Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: Beautiful Messy Love

Title: Beautiful Messy Love: for a bit of Nicholas Sparks with a pinch of Offspring
Author: Tess Woods
Publisher: 1 August  2017 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary romance
My Rating: 4.5 cups


What happens when love and loyalty collide? Two couples must deal with the consequences of their messy love not just for themselves but for those who depend on them. For lovers of passionate romance in the vein of Nicholas Sparks.

When football star Nick Harding hobbles into the Black Salt Cafe the morning after the night before, he is served by Anna, a waitress with haunted-looking eyes and no interest in footballers famous or otherwise. Nick is instantly drawn to this exotic, intelligent girl. But a relationship between them risks shame for her conservative refugee family and backlash for Nick that could ruin his career.
Meanwhile, Nick's sister, Lily, is struggling to finish her medical degree. When she meets Toby, it seems that for the first time she is following her heart, not the expectations of others. Yet what starts out as a passionate affair with a man who has just buried his wife slips quickly into dangerous dependency.
Through attraction, breakups, triumphs and tragedies, these two couples learn just how much their beautiful messy love might cost. A West Side Story for the modern day.

My Thoughts

This book is receiving great acclaim and I can see why. Divided into three parts, with alternating character chapters, you are provided with great insight into each of the four main leads and how their lives are entwined. With everything from an AFL (Australian Rules Football) Grand Final to asylum seekers - this book truly has it all.

At its heart this is a book that puts a microscope on contemporary Australian living with its honest portrayal of not only multiculturalism, but also drawing attention to the ugly side of social media. Tess Woods gives honest accounts on diversity, prejudice and religion - so very topical and handled so well. Her serious exploration of contemporary issues  are not only wide ranging, but heartfelt and compassionate. Woods shines the light on everything from the plight of asylum seekers, privacy issues in this digital ‘tell all’ age, cross cultural relationships, religious bigotry and the debilitation of depression on all those who come in contact with it.

‘This is the worst situation ever.’
‘It is,’ I agreed.
‘I don’t know how we can make this work. It’s too messy.’
‘I don’t know either, but I know that I really want to try.’

Yes, this is also a tale of two love stories, but Woods definitely strikes a balance between that and the social spotlight investigation. In keeping with the social realist approach, the love here is real with its ‘warts and all’ approach covering not only the joy and passion, but also the loss and heartache. The array of supporting characters, the detail provided to their stories, is also demonstrative of how each has a role to play, adding real depth and support to each of the many themes.

The title could not be more apt - this is a book where the central theme is about finding your way in life, navigating as best you can because it’s not always smooth - it’s messy! Complex! But also, it can be very beautiful!

‘Let me tell you something important –it is better to be a fool who experiences happiness than a genius who misses out.’

This is a powerful and thought provoking book with its contemporary focus on the messiness of life and having strength of character to stay the course, grow and develop despite what others may claim. It’s beautiful, it’s messy, it’s love.

The love I had for the people who surrounded me and the way I loved those I had lost was messy –it was complicated, difficult and sometimes unbearably painful. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful.

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, August 17, 2017

Review: Persuading Austen

Title: Persuading Austen
Author: Brigid Coady
Publisher: 18 July  2017 by HQ Digital
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

It is a truth universally acknowledged that working with an ex is a terrible idea…
Annie Elliot never expected her life to turn out this way: living with her dad, working as an accountant – surely the least glamorous job in Hollywood?! – and dodging her family’s constant bickering.
Landing a job as a producer on a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice seems like the piece of luck she’s been waiting for. Until the cast is announced, and Annie discovers that the actor playing Mr Darcy is Austen Wentworth: the man she’s spent nearly a decade trying to forget.
Not only is Austen her ex – but while Annie’s life has stalled, Austen is Hollywood’s hottest property…and has just been voted World’s Sexiest Man.
With nowhere to hide, there’s just one question. Now the one who got away has come back, should Annie stand by her pride? Or give into Austen’s powers of persuasion?
My Thoughts

‘Who are you living for, Anne? You or them?’ She could still hear Austen saying it. And she knew that he meant it because he called her Anne. And she still couldn’t answer that question eight years later.’

