Saturday, October 28, 2017

Review: The Girl in the Picture

Title: The Girl in the Picture
Author: Kerry Barrett
Publisher: 20 September 2017 by HQ Digital
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 4.5 cups


Two women. One house. Centuries of secrets

East Sussex Coast, 1855

Violet Hargreaves is the lonely daughter of a widowed industrialist, and an aspiring Pre-Raphaelite painter. One day, the naïve eighteen-year-old meets Edwin; a mysterious and handsome man on the beach, who promises her a world beyond the small coastal village she’s trapped in. But after ignoring warning about Edwin, a chain of terrible events begins to unfold for Violet…

East Sussex Coast, 2016

For thriller-writer Ella Daniels, the house on the cliff is the perfect place to overcome writer’s block, where she decides to move with her small family. But there’s a strange atmosphere that settles once they move in – and rumours of historical murders next door begin to emerge. One night, Ella uncovers a portrait of a beautiful young girl named Violet Hargreaves, who went missing at the same time as the horrific crimes, and Ella becomes determined to find out what happened there 160 years ago. And in trying to lay Violet’s ghost to rest, Ella must face ghosts of her own...

This haunting timeslip tale is perfect for fans of Kate Riordan, Tracy Rees, Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley.

My Thoughts

When a book is put in the same league as Kate Morton, it has quite a bit to live up too! ‘The Girl in the Picture’, is quite impressive in delivering the necessary plot twists and I would safely recommend it to all fans of this genre. This is the first Kerry Barrett book I have read and it will not be my last. Always a literary challenge to write a dual timeline narrative, Kerry masterfully alternates between Ella in the present, to Violet in 1885 in a seamless, easy to follow and intriguing tale.

Set on the coast of East Sussex and centring around the occurrences in the one house of these two women, separated only by the passage of time. What secrets does this house contain in relation to the murders and disappearance so many years ago? Kerry does a wonderful job of engaging the reader, providing little pieces of the puzzle to present day Ella, as she attempts to investigate what occurred back in 1885 to Violet. The intrigue heightens the further into the story you get, but it’s not until the end that you will confidently put all the pieces of this engaging puzzle together.

I enjoyed many aspects of this book - everything from: the well executed, dual timeline, the slow unfolding suspense and mystery combined with the substantial character development in both timelines. The story may start out a little slow for some and the modern day story lack that bit of lustre, but don’t let this deter you from a well written tale. The manipulation and violence may prove a little too close to home for some, but it certainly adds to the realism.

As Ella seeks to uncover the local mystery surrounding her newly purchased residence, the notorious tale of a murder mystery from 150 years ago will engross you. The balance between Ella’s present day discoveries coinciding with real time events for Violet is well done. This tale will prove a real treat for lovers of historical fiction with the added element of a well executed mystery.

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 18, 2017

Review: Secret Shores

Title: Secret Shores
Author: Ella Carey
Publisher: 5 September 2017 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 318 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, mystery
My Rating: 4.5 cups

In 1946, artist Rebecca Swift’s dreams of love and a life free from convention are crashing like the waves of the Australian coast below her. And it’s into those roiling waters that she disappears.
Forty-one years later, Tess Miller’s dreams are crashing, too. The once-successful New York editor has lost her most prestigious author to the handsome new golden boy of publishing. Meanwhile, she’s stuck with Edward Russell, a washed-up Australian poet writing a novel about some obscure artist named Rebecca Swift. But Tess may have underestimated Russell. His book is not only true—it’s a searing, tragic romance and a tantalizing mystery set in a circle of postwar modernists. When Tess uncovers a long-hidden secret, she’s drawn even deeper into Rebecca’s enigmatic life and death.
As Rebecca’s past intertwines with the present, Tess finds herself falling for the last man she thought she’d ever be drawn to. On the way, she discovers the power of living an authentic life—and that transcendent love never really dies.
My Thoughts

“Take life one day at a time. It is the only way we can control our lives at times of indomitable grief.”

I have been looking forward to reading an Ella Carey book, and I was not disappointed - coming along at a time in my life when I really needed to read some of its contained wisdom. Being a huge fan of historical fiction and dual timelines, I was enthralled with this tale. ‘Secret Shores’ starts in Australian 1946 (just after WWII and all the ramifications of that) and then in 1987 with a clear link between the two timelines, only varying locations.

“The Heide circle were young moderns, trying to forge a new life out of the shatters of war. It was all-encompassing, you know, what they did, their rejection of the Establishment. From the way they lived, to the way they loved, freely, to the way they approached marriage, modernism went to the very core of themselves.”

This is a complex and intriguing tale of the modernist movement post WWII (you will be running to Google actual people) and how they attempt to break with traditions. You really get a feel for each of the characters especially the love story between Rebecca and Edward. The switch between timelines is smooth and meeting Edward in 1987 provides the opportunity for a retrospective reflection and a lesson in how to not only move on, but also, learn from lessons of the past.

