Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review: Victoria

Author: Daisy Goodwin
Publisher: 22 November 2016 by St Martin’s Press
Pages: 450 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, British literature, romance
My Rating: 5 cups


Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. Surely she must rely on her mother and her venal advisor, Sir John Conroy, or her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who are all too eager to relieve her of the burdens of power.

The young queen is no puppet, however. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.

Everyone keeps saying she is destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.

Drawing on Victoria s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen richly to life in this magnificent novel.

My Thoughts

“One day she would be Queen. Then everything would be different. If only her Uncle King would live until she was eighteen.”

I have eagerly anticipated reading this book and I am happy to say it delivered - I LOVED it! I am a big historical fiction fan and found this a highly enjoyable read. Now be warned, this is not the entire Queen Victoria saga and Albert only appears towards the latter part of the book. But, fingers crossed, it sets up for future penned stories. This book I found to be highly engaging as it tells the coming of age story of the young Victoria and her first two years as Queen. She is youthful, she is compulsive, she is immature and at times she is annoying. But gosh, she’s great!

This is a personal fictional recount, based on Daisy Goodwin’s extensive research, makes these early years well and truly come to life. This is not a boring historical tale but a lively, youthful recount of the moulding of a compulsive teenager into one of the most famous Queens of all time. Real historical characters are brought to life in a most compelling way and I admit I loved learning more about Lord Melbourne especially. The changing point of view for the main characters really assist the reader in developing a true understanding of their thoughts and motivations.

Initially Victoria had to battle against what had been traditionally a very male dominated political and royal arena. It was interesting to witness Victoria’s character develop and her determination form when confronted with many either vying for power or in pursuit of her hand in marriage. This is a book about relationships and whether it be with Victoria and her Prime Minister Lord Melbourne or Victoria with her mother or ladies in waiting or Uncle or prospective suitors - they are all presented in way that will please the reader.

“The only way he could serve his Queen was to find her a husband who would make her happy.”

Victoria and led a sheltered life until her ascension to the throne and, as a consequence with Lord Melbourne’s assistance, had to establish her own regal ways. This bonding, without giving anything away, was wonderful. My heart went out to the dashing Lord Melbourne.

“The silence that followed was thick with the weight of all the unspoken feeling. Melbourne saw that Victoria’s lip was trembling, and had to clasp his hands together so that he would not reach out and take her in his arms.”

I ardently hope that Goodwin will continue beyond these first couple of years and gift us with her literary interpretation of the real and lasting love story Victoria eventually develops with Prince Albert. For now - as one simply must read the book before the movie/TV adaptation - I cannot wait to view the BBC series with relish.

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, January 15, 2017

Review: From Rome with Love

Title: From Rome with Love
Author: Jules Wake
Publisher: 13 January 2017 by Harper Collins UK, Harper Impulse
Pages: 314 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, contemporary romance, culture Italy
My Rating: 4.5 cups


If you can’t stand the heat…
Rome is the city of love and seduction, right? Not if you find yourself staying in a beautiful apartment with your childhood-friend-turned-arch-enemy, Will Ryan…no matter how hot he is!
Romance is the last thing on Lisa’s mind. She’s got more important things to focus on, like hunting down her estranged father. Except when her search falls at the first hurdle, Will doesn’t just help her get back on track, he also shares the romantic sights – and exquisite tastes – of the Eternal City, and Lisa starts to wonder if it’s not just Rome seducing her.
Only, as Lisa and Will dig into the past, neither of them is prepared for the long-buried secrets they reveal. Secrets that will turn both their world’s upside down …

My Thoughts

In June I reviewed a Jules Wake book, ‘From Italy With Love’, and  thought it was loads of fun (click on the title to see the review). So when an opportunity came up to read another from the series, I jumped at the chance. What a fun series this is proving to be and although characters do arise from past books, each is very much a standalone read. You do not need to have read any of the other books but if you have, it’s like revisiting old friends and having a catch up which was nice.

I enjoyed this book tremendously - rating it even higher than previous ones. It was coasting along as a solid chick lit read, until about three quarters the way through and BAM! Such an unforeseen plot twist was introduced that elevated it that little bit more for me. For this is where Jules Wake excels, as her tales (like I wrote previously) are not just ‘fluffy’ chick lit, but contain intricate twists that, although you know you will get your happy ending, they keep you very much engaged with the characters.

What I also thoroughly enjoyed about this particular one was the depth and detail Wake provides you with on everything to do with Rome. She provides the almost perfect mix of romance and culture that I feel I have just arrived back from visiting the famous city myself! There are the obvious trips to the likes of the Vatican and Spanish Steps, but thanks to Lisa’s infamous guidebook, I learnt so much.

‘A list? You can’t do Rome by list. You have to live and breathe it.’