Anything ‘Austen’ captures my attention, so this book came on my radar and what a bit of fun it proved to be - a great and much needed weekend escape. A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ with a touch of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ thrown in for good measure.

One aspect I particularly enjoyed was how the author kept most of the key scenes from the original but put a contemporary twist on them. The storyline was most definitely recognisable, yet Coady did not let it dominate. I loved the ending and how everything was nicely bought together - yes the romance - but with the two leads only trading a few lines in real time (there are flashbacks), it was more about the lead character and her journey. Her success in life was her decisions - not a knight in shining armour - so you witnessed her grow and discover her own voice.

‘Over eight years what had she learned? Nothing. Not one single thing except how to keep on allowing her family to squeeze and mould her into the gaps in their lives. She hadn’t been living; she had been merely existing.’

Being ‘chick lit’ you have to make some concessions. For example, the family will grate on your nerves (‘Sometimes she felt like David Attenborough hiding in the undergrowth, and trying to work out what made them tick’), Annie’s inner dialogue will make you want to shake her at times and some parts are just way out of the ball park - three words for you who will read it - My Little Pony! Wow! At times a bit repetitive - I would love to know on how many occasions the author wrote ‘eight years ago’ - GAH! However, you have to take the good with the bad and it being so light and entertaining compensated for these drawbacks.

This was a fun read. I appreciated the Austen references eg. ‘Northanger Agency’ and there are some funny moments with enough romance but not overbearingly so. I found it to be fast-paced, whizzing through it over a weekend - pure fun and escapism.

‘ You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever…’

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, August 11, 2017

Review: The One That Got Away

Title: The One That Got Away
Author: Melissa Pimentel
Publisher: 22 August  2017 by St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary, romance
My Rating: 3 cups

'A smart, funny retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion that's perfect for a poolside read' Red
Ruby and Ethan were perfect for each other. Until the day they suddenly weren't.
Now, ten years later, Ruby is single, having spent the last decade focusing on her demanding career and hectic life in Manhattan. There's barely time for a trip to England for her little sister's wedding. And there's certainly not time to think about what it will be like to see Ethan again, who just so happens to be the best man.
But as the family frantically prepare for the big day, Ruby can't help but wonder if she made the right choice all those years ago. Because there is nothing like a wedding for stirring up the past . . .
My Thoughts

“Here I was, jet-lagged as all hell, standing in a sixteenth-century pub in the middle of nowhere and giving my ex-boyfriend advice on how to spend his magnificent fortune . . . it was all a bit much.”

I snapped this read up hoping for some modern Austen escapism. From a chick lit perspective it was okay, however, I found the Austen link hard to determine and justify. It’s a pleasant enough read, if a little underwhelming, failing to hit the mark in the spark and romance area. I do not feel that the author truly set the scene in both explaining and capturing the depth of emotion to make it fully engaging and at times, was somewhat silly with the female lead jealous of a dead person!

The structure of the book didn’t quite gel either. Ruby and Ethan’s stories told in two time lines - now and then - was fragmented and difficult to keep track of and didn’t really work for me. It’s not a badly narrated story,  just lacking excitement and pizzazz. There are some worthwhile humourous moments that brought a smile to my face:

“I’d taken myself to see Frozen on a particularly dark day back in January and had found myself sobbing uncontrollably during “Let It Go”

As a modern telling of “Persuasion” (by Jane Austen) it is a bit of a stretch -“second chance” romance is the only real tenuous link. Although a reasonably well-written book, I found it lacking in quite a few areas. Overall, a was nice, light read.

“But here’s the thing that I’d realized: I sort of hated my life. Not entirely—pieces of it were great—but I’d been living on autopilot for too long, wearing grooves in the sidewalk between work and home.”

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, August 9, 2017

Review: Together

Title: Together
Author: Julie Cohen
Publisher: 11 July 2017 by Hachette/Orion
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups


This is not a great love story.
This is a story about great love.

