Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review: The Orphan's Tale

Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Publisher: 20 February 2017 by Harlequin Australia - MIRA
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: world war II, historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups


A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

My Thoughts

She shakes her head stubbornly. “I would have been fine.” She considers the circus a shield of armor that somehow makes her immune to the Germans. But it simply isn’t true. “You can’t save everyone, you know.”

There appear to be mixed reactions to this book, however I can undoubtedly state, I enjoyed it. This is a story told from the two main characters points of view - Noa and Astrid - and their tale of working in a circus during WWII in Europe. This is not a biography, however, the premise is really quite interesting as it is loosely based around the research conducted by the author on real events and people from the time (see Epilogue) - with Jewish babies taken from their parents and a circus that would hide and give sanctuary to Jews during the war. This alone, to my mind, makes the book heartfelt and an emotional tale, as to be expected, when involving demonstrations of real courage and instincts of survival during the time of the Nazi persecution. The fact that it takes place in a circus is quite unique.

‘The circus is a great equalizer, though; no matter class or race or background, we are all the same here, judged on our talent.’

The title is somewhat confusing unless you broaden your understanding of the many orphans this sad war produced. This is not just about the Jewish baby, who only ever features on the periphery really. For me, both the lead characters were orphans in their own way, being lost to lose that love them. This is more a tale about friendship during a time of war, and that family can indeed be so much more than those you are related to. The circus is one large family providing a haven and hope; and the friendship between the two female leads - where they are prepared to sacrifice so much for the other - is inspiring.

“I am with you to the end,” she says, voice quavering slightly.”

Dissension comes from those expecting so much more from this tale - the horrors of war, the heartbreak and profound systematic breakdown of society. Instead, what you find here is a tale of love and hope in many ways and personal character interactions whilst living under the stresses of a dictatorial regime in a circus arena. It did hold my interest and I quickly made my way through this book to find out how the cryptic beginning would end, coming full circle.

The Orphan’s Tale is well written, as a good concept is brought to life and would appeal to those looking for a somewhat different approach to this well recorded period in history.

‘I can’t help but wonder where it will all end and where I will be when I can finally stop running at last.’

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, March 22, 2017

Review: A Secret Garden

Title: A Secret Garden
Author: Katie Fford
Publisher: 23 February 2017 by Random House UK
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit
My Rating: 3.5 cups


'What I want to know', said Lorna, 'is what lies behind those ash trees at the back of the garden?

Lorna is a talented gardener and Philly is a plantswoman. Together they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds. They enjoy their jobs and are surrounded by family and friends. But for them both the door to true love remains resolutely closed.

So when Lorna is introduced to Jack at a dinner party and Lucien catches Philly’s eye at the local farmers market, it seems that dreams really can come true and happy endings lie just around the corner.But do they?

Troublesome parents, the unexpected arrival of someone from Lorna's past, and the discovery of an old and secret garden mean their lives are about to become a lot more complicated...

My Thoughts

Cooking and gardening are the central focus of this latest Katie Fford book. You always know what you are up for when you get a Katie Fford book - and I like that. Her writing is always light, sweet and a gentle read - rarely any surprises. So when you are in this kind of reading mood, you know Fford will fit the bill.

Funny old thing, love, Lorna thought, pouring a second glass of wine. It was like a disease. You caught it, and then it went away, or it didn’t. But there was no logic to it. You couldn’t turn it on and off according to the suitability or otherwise of the love object.

With a focus on garden renovations and culinary delights, this book is sure to please many. It’s about taking time and appreciating the little things in life and getting creative. Yes, there are romances involved, and what I particularly liked was the wide age in the characters; from young Philly, to Lorna in her fifties to Grand in his seventies - something for everyone! It takes a light approach to everything and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

‘It’s lovely to know that you can fall in love at any time in your life, or at any age.’

I do think, however, that this is not as good as the other Katie Fford books I have read. There is nothing distinctly wrong with it, yet it seems to lack that sparkle that I have found in her previous books. The two main leads love interests appeared as total ‘insta-love’ and therefore there was no real investment in their relationships. Also, the title and blurb will lead you to believe that there is a whole story surrounding a ‘secret garden’ - well if you want to wait until three quarters the way through, you may be rewarded with a taste of it, but certainly and in no way, the main focus of this tale.

Having said that, sometimes you just need something light and ‘fluffy’ (as I like to call it) and if you pick up this book expecting nothing more, then Katie Fforde never fails to deliver. No other pretext is need:

‘What are we celebrating?’
‘Nothing,’ declared Anthea. ‘Life is a pile of horse droppings for you just at the moment. What better reason to drink champagne?’

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, March 17, 2017

Review: Daughter of Mine

Title: Daughter of Mine
Author: Fiona Lowe
Publisher: 20 February 2017 by Harlequin Australia - MIRA
Pages: 512 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 4.5 cups


When your world falls apart the only person you can depend on is your sister.