Add to that the amazing Italian cuisine with trips to authentic restaurants or wineries and it’s a complete getaway. As Will introduces Lisa to blind tasting tests on everything from olive oil to cheese production to learning the finer skills of wine tasting, you can’t help but literally savour the moment, as indeed the passion for food positively glowed’ off the page.

One final winning aspect for me is the humour. I love both the lead characters and their bantering with each other is phenomenal.

‘Nice. Me? No you’ve definitely got the wrong man.’
‘I said nice. We are talking the dog’s arse end on the scale of compliments.

Not to mention Lisa’s inner dialogue that I could very much relate to at times:

‘He wouldn’t be checking he had his phone or passport with him once, let alone on the half hour, every half hour.’

‘The horrible pull-along case, which had seemed so brilliant earlier, suddenly had a life of its own and did not want to partake in the hurried slalom through other travellers all heading down the same wide corridor.’

From Rome with Love is the perfect mix of all that is Italian especially the food, wine and culture. The friendships, romance and especially the hidden family secrets make this a wonderful read that kept me engaged and smiling all the way through.

‘Give people that feeling of holidays, the taste of Italy and the laid-back sense of having all the time in the world to enjoy the intense flavour of sunshine and tradition.’

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, January 13, 2017

Review: The Florentine Bridge

Title: The Florentine Bridge
Author: Vanessa Carnevale
Publisher: 19 December 2016 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary romance, culture Italy/Tuscany
My Rating: 4.5 cups


Young Australian artist Mia Moretti has been cancer free for nine months. But her battle with the illness has taken its toll, leaving her depressed and tormented by overwhelming fears. What’s more, she can’t seem to paint anymore. Mia needs a fresh start so when a surprise opportunity to travel to Tuscany presents itself, she takes it. With any luck, this trip will help her find whatever it is she needs to open her heart and start painting again.

What she doesn’t count on is meeting Luca, a handsome Italian mechanic. With his smile, his warmth and his inspirational outlook on all the good things life has to offer, he sweeps her off her feet. As Mia slowly lets down her walls and allows Luca in, her passion for life is reignited and her new perspective begins to inspire her art. But just when she’s ready to let go of her past, will a tragedy threaten her new life with Luca?

Full of heart and hope, a love story about la dolce vita in Tuscany

My Thoughts

The famous Florentine Bridge! Over the Arno River,’ he says. ‘Oh, right … I’ll make sure I look for it.’ ‘It’s only one of the most romantic spots in Florence.’

The Florentine Bridge is the debut novel from Australian author Vanessa Carnevale. Set against a gorgeous Tuscan backdrop, it is truly a captivating love story. If you are in the mood for curling up and being transported to Italy, whilst witnessing a very emotional love story, then this is the book for you. Yet it is so much more than just a love story, being filled with a passion for art, language and indeed, everything Italian, is most engaging.

Carnevale is obviously very familiar with all things Italian and that translates wonderfully well to the page. Her love of the land, and indeed the whole atmosphere, shines through. From Florence to smaller coastal towns, her setting descriptions, references to art, culture and the food are vivid and enticing. Yet she still manages to bring that touch of Australia to her writing which I love.

‘Wish I’d taken the time to at least iron my shirt and make a half-decent effort. I look so … Australian.’

Apart from the two leads, there is a wonderful cast of secondary characters that help meld the setting with the story and bring it altogether, making this a complete read. It is a very emotional read as it involves recovering from cancer treatment which would be daunting. So daunting, Mia had to remove herself from those she loved in her attempts to start over.  I also really appreciated the use of art/painting as a medium for expressing grief, sorrow, healing and love.

‘It’s like that messy web of my past is still wrapped around me and I can’t — don’t — know how to shake it off.’

My reason for taking away half a star is that a) they were both so young (Mia not yet 20 years old) and b) it all happened so quickly, ‘instalove’. Is this credible? Well, it does happen in the real world and you have to suspend your head thinking for your heart feeling. Also, both Mia and Luca’s actions towards the end of the book were challenging, probably more of a reflection of their young age and I found it a little frustrating.

‘Yet my heart doesn’t care that we’ve known each other for less than forty-eight hours.’

All that said, this really was a lovely bit of escapism about growth and change, love and acceptance. A recommended read from an up and coming Aussie novelist.

‘Today I am a clean sheet of paper, ready for a new picture, for a new story to be brought to 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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: Breath of Fire

Title: Breath of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #2)
Author: Amanda Bouchet
Publisher: 3 January 2017 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fantasy, magic, romance, paranormal, mythology
My Rating: 3.5 cups


"Cat" Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat's tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what's a girl to do when she knows it's her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.
Griffin knows Cat is destined to change the world-for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin must embrace their fate together. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom...or not at all.

