Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: The Psychology of Time Travel

Title:  The Psychology of Time Travel
Author: Kate Mascarenhas
Publisher: 9th August 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: science fiction, time travel, fantasy, mystery
My Rating: 2.5 cups

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman's The Power and Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven.
1967 - Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril...
2017 - Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady...
2018 - When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulphur. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?
My Thoughts

Reading the synopsis had me intrigued - the story sounded just so interesting - four pioneering women discover time travel and by 2017 there is this whole culture of moving back and forth in time. There is a lot going on here - drama, mystery, politics, murder, time travel and much more! There is also underlying themes surrounding how a life plays out and factors that influence (in any phase or time) how the many events unfold and some things are inescapable no matter how many times (or selves) you delve into it.

Sadly, however, this was not the book for me. There are just so many characters (multiple of the one character in different timelines as well!), so many timelines - it was all a bit too much. This is a shame as the premise was really quite original but one cannot help but feel for its length, simple would have been a more effective approach - it was just so very convoluted. Despite the titled chapters, the variety of time periods and traveling back and forth were responsible for losing the plot from what could have been a good murder mystery.

The Psychology of Time Travel is indeed a unique and commendable project. I fully appreciate just how complex putting something like this together would have been. The whole concept behind not only a murder mystery but the technicalities of time travel and even the whole culture surrounding how to govern it is really quite profound. There is no doubt it is a most fascinating subject to many. Sadly, however, I just can't get around the fact that with a huge cast of characters, a confusing plot with multiple threads and storylines this book ultimately fell flat and failed to accomplish its goal.

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, August 26, 2018

Review: The Forgotten Guide to Happiness

Title: The Forgotten Guide to Happiness
Author: Sophie Jenkins
Publisher: 26 July 2018 by Avon Books
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: women's fiction, romance, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups

Sometimes, happiness can be found where you least expect it…
Twenty-eight-year-old Lana Green has never been good at making friends. She’s perfectly happy to be left alone with her books. Or at least, that’s what she tells herself.
Nancy Ellis Hall was once a celebrated writer. Now eighty, she lives alone in her North London house, and thinks she’s doing just fine. But dementia is loosening Nancy’s grip on the world.
When Lana and Nancy become unconventional house mates, their lives will change in ways they never expected. But can an unusual friendship rescue two women who don’t realise they need to be saved?
An irresistible story of love, memory and the power of friendship that readers of The Keeper of Lost Things and The Lidowill adore.
My Thoughts

‘... It’s not what you’ll do for love, but what you’ll give up. This was my test and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake this time.’

The Forgotten Guide to Happiness is enjoyable and heartwarming with its touching storyline, solid characters and an easy to read writing style. It is most definitely not the typical formula for a romance book, which was good. There are a range of tales to be told here, that will undoubtedly engage you on more than one level.

‘Love. What was it all about? I thought about my dad and Jo-Ann’s unlikely alliance and whether love amounted to nothing more than finding someone you could watch Netflix with.’

The main character Lana is ‘challenging’, but her flaws are what make her more real. She is a writer searching for a subject for her next book, after her initial book about her whirlwind romance with a travel photographer was a hit. In her search for a story/hero (plus a search for a place to stay and money to pay for things) she befriends a famous feminist novelist from years gone by, who is suffering with dementia and the stepson that cares for her. So you see, apart from Lana’s journey, there is the journey of Nancy and her battle with dementia, plus Jack and his saddened view of love. More than the one proverbial string to this bow as I stated.

‘It’s not right, is it? What are we saving her from, Lana? What are we saving her for? So that she can live a long old age locked up in a place that’s not her own?’

The story was travelling along pleasantly enough until just over the halfway mark when, in my view, Lana completely lost the plot. I know .... I  know ... it was her journey, her lessons to be learnt - but seriously! For all her complaining, this particular event was a little hard to swallow. This twist in the tale did not make sense to me at all.  It was like Lana became a completely different person. This is where the story lost its way a bit for me.

‘We both had our baggage, and even though it wasn’t actually matching, it was definitely the same brand.’

The characters that kept me engaged to the end were Nancy and Jack. He is a good soul with so much heart. Nancy added the flamboyance to the tale  and more of her story would have been beneficial to the overall storyline. Not only her history, but her battle with dementia and its impact on those around her. Overall a good tale about love and the power of friendships.

‘These are the reasons that I like to write: it’s safe. It’s so much easier to make sense of the world in fiction, where there are rules and regulations and the writer has total control over people’s actions. The problem I’ve always had with real life is, you never know what’s going to happen.’

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, August 18, 2018

Review: The Phantom Tree

Title:  The Phantom Tree
Author: Nicola Cornick
Publisher: 21st August 2018 by HARLEQUIN - Graydon House Books (U.S. & Canada)
Pages: 263 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, women's fiction, time travel, fantasy
My Rating: 4 cups

“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”
Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.
The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past – it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.
But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…
My Thoughts

‘The secret of her past was safe at the cost it always exacted, that of isolation.’

The Phantom Tree I found to be a most engaging read. The story of two women, their relationship and how it unfolds over time. This is a time travel, historical novel - two aspects I love reading about. So you need to let go of preconceptions and enjoy some rich escapism, with a little bit of romance and mystery thrown in .

At its heart, this book takes up the fictional story of the very real, Mary Seymour. She was the daughter of Katherine Parr (sixth wife of Henry VIII) who went on to marry her true love (after Henry’s death), namely, Thomas Seymour. Mary’s parents both died while she was young and from that stage on, it appears that Mary herself disappears and there is little record of her in history books. Whatever became of her, no one really knows. So history lovers will delight as the author takes up a fictional possibility of what may have happened to Mary Seymour. It’s clever fiction presented in a most believable and well balanced tale of truth and fantasy.

