Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review: The Paris Girl

Title: The Paris Girl
Author: Natalie Meg Evans
Publisher: 31st October 2019 by Bookouture
Pages: 461 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 2.5 cups

In 1920s Paris, a young woman will lose everything… and finally discover what truly matters most.
Tatiana Vytenis has worked hard to leave her past behind. Once a ruined Russian princess in hiding, she is now a sought-after model and engaged to Gérard de Sainte-Vierge – a handsome, if occasionally overbearing, aristocrat. With the Sainte-Vierge heirloom ruby sparkling on her finger, Tatiana feels as though she should be happy. Not long ago she was penniless and now she’s about to become a marquise.
But fate still has a final hand to play. One night in a bohemian café in Montparnasse, Tatiana discovers she’s been the unknowing plaything of the Sainte-Vierge family. Hidden beneath their genteel exteriors, Gerard and his brother have a secret darker side, and her darling fiancé will gladly ruin Tatiana’s life to save his own reputation.
As Tatiana’s situation becomes ever more desperate, she crosses paths with an unlikely guardian angel. Regan Dortmeyer is an American in Paris – a war photographer running from his own hard knocks in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. He’s no fancy French nobleman, but Regan has seen the lengths to which a wicked man like Gerard will go. As the consequences of her disastrous engagement threaten to swallow Tatiana up, he might be the only one who can save her now…
My Thoughts

I was greatly intrigued by the synopsis for this book - a Russian Princess now model, French noblemen (if a somewhat shady Marquis), the classic ‘American (photographer) in Paris .... it looked to have the right ingredients - all set to the backdrop of Paris 1920s - what could go wrong?

There were some interesting aspects to this tale. The definite positives are the rich descriptions of place and time; the modelling scene and accompanying photography is lavish. In fact, I wish there were more of it. I did enjoy the drama, particularly surrounding the remaining two sisters and Katya’s journey. Even photojournalists from WW1 turning to shooting Parisian fashion was a worthy topic. The premise, as stated, is a worthy one, that being, when a person loses everything going from riches to rags and losing your home and family, to what extremes would you go to never feel threatened again? Would you marry a man that absolutely everyone (including me) vehemently state you shouldn’t?

‘Are you sure you want to marry into the family?’

Sadly, however, I did not like the main characters. As stated above, Katya was the exception and a few others having secondary roles. The leading man, Regan, is okay within himself, but with Tatiana being so hard to like, what on earth did he see in her?  His back story and why he was in Paris was interesting. Yet this book is all about Tatiana in one sense and she is a difficult character to come to terms with even given her childhood experiences. Spoiled, unappreciative and just plain annoying - it became very difficult to feel sorry for her.

All up this is a real saga of its age, rich in style and detail. With the aftermath of the war and the evolution of a range of characters, The Paris Girl will try to sweep you away along a journey of much drama and heartache. 

‘Why do you love him?’ When she gave no answer, Benjy supplied his own. ‘He’s hypnotised you with his own sense of self-worth. The answer, of course, is that you don’t love him. Not truly. You need him.’

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, December 30, 2019

Review: Lady Clementine

Title: Lady Clementine
Author: Marie Benedict
Publisher: 7th January  2020 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, 
My Rating: 3.5 cups


New from Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room! An incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill.
In 1909, Clementine steps off a train with her new husband, Winston. An angry woman emerges from the crowd to attack, shoving him in the direction of an oncoming train. Just before he stumbles, Clementine grabs him by his suit jacket. This will not be the last time Clementine Churchill will save her husband.
Lady Clementine is the ferocious story of the ambitious woman beside Winston Churchill, the story of a partner who did not flinch through the sweeping darkness of war, and who would not surrender either to expectations or to enemies.
My Thoughts

I absolutely loved Marie Benedict’s previous books (found HERE) so I was excited to begin this story. Marie is once again to be commended for bringing to our attention the fictional lives of very real women who made valuable contributions to society. This book is a realistic fictional retelling of the life of Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine. 