“...perhaps it was equally important to look to the past, to not replicate the mistakes that people such as Edward’s family and their class had made, because the bubble would burst in the end.”

As is often the case, one story is slightly stronger, and although the link between the two is strong and well executed - the present love story between Tess and James feels at times a little contrived. Her paranoia and hostility begin to grate, but do not let that deter you from what is a well thought out story and plot evolution. When Tess discovers that the book she is editing is about the love Edward still harbours for Rebecca, thus begins a journey of self discovery for each of the characters.

Reading the novel along with Tess is a clever way to reveal facts from the past, whilst also securing new and personal insights through one-to-one discussions. It’s also interesting to see a small parallel between both relationships - past and present. The plot twist at the end of the book is well done and provides the perfect conclusion.

Overall this is a most interesting and worthwhile read - a moving tale, with complex characters and a compelling storyline that will keep you engaged until the very end.

“He had no desire to take himself back to those secret shores that he had sworn he would never revisit. That period of his life was too difficult, too frightening.”

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 13, 2017

Review: A Secret Sisterhood

Title: A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
Author: Emily Midorikawa, Emma Claire Sweeney
Publisher: 17 October 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: biographies, memoir
My Rating: 4 cups


Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Coauthors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, thanks to their discovery of a wealth of surprising collaborations: the friendship between Jane Austen and one of the family servants, playwright Anne Sharp; the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; the transatlantic friendship of the seemingly aloof George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex friendship fired by an underlying erotic charge.
Through letters and diaries that have never been published before, A Secret Sisterhood resurrects these forgotten stories of female friendships. They were sometimes scandalous and volatile, sometimes supportive and inspiring, but always—until now—tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.

My Thoughts

“... misleading myths of isolation have long attached themselves to women who write: a
cottage-dwelling spinster; an impassioned roamer of the moors; a fallen woman, shunned; a melancholic genius. Over the years, a conspiracy of silence has obscured the friendships of female authors, past and present. But now it is time to break the silence and celebrate this literary sisterhood - a glimmering web of interwoven threads that still has the power to unsettle, to challenge, to inspire.”

‘A Secret Sisterhood’ is an interesting book packed with loads of information, new insights and wonderful descriptions of friendship from times long gone. Reading more like a biography, it allows the reader to look at female literary friendships within the context of their writing.

Being a big Austen and Bronte fan, I was eager to see what new snippets would be brought to life. Thinking of these famous female authors (and understanding that writing is very much a solitary pursuit), one often sees them in isolation. This book reveals how much they were actively involved with others, sharing at times, revealing insights into their thinking. Either meeting in person or through their correspondence, one can learn a great deal more about the individual.

You do not have to be well versed on these writers, as a satisfactory amount of detail is provided by these authors. What they succeed in doing is portraying another aspect to these famous lives and how these friendships contributed to the writer’s lives. I learnt more about those I knew well eg. Jane Austen and was introduced to those I was unfamiliar with eg. George Eliot.

This is an extremely well researched book, impressively so. Dedicating three chapters to each of the writer’s, the authors shine a light on the importance of friendship to these famous women, through diaries, letters and other documents. The authors really do a fabulous job of inviting you into a ‘secret sisterhood’ and sharing details I knew little of.

If you are in any way intrigued by any of these literary heroines, or you are interested in literary history, then I highly recommend you take some time to discover this ‘Secret Sisterhood’.

“In piecing together the lost stories of these four trailblazing pairs, we have found alliances that were sometimes illicit, scandalous, and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical, or inspiring but, until now, tantalizingly consigned to the shadows.”

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 7, 2017

Review: Another Woman's Husband

Title: Another Woman’s Husband
Author: Gill Paul
Publisher: 29 August 2017 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

Two women, divided by time, bound by a secret...
1911. Aged just fifteen, Mary Kirk and Wallis Warfield meet at summer camp. Their friendship will survive heartbreaks, continents, and the demands of the English crown, until it is shattered by one unforgivable betrayal...
1997. Kendall's romantic break in Paris with her fiance is interrupted when the taxi in front crashes suddenly. The news soon follows: Princess Diana is dead. Trying to forget what she has witnessed, Kendall returns home, where the discovery of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, will lead her to the truth of a scandal which shook the world...
My Thoughts

‘Another Woman's Husband’  is an intriguing tale of relationships, secrets, betrayals and forgiveness. It is a fabulous work of historical fiction - involved and well thought out, bringing characters and stories we all ‘know’ about  to life. Supported by factual information concerning Princess Diana and Wallis Simpson (as well as other historical figures of the time) you will be running to consult Google. Gill Paul does pretty much a flawless job at combining timelines, viewpoints and non/fiction.