My Thoughts

Back in September I reviewed book one of this trilogy, ‘A Promise of Fire’ and enjoyed it (click on the title to read that review). So it was with great anticipation that I received a copy of book two. Now admittedly I was a little at odds in reviewing book one, due to the seemingly awkward clash of fantasy and fun. However, I overlooked some things, believing in what I thought would be it’s long term promise. Now I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy book two, just not quite as much as I loved, ‘A Promise of Fire’. Book one demonstrated real potential, with snappy comebacks and good action scenes. Sadly, it would appear the dreaded second book syndrome reared its ugly head.

“What’s it like being the Lost Princess? The woman everyone is looking for?

To pinpoint where it exactly went off is difficult, as much of the same winning formula is there, but perhaps to excess. Was book two on steroids and became overkill? Maybe. This was narrated at a crazy pace with the formulaic adventure/crusade, leads to near death, leads to magic healing, leads to manic sex, then repeat it all again until the end of the instalment. From start to finish this was just full on action as they brave the Ice Plains, battle innumerable scary creatures and come out with their lives from each encounter time and again. I just wanted more character development and less near death experiences.

Does he think I’m not afraid? I’m terrified. Constantly. I just do things anyway and hope for the best. Admittedly, that’s not always the best strategy, but sometimes there really isn’t much choice.

It’s hard to admit how much I struggled to get through this book. As I said, it’s not bad, it just seemed a rehashed, overpowering imitation of the first book. The sexual tension between the two main leads,  has been replaced with, at times, questionable physical interactions, to put it nicely. The first few passages are confronting and rather topical as many may see it as domestic violence. To even have that question hanging is detrimental to the good of the story. Of course there are the same fights and make-ups throughout, but it all became a bit tedious. However, here is more to the story than their relationship and that sets things up for a dramatic book three.

You are my soul, and yes, I will fight for you and protect you until my dying breath.”

There is still much to appreciate about this fast paced action book. Bouchet’s writing style is highly engaging and her research and twist on Greek mythology amazing. Also the secondary characters really come to the fore in this book and add great depth to the tale. Would I read book three? Most definitely as Bouchet has me invested in the dramatic plot and whether the kingdoms will ever be united and what of Cat’s mother.

We’ll change the world, Cat, and we’ll do it without the war you fear.

So whilst the second book did not live up to my expectations, it still maintains that strong storyline which is sure to please fans - and one must remember, these books MUST be read as one entity, they are not standalones. Here is hoping that this is just a small hiccup and ultimately this series will prove to be a memorable debut.

“You end the scourge. You rebuild the kingdom. You’ve had more than eight years to think about it. Now stop hiding and do something!”

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, January 3, 2017

Review: The One We Fell in Love With

Title: The One We Fell in Love With
Author: Paige Toon
Publisher: 1 January 2017 by Simon and Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit, romance, contemporary
My Rating: 3.5 cups


Phoebe is caught between a rock and a hard place. Settle down and get married, or return to the French Alps to pursue her passion?

Eliza is in love with someone who is no longer hers. In fact, he probably never was… And her dream of becoming a musician seems to be spiralling down the drain.

Rose is out of a job and out of a boyfriend. To make matters worse, she’s been forced to move back in with her mother…

But these very different girls have one thing in common. Angus. The one they fell in love with.

My Thoughts

‘Don’t know what it was about Angus that drew all three of us to him. There was clearly something in his chemical make-up that was like a drug to us.’

Rose, Eliza, and Phoebe, identical triplets, who fall for the boy next door. Chick lit for sure, however, I’m having trouble rating this book - swinging between a three and four star. Whilst it is interesting to read from all the varying points of views, with each of the girls having strong voices, I found some parts difficult to swallow.

Firstly, the book was just way too long and it is quite slow in parts. I was not expecting the BIG twist though and that helped elevate it above just another ordinary chick lit read. I did not see ‘it’ coming and almost missed it (in fact, given the poor structure and amount of irrelevant information, I had to go back and check what I had just read!) but it did lift this tale above your garden variety chick lit. But boy! Does this book get bogged down. For me, I was just not interested with the ins and outs of bread making or mountain climbing etc. You may well be.

Also, not only does the tale alternate between each of the sisters viewpoints, but also different time periods. You need to concentrate when reading (not something I necessarily like to do when chick lit reading) and the change is never necessarily overt. This also makes it a bit disjointed - which sister? what timeline? Were they being sulky teenagers or was this in their late twenties (still sulking?) Sibling rivalry is rampant in the Thomson family when it comes to their taste in men, or should I say,  one man in particular. However, the sisters are different in almost every other way and with a major plot twist, ‘The One We Fell in Love With’ is an above average read.

‘Can’t you see how screwed-up this is? Let it go. Move on. I plan to.’

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