‘Political wives are seldom seen and rarely heard ... But I long for a more substantial part than my predecessors and contemporaries have modeled, and Winston encourages me—no, demands—that I assume a significant mantle, no matter how unusual.’

Clementine Churchill was obviously a fascinating woman based upon the amount of research that has gone into this book. If even half of what is written is to be believed, Clementine was far more than just a wife to one of England’s all time most powerful men. Wife, mother, confidante and if she had anything to do with it, a far greater contributor to the fate of many that any history book records. 

‘I know that they will see Winston’s hand on the pen that scribes history. But, I wonder, will they see that my hand has also been on the pen all along?’

Like Marie’s other novels, this is a compelling look at not only Winston and Clementine’s personal lives but also their very public one - there is much going on here - so much so that large jumps in time take place. This  I felt was detrimental to the depth of the story and also providing a strong affinity with the main characters - overload on facts and less emotion were present due to the approach in writing. Whereas in previous books I felt Marie got the balance right, this one is a little off. At times filled with much war/political tactics it can become a bit repetitive and monotonous. Also, I did not particularly like Clementine - strong willed and forceful (at the neglect of her children) but I tired of reading her constant justifications of actions. Perhaps a sign of women of that era needing to prove herself, but did not make for good reading. 

Marie presents the very best and worst of Clementine, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions. Undoubtedly a women who, much like the other women Marie has selected, deserves far more credit than she is given. All up, a fascinating account of another remarkable woman whose contributions and part played in the history of the time deserves recognition. 

‘My dispositive decision was and had always been Winston, and the expansive, unorthodox life I’ve shared with him was the exact one I was meant to experience.’

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.

Review: The Book Ghost

Title: The Book Ghost
Author: Lorna Gray
Publisher: 14th December 2019 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter
Pages: 380 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

There are no white shrouded spectres here, no wailing ghouls. Just the echoes of those who have passed, whispering that history is set to repeat itself.
The Cotswolds, Christmastime 1946: A young widow leaves behind the tragedy of her wartime life, and returns home to her ageing aunt and uncle. For Lucy – known as Mrs P – and the people who raised her, the books that line the walls of the family publishing business bring comfort and the promise of new beginnings.
But the kind and reserved new editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press is a former prisoner of war, and he has his own shadows to bear. And when the old secrets of a little girl’s abandonment are uncovered within the pages of Robert Underhills’s latest project, Lucy must work quickly if she is to understand the truth behind his frequent trips away.
For a ghost dwells in the record of an orphan girl’s last days. And even as Lucy dares to risk her heart, the grief of her own past seems to be whispering a warning of fresh loss…
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets will be published in the US as The Book Ghost.

My Thoughts

The Book Ghost by Lorna Gray (stunning cover) is a mixture of historical fiction with period drama taking place in England just after WWII . With an interesting focus more on the aftermath of the war and picking up the pieces of lives that have been devastated directly and indirectly. How does one move on from such loss?

‘I thought you were making it worse because you were making me admit all the parts of me that hurt. Then I found it was good to learn to talk to you because I caught a glimpse of a way out if I would just learn that I can tell you anything.’

The tale is  mostly about a struggling publishing company and the blossoming relationship between Lucy a war widow , and Robert a former POW. A mostly misunderstood and awkward relationship which, although drawn out at times, thankfully finds resolution by books end. There is somewhat of a mystery, nothing incredibly gothic or ghostly revolving around a book they were editing. My main issue concerns the writing structure, that being, so much takes place in Lucy’s thoughts. A  conversation will be initiated and seemingly several paragraphs later, Lucy will reply after much rumination and contemplation. It’s frustrating and painful to have to go back and read what the original question was. 

I did persevere though and was happy with the outcome. Ghost story it is not. It is a quiet and gentle book about two people dealing with their emotions of the outfall from war. I appreciated this focus as a bridge between the atrocities that were and how to live again with renewed expectation and hope. 