Told from two perspectives, that of fictional character Rachel in 1997 and Mary Kirk (who you will be ‘Googling’!) from 1912 onwards. Mary Kirk was the close friend of Wallis Simpson, meeting as teenagers and remaining friends for many years to come. Most of us have heard of Wallis Simpson and her role in British history but this unique perspective is a real eye opener. Told through Mary Kirk’s eyes it’s just fascinating to read from the time they were teenagers through to the abdication and her marriage to a king. Being able to read the story, watching the drama unfold as if you were there, is mind blowing. Being predominantly a work of fiction, it’s difficult to differentiate between the non/fictional viewpoints, however, the author includes which parts were facts  at the end of the book.

This leads onto the skilled storytelling of Gill Paul. With a book focused on two such famous people from recent history - Diana and Wallis - it could easily become sensationalised. However, Paul deals with it in the most respectful and sensible fashion, shedding light on not one, but two scandals with good depth and honesty, thus providing real insight into what it may have been like at that time in history. You will find yourself transported to such a fascinating time and place with vivid descriptions of everything from fashion (lots of fascinating details), to cocktail parties - inclusive of extracts and paraphrased from letters shared between Wallis and Mary. Reading actual accounts at the end makes you appreciate not only Paul’s efforts at research but also how she bought possible events to life.

Obviously Wallis and Mary’s story is the more engaging one and I found some issues with the Diana link, particularly the relationship between Rachel and Alex. You do wonder how the threads of the two stories will be drawn together, and towards the end, the connections becomes clear and satisfying. I found this a most engaging read and loved immersing myself in the story of Wallis to appreciate the type of person who almost brought down a monarchy.  

‘She always had the air of a person who was searching for something more and would not be satisfied with an ordinary 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

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Willow Tree Bend

Title: Willow Tree Bend
Author: Kaye Dobbie
Publisher: 18 September 2017 by Harlequin (Australia), TEEN / MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary, cultural Australia, mystery
My Rating: 4 cups


An interrupted phone call and a mysterious disappearance brings a family’s secret past crashing into the present…

It’s 1969 and small-town girl Faith Taylor longs for the excitement of the city. Leaving her family home in Willow Tree Bend, Faith lands a job at The Angel — Melbourne’s most infamous nightclub. While Faith relishes her new-found freedom, she can’t help but notice that there are some things about the club that don’t add up. So when a policeman shows her a shocking photograph, and reveals that a former waitress was murdered, Faith realises she must help to bring down the shadowy owner behind the club’s activities.

More than thirty years later, what happened at The Angel remains a closely held secret, never spoken about. When Faith disappears, her sister Hope — now a famous movie star — is left with an intriguing, though frustrating, piece of the puzzle. But with a tell-all documentary film crew constantly by her side, how can she find where Faith is — and what she’s hiding — while making sure her own secrets stay hidden?

Faith’s daughter, Sam, is also concerned by her mother’s uncharacteristic behaviour. When she overhears a clue to Faith’s past, she’s determined to unearth the truth. What is the connection between The Angel and Willow Tree Bend? What does Faith's disappearance mean? And what will happen when the final secret is revealed?

My Thoughts

The previous work of Kaye’s, Mackenzie Crossing, was a superb five star read for me. So I was excited to read her latest tale. Whilst not as captivating, ‘Willow Tree Bend’ was still an engaging read.

“There were things going on here that I didn’t understand, like a dangerous undertow beneath a calm surface.”

Here is another dual timeline story, however on this occasion, it was only a thirty year gap - late 1960s and the year 2000. Dobbie does a great job at moulding and interweaving all the pieces of the puzzle to build suspense and present a good mystery - providing an even blend between both the contemporary and historical tale. This is a story about family secrets and how their revelation will have a major impact on the present.

This narrative is presented through three voices - Faith in the 1960s and Hope (her sister) and Sam (her daughter) in the present. We see Faith as a young girl from the country who finds work in the city and the troubles she encounters. Her sister, Hope (by the year 2000) is a famous Hollywood actress who has returned to her country home and learns herself, about what had unfolded back in the late 60s. Then there is Sam, and her story is all about reaching understandings in her relationships with family members and a prospective partner. Sam is struggling with all these well kept secrets and is trying to ascertain the truth.

“I was becoming more and more convinced that there was a dark underlying thread to this tale that I either wasn’t seeing or no one was telling me about.”

I have to admit to struggling a bit with the slowness of the tale; at times, not a great deal was happening and I found myself becoming disengaged from the story. Nothing really happened by a third way through and the pace only increased in the last twenty percent. I appreciate that Kaye was leaving little clues sprinkled throughout her narrative, but there was just not enough for it to be compelling.

Willow Tree Bend is a solid story with Kaye doing a good job of blending all three stories together very smoothly. Take some time to go back in time with the Taylor girls to unravel well kept family secrets.

‘The pain never goes away, does it? It fades, but when you dig a little, there it is, still hurting.’

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