On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually does. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie's actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret - one they will do absolutely anything to protect.

Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes's Me Before You, David Nicholls's One Day and M L Stedman's The Light Between Oceans.

My Thoughts

‘He thinks about you every day. He doesn’t talk about you every day, but sometimes we don’t talk about the most important things to us. Sometimes we can’t.’

Do books often come along at a poignant time in a person’s life? This is such an interesting little book on so many platforms. It is well written and thought provoking, as it shines a light on relationships and family dynamics. However, let me say right from the outset, this is not a soppy, teary book because of romance - there is so much more involved in this little story that really packs a punch.

‘No. I think it’s most likely Alzheimer’s.’ She was brave. Her voice didn’t waver at all when she said it.’

‘Sometimes people just have to stay distant,’ she said.’

‘Emily stepped forward, feeling, for the first time, a stirring of anger at her own family.’

It took me a little while to get into this book. I had to put it down and come back to it a week later, as I did not think I was in the right frame of mind to read it. Starting with a devastating event, I was unsure if I was up for the journey. However, it all changed after a couple of chapters and I shall tell you why.

The book is written backwards. Highly unusual and requires flicking back and forth as the brain does not really compute that way. But really, when you think about it, it is probably the only way this tale could be told. From a writing perspective, it is quite incredible and most definitely unique - at the end you want to go back to the beginning and read it over with fresh eyes.

The author presents Robbie and Emily at key stages of their lives, commencing at 2016 until the final date of 1962 - which is of course, the beginning and when they first met. Each stage reveals a little more of the story, but also leaves with you with questions. There are twists and turns along the way, and the ending .... wow .... I did not see that coming. Then, and only then, do all the pieces fall into place regarding Emily and why she is estranged from her family. The ‘mystery’ that had been hovering over story up until this moment is revealed.

Overall, this is an unusual book, for both the way it is set out and the issues it tackles. Try not to let that distract you from what is in fact, a most thought provoking tale.

‘Sometimes we don’t know the moments that are going to be significant to us, not until later when we look back and reflect.’

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, August 4, 2017

Review: Court of Lions

Title: Court of Lions
Author: Jane Johnson
Publisher: 6 July 2017 by Head of Zeus
Pages: 500 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, cultural Spain
My Rating: 3.5 cups


"Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate's life forever.

An epic saga of romance and redemption, Court of Lions brings one of the great turning-points in history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies."

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book as I do enjoy a good dual narrative. However, it would appear that the only thing these two stories had in common was geography. We live in a time of upheaval and this story sought to make a (tenuous) link between the fears and prejudices that have always simmered in societies, both present and past - even making reference to the Charlie Hebdo atrocity.

There is no doubt whatsoever the amount of research the author has put into this work. I did not really know that much about the the Granada War of the 1400’s, the culture or the people who existed at that time. Namely, the rise and fall of Abu Abdullah Mohammed, the last Islamic ruler of this empire. Jane Johnson certainly brought to life everything from the architecture and gardens, to the food and culture - from the highest to the lowest members of society. The focus is on the power struggles between Queen Isabella of Spain and her plan to remove the Muslim and Jewish people in her efforts to gain control of Granada. Full of treachery and violence, the vivid descriptions place you right at the heart of the struggle.

The modern day story was not as appealing.  The author even made mention that:

“I wanted to tell his personal story, as well as recount the great sweep of events leading up to the fall. The book was shaping up to be a straightforward historical epic...”

... and in some respects it should have remained so, as Kate’s story was a rather disconnected and weak link. If it was to have worked, there needed to be far more substantial links between the two storylines. Shared subtle and hard to pinpoint themes, were not enough, as the mystery surrounding the hidden paper Kate found, eventuated into nothing of  any real importance.

Overall, it is a well written and interesting read, the product of extensive research. The story of 15th century Granada was noteworthy, if at times, a little drawn out. If you are a reader looking for something unique with an inside view of both historical and modern religious eccentricities, then this would be the book for you.

“Sometimes surrender is more courageous than resistance. But it’s hard for people to see that.”

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