‘A person’s grasp on permanence didn’t only dwell the physical traces constructed by them in the course of their lives. It grew gently, selflessly, in the thoughts given freely by of those of us who were still living, who cared to remember them and speak their names now that they were gone.’

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, December 29, 2019

Review: The Good Woman of Renmark

Title: The Good Woman of Renmark
Author: Darry Fraser
Publisher: 18th November  2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups


Adventure, romance and history combine in this thrilling 19th century journey through the South Australian bush and along the mighty Murray River in the company of a determined heroine.

1895, Renmark, South Australia

Maggie O'Rourke has always had a hard head. No man was going to tie her down to a life of babies and domestic slavery, even if that man was as good (and as annoyingly attractive) as Sam Taylor. Maggie is happily earning her own way as a maid in a house on the Murray River when disaster strikes.

Forced to defend herself and a friend from assault by an evil man, she flees downriver on a paddle steamer. With death at her heels, Maggie begins to realise that a man like Sam might be just who she wants in her hour of need. As for Sam, well, Maggie has always been what he wants.

The further Maggie runs, the more she discovers there are some things she cannot escape...

My Thoughts

Darry Fraser is one of the many current Australian historical fiction writers who keep producing great stories. She has a strong focus on SE Australia and once again provides great tales from along the Murray River.  Much like the ‘Mighty Murray’, the story flows well with lots of twists and turns.

What I found most enjoyable about this tale was a window into the social norms of the day. Maggie, a strong leading lady, is representative of all women of that era who had no rights and no vote and were at the forefront in the call for change. Resourceful and prepared to stand her ground, Maggie refused to curtail to male chauvinism - and there are a few men who tried their overbearing best. The river is almost a character in itself as it provides details of the hardships to be had in trying to eke out an existence. 

‘If Maggie did indeed live to an old age, how would she keep herself unless she had married and had a stipend from her husband’s estate? But then marriage would inevitably bring children … Her plan seemed not so tight now. How did a woman survive if she was too old or infirm to work?’

I would have appreciated a bit more depth to some episodes and a little less in others. At times Maggie’s repetitive independent mantra wore thin. Alternatively, the romance with Sam was a little superficial and I was left wanting. Overall, The Good Woman of Renmark is another worthy tale that provides quality escapism to a time of growth and change in Australia’s history. 

“ ... think if we had greater control of our lives financially, and with more education, it would suit us well. We would not be subject to as much poverty.”

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, December 28, 2019

Review: Up on Horseshoe Hill

Title: Up on Horseshoe Hill
Author: Penelope Janu
Publisher: 18th November 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, cultural, Australia
My Rating: 4 cups

Jemima Kincaid loves her home, her horses and her job as a farrier. Life has not been kind to her, but Jemima is happy in the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill, which rallied around in her hour of need. Even so, she is fiercely independent and will never rely on anyone again.

Particularly a man like Finn Blackwood.

An infuriatingly attractive geneticist and wild animal vet, Finn threatens not only the serenity of Jemima's present, but that of the future she has so carefully mapped out. But as their paths continue to cross, she finds her attraction to Finn impossible to counter, even as the trauma of her past threatens to undo her. Finn is fascinated by Jemima's solitary nature and unique vulnerabilities but Jemima knows all about loss and how to avoid it. Don't let anyone get close in the first place ...

As the past begins to cast long shadows, Jemima and Finn discover that a kiss can bring worlds together-or tear them apart. Will they finally face their fears and find love on Horseshoe Hill?

My Thoughts

I was positively anticipating my first Penelope Janu book as she is so highly regarded. I was not disappointed. There is much to engage the reader with this well written, multi dimensional tale of love and loss, mystery and suspense and two strong leading characters.

