling that one looks for from a Christmas book/novella.

Candlelight at Christmas is set at the 'big house' Somerby, which featured in Fford’s full length novel, Recipe for Love. It's a sweet little story, focused on the everyday - dealing with uninvited guests, family dramas and of course, it wouldn't be Katie Fforde if it didn't have a little romance. All up, a satisfying novella for this Christmas period.  

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