The descriptions are fabulous, especially those in Tudor times, and I found the dialogue engaging in both periods. With a neat balance between events of past and present, the author allows us to appreciate life many centuries apart. The extraordinary element in this particular tale is that a character travels forward in time and this presents a whole range of issues unforeseen. Not only having to adapt from Tudor to modern day society, but also attempting to return to her own time. A nice switch up from the usual time slip novels.

So herein lies the challenge. Time slip situations need be handled with care and this one is okay. I chose not to question the workings of it to any great length. This story’s true strength lies in the historical tale (one story invariably tends to be stronger than the other) with the fantastical time travel aspect and modern day story not as strong. Still, I enjoyed it overall.

All up I found The Phantom Tree to be a most engaging work of historical fiction, mashed up wonderfully well by the unique travel forward in time. It felt somewhat plausible and that is of course, what attracts historical fiction readers - to delight in mixing things up occasionally.

‘This was not simply a case of what seemed on the surface to be a mad fantasy; there had been deceit on her part at every step.’

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, August 13, 2018

Review: The Botanist's Daughter

Title:  The Botanist’s Daughter
Author: Kayte Nunn
Publisher: 31st July 2018 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father's quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.
In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed 'Spring 1886' and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.
In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .
My Thoughts

The Botanist’s Daughter is a remarkable read that I thoroughly enjoyed. From beginning to end I was enthralled as this book ticked all the boxes in what I look for in a good, well rounded story. A well documented dual narrative (always tricky to pull off) that was so well executed with past and present stories sublimely linked, you will fall under its spell from the moment the box of treasures is discovered in the opening pages.

“... as Anna looked at it she had a sudden premonition, a feeling of apprehension. Exactly what had she discovered? What changes would this bring to her carefully ordered life?”

Chapters are presented from the alternating POV of our two female leads - two journeys, separated by time but bound together through adventuring into the unknown. They may have been different women from different centuries but both were most certainly on a journey of discovery. Elizabeth would travel from Cornwall, England to Valparaiso, Chile in an attempt to honour her father’s dying wish. Anna would travel from Sydney to Cornwall to find answers to her box of discoveries. Both women and their stories will engage you in their determination to overcome obstacles. The characters and indeed both tales, truly complement each other to provide a captivating tale (or two!) I humorously appreciated the ‘Australianisms’, they brought a smile to my face! With references from the ‘old dunny’ (toilet) to ....

“...skipping ahead of them over the cracks in the pavement, eager for the Redskins and Violet Crumbles that were stacked on the shop’s narrow shelves.”

For Kayte’s Nunn’s first attempt at historical fiction, she has done an amazing job. The secondary characters have depth, the plot never drags, the scenic descriptions - particularly of Chile - are vivid and the way all the puzzle pieces are finally brought together in the end is most satisfying. There is some romance in both timelines, but I appreciate how the author stayed true to the heart of the novel, that being, one of a family mystery.

I have no hesitation in highly recommending The Botanist’s Daughter to lovers of historical fiction, dual narratives and an enticing mystery (this has a real Kate Morton flavour). One would be hard pressed not to pick up this stunning book with a cover which in itself is so very inviting. From the locked box containing a diary detailing a long ago journey, to two strong and compelling females imbued with curiosity and courage to set out on journeys of discovery across the globe must surely intrigue the best of us.

“She was, of course, there to fulfil the promise she had made him, the promise that had kept her from collapsing with uncontrollable grief when he died, and had sustained her throughout the long and terrible voyage.”

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 10, 2018

Review: Bellewether

Title: Bellewether
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: 7 August 2018 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

"The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren't such easy things to keep."
It's late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.
Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley's latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you've closed the last page.
My Thoughts

What is there not to love about a new Susanna Kearsley book! Her stories are always fabulously written, well researched and completely captivating. To my mind she is the Queen of dual time storylines. When you open the pages of one of Susanna’s books, you enter into a new world, one that guarantees rich historical drama combined with present day ties.

‘I was motivated even more right now by seeing those two simple, soulless dates bookending what had been the life of a young woman; and by knowing that, through research, I could fill the space between those dates with something that approached that woman’s shape.’

So living up to the precedents set, Bellwether will present two women from two different times, yet seemingly tied together in some way. There will be plenty of historical detail, I knew so very little about the Seven Years War and there is much to learn about the British, French and slavery. There are many interesting characters here, from both timelines, but you are sure to develop a fondness for the Wilde family. In fact Susanna’s explanation at the end of the book will shed some interesting light on what inspired her, characters both real and in some cases based closely on prevalent figures of the day.  They were interesting and easy to connect with. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives and how Susanna cleverly mirrored past with present - particularly how she linked the end and beginning of many chapters even though the dates differed.

Now whilst I enjoyed the book, I will have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed. Her writing finesse is indisputable, however, it was just so slow, really in need of more drama and action scattered throughout. There were, at times, endless descriptions of banal things. Even the ending proved a little too neat and tidy for some characters,  yet others were left with unresolved issues. I’m still even a little confused over the significance of the title of the book.

So whilst I enjoyed the book, I did not love the book - rich in historical fiction and detail but just a little too slow in parts for me.

‘He was looking for the wound. He wouldn’t find one.  All her true wounds were so deep within her nobody would ever see them’

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.