With much on offer, this really is more than your standard rural romance. Of course, there is a great romance with a wonderful leading man. Yet the twist of having one with dyslexia and the other with anaphylaxis makes for a unique union. There is also a mystery running throughout which is engaging. I also appreciated Penelope’s understanding of dealing with long term grief. It was refreshing to have an author present true to life challenges for a character that has undergone such tragic loses. It does not simply go away. There is small town rural living and the whole community that comes with that which is always fun to read. A special aspect of this particular story is one for animal lovers. With the two leading characters having particular roles - a farrier (loved learning about that) and a geneticist/vet who specialises in wild animals - it makes for wonderful reading for animal lovers. Add into the mix a few trips with engagements at the  Dubbo Western Plains Zoo (giraffes and rhinos) and there is much to entice the reader. 

Horseshoe Hill is a novel that I would recommend for animal lovers, for rural romance lovers and for those seeking an engaging read. 

‘Is refusing to tell the truth as bad as telling lies? It can’t be, can it?’

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, December 27, 2019

Review: Cry of the Firebird

Title: Cry of the Firebird
Author: T.M. Clark
Publisher: 18th November  2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, mystery, Africa
My Rating: 4 cups


In the badlands of Africa, a resourceful doctor fights to save her patients' lives. Australian thriller writer T.M. Clark returns with a vivid, action-packed adventure in the tradition of Wilbur Smith.
South African-born Doctor Lily Winters, a consultant with the World Health Organization, has been in the thick of some of the worst humanitarian disasters across the globe. But when she's posted back to South Africa following the suspicious death of an ex-colleague, she faces the biggest medical mystery she's ever seen.
The resettled Platfontein San People population is exhibiting a higher than average HIV epidemic, and their people are dying. The cases Lily takes over are baffling and despite her best efforts the medicine doesn't seem to be helping.
To save this unique community, Lily and a policeman from the Kalahari, Piet Kleinman, join forces to trace the origins of the epidemic and uncover the truth. Their search drags them into the dangerous world of a corrupt industry driven by profit while the authorities meant to protect their community turn a blind eye. In a race against time Lily and Piet will put not only their careers but their lives on the line...

My Thoughts

‘Many people in South Africa have witnessed too much extreme violence, and the stress of living here, it takes its toll, no matter how beautiful the country is.’

I am a big fan of T.M. Clark and once again Tina delivers with another awesome tale set in the heart of Africa. I have enjoyed each one of her books where she chooses a different aspect and produces not only a riveting tale but also shines the spotlight on a contemporary issue. Whilst sure to include the stunning landscape and unique cultures, Tina is a master at subtly drawing attention to some of the more darker and sinister sides to this great continent. 

Cry of the Firebird tackles the controversy surrounding corruption in the pharmaceutical business and also the police force of post apartheid South Africa. Tina has certainly done her research here in terms of settings and culture but also right down to the array of issues presented. These range from poverty and crime, to medical research and HIV. She even touches on the debilitating Alzheimer’s and the medicinal use of cannabis. I am not usually a fan of so many highly rated issues being  incorporated into the one story, however, Tina does it all and really well. 

‘If they had spent time educating everyone, there might have been a marked difference. Hindsight is a wonderful gift created to haunt us, isn’t it?’

Having livid in Namibia for a time, I particularly appreciated the plight of the San and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with Kalahari policeman, Piet Kleinman and the trips out to the clinics. Cry of the Firebird is a rich and multi layered tale that is not only filled with action and adventure but also provides real depth into sensitive issues. Readers will appreciate Tina’s ‘Fact v Fiction’ addition at the conclusion of the tale. 

‘We did not care about what country passports we carried back then, we could always walk through the bush. This is how it has always been done. Out there in the Kalahari, where our ancestors came from, all the San tribes once knew each other. In essence, we are all one people. Even with all the different languages, inside our hearts we are the same. Now governments have put up big fences and country borders, and we are told we as a people are not allowed in the Kalahari anymore.’

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, December 26, 2019

Review: There's Something About Darcy

Title: There's Something