The three Chirnwell sisters are descended from the privileged squattocracy in Victoria’s Western District — but could a long-held secret threaten their family?

Harriett Chirnwell has a perfect life — a husband who loves her, a successful career and a daughter who is destined to become a doctor just like her.

Xara has always lived in Harriet’s shadow; her chaotic life with her family on their sheep farm falls far short of her older sister’s standards of perfection and prestige.

Georgie, the youngest sister and a passionate teacher, is the only one of the three to have left Billawarre. But is her life in Melbourne happy?

Despite all three sisters having a different and sometimes strained bond with their mother, Edwina, they come together to organise a party for her milestone birthday — the first since their father’s death. But when Edwina arrives at her party on the arm of another man, the tumult is like a dam finally breaking. Suddenly the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are flooded by scandal. Criminal accusations, a daughter in crisis, and a secret over fifty years in the making start to crack the perfect fa├žade of the prominent pastoral family.

A thought provoking novel about family expectations, secrets and lies.

My Thoughts

‘I really don’t think anyone in my family is okay today .... I paid a high price for secrets and lies and I’m paying it still.’

With an easy going writing style and an engaging story, ‘Daughter of Mine’ proved to be a most enjoyable novel. Here you will find past and recent complicated family secrets and lies, loves come and go and a range of emotions from the young through to serious mental issues are covered. What I truly embraced with this book was the realistic and authentic dialogue, not only between family, but also those extending beyond that.

‘Ask me. I’m an open book. I’ve lived with the damaging effects of secrets all of my life. I don’t want any to exist between you and me or between me and your sisters.’

Here Lowe will provide you with an array of characters that face obstacles and heartache and there is sure to be at least one character that you unwittingly nod your head at, either in agreement or frustration. Still, it goes to demonstrate how well Lowe captures a range of relatable characteristics and how everybody can deal differently with a conflict or family problem. I appreciate the detail and time Lowe invested in each of the main characters so that you could try to appreciate how it looked coming from their side of things.

‘Confident he wasn’t going to ask, she’d let down her guard. Now, all snuggled up in her cocoon of bliss and totally unprepared, the question hit her like a sniper’s bullet. It tore through her, ripping, burning, brutal.’

Set in a small town it all comes across as very believable and you will find yourself cheering for some and hoping that fate delivers its blow to others. For a longer book, it moves at a good pace and I was readily engaged throughout, eagerly turning the pages. I can genuinely recommend this as a good family drama/saga.

‘Life isn’t perfect. God, I worked that out years ago. It’s messy and complicated and disorganised. People do things that hurt you. People disappoint you and let you down. Family lets you down and that one hurts the most.’

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, March 12, 2017

Review: The Currency Lass

Title: The Currency Lass
Author: Tea Cooper
Publisher: 20 February 2017 by Harlequin (Australia) MIRA
Pages: 366 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating:4.5 cups


As her father's only heir, Catherine Cottingham expects to inherit their sprawling property in the Hunter Valley. What she doesn't understand is why her father is trying to push her into a marriage to the pompous and repulsive Sydney businessman Henry W. Bartholomew.

When the will is read it becomes clear money, or the lack of it, lay behind her father's plans. Catherine is mortified — as a married woman all her possessions will pass to her husband, the overbearing Bartholomew. Her only alternative is to wait until her twenty-first birthday and inherit the property in her own right, but can she elude such a determined man until then?

A chance encounter with a travelling circus and its fiery lead performer, Sergey Petrov, offers the perfect solution and Catherine escapes to the goldfields. But there is more to the circus than spangles and sawdust and Catherine finds herself drawn into a far-reaching web of fraud and forgery...

My Thoughts
Another great Aussie drama set in the outback at the time of the gold rushes, ‘The Currency Lass’, is full to the brim with great locations, well rounded characters and an engaging plot. I just love these strong female leads and Catherine Cottingham surely fulfills that role in the first few pages as she follows her intuition to do what is right.
Venturing from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, and a little of Bathurst during the gold rushes, the 1850s is a time of privilege for some but hardship for many. The interesting added dimension to this particular historical tale is that of a travelling circus - an inside view to life on the road. So there are many aspects to this tale that make it unique: circus acts, victors and villains, truth and lies, courage and love.
Although young, Catherine is a worthy heroine who courageously faces many challenges head on. As she fights for her home and against an arranged marriage, as she champions the poor and struggles to do what is right, you cannot help but admire her. Sergey matches her for courage, honesty and determination with their relationship tested at times in wanting to support each other in achieving their goals.
I do enjoy reading tales of this era and highly recommend taking this journey back to a time in Australia where people struggled to start afresh in making a new life for themselves. Tea Cooper has presented a memorable tale of a bygone era.

“It makes me a currency lass, nothing more, nothing less, the first generation born in this land to convict parents.”

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, March 8, 2017

Review: Before the Rains

Title: Before the Rains
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Publisher: 23 February 2017 by Penguin Books (UK) Viking
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction, romance, cultural-India
My Rating: 5 cups


A romantic, heart-wrenching tale of love against the odds from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author Dinah Jefferies
1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband's death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza's only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she's determined to make a name for herself.
But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince's handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families - and society - think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what's expected, or following their hearts. . .

My Thoughts

‘She had come to India uncertain about herself and nervous of her abilities as a photographer. She had come not really knowing who she was.’

Having seen the inviting covers of Dinah Jeffries books, I was excited to finally delve into one. I was not disappointed. This is historical fiction at its best -  rich in detail and oh so interesting,  I learnt so much, this book literally being brushed with Indian spices, both real and figurative, as we journey along with Eliza. Tradition is the foundation of this society and Jeffries presents it in a most intriguing and captivating way. Her writing is so very descriptive, as you find yourself walking through the palace, feeling the searing heat, smelling the scents of India.

‘Hidden beneath the rituals and customs of his life lay something important, something that glued it all together.’

Before the Rains is set in  India during the 1920s, and thanks to Jeffries skill as a writer,  one can easily either marvel at the decadent royal families and British high society, so much in contrast with the abject poverty of so many of the people. This is a tale about Eliza, a photographer commissioned to spend a year photographing the royal family for British archives, reportedly, although spying might also play a part. Eliza is familiar with India, having spent her childhood there until her father's horrific death, so she feels a strong connection, going to great lengths to understand and showcase this through her photography - the real face of the people, their customs and traditions. Add to this a forbidden love story between Eliza and Jay, a younger brother of the Indian prince, and you have a recipe for a winning tale.

‘More and more she’d become aware that the British should get out of India. Her only hope was that the Nationalist movement would gain control without too much bloodshed.’

Aside from a captivating story, Jeffries brings forth so much of the colours of India - customs, traditions, beliefs at the time of British rule - it is as if you were there. With a declining British rule, you are witness to the effect on the people and the consequences that fall out from that.  Everything from euphoric ‘Holi’ celebrations to the horrific ‘sati’ (widow burning). Then there are the settings ranging from palatial royal homes to mud huts in remote villages. You will be transported to another place and time and feel for Eliza and all she endeavours to become in recreating herself.

‘Eliza hardly dared admit that she had come to rediscover something within herself.’

Before the Rains is historical fiction at it’s best overflowing with culture, forbidden love, longed for happiness, heartbreaking grief and finally hope – I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction.

‘She really wanted to capture something of the rains themselves. Everyone spoke of them in such reverent tones that she wanted to see for herself.’

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 rel

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: City of Friends

Title: City of Friends
Author: Joanna Trollope
Publisher: 31 January 2017 by Pan MacMillan
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, women’s fiction
My Rating:3.5 cups

The twentieth stunning book from the lauded bestselling author, Joanna Trollope.
The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she'd ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, Senior Partner at one of the top private equity firms in London?
As Stacey starts to reconcile her old life with the new - one without professional achievements or meetings, but instead, long days at home with her dog and ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home - she at least has The Girls to fall back on. Beth, Melissa and Gaby. The girls, now women, had been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and for all the happiness and heartbreaks in between.
But these career women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey's redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge that was supposed to remain secret, their long cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits .

My Thoughts

‘It’s a work structure thing, not an hours thing. Work and life aren’t in opposition to each other, they enrich each other.’

Having read Joanna Trollope before I was in no doubt that I would enjoy the writing, this time with her providing detailed insights into modern relationship issues - friendships, work relationships, marriage and family relationships, caring for elderly parent relationships.

Here is a story all about modern women: their friendships and families balanced against their careers - if indeed such a thing is possible. With four different perspectives offered from each of the women, the reader is given a first hand account of not only their daily trials and tribulations but also, and more importantly, significant challenges they each encounter.

‘It was one of those rare and fleeting moments when she felt comfortably slightly ahead of the game rather than battling breathlessly to keep up with it.’

The main theme is of course, can women have it all? A family life and work life? What hurdles do they encounter? What sacrifices must they make? What happens when work comes before family? These are the interesting concepts addressed by Trollope and I liked it - an interesting  inquiry into the life of the modern career woman. Can she successfully maintain such a balance or does one always triumph over the other?

‘Our responsibilities in life shift without warning, don’t they?’

I enjoyed many of the characters outside of the four female leads. I particularly felt for Stacey and her husband in trying to care for her mother suffering from dementia and the impact it had upon their marriage. With four female leads and an assortment of other characters, it is quite a lineup to get your head around initially and you need to concentrate. Overall, however, I found this to be an open and honest account, ‘warts and all’ that helped make it real and readable.

‘I’m their mother, I always will be. I also am who I am, and that’s a given. I may have –I do have –many faults but I don’t have a false self. I am truly me, through and through, and that means they get what they see. And they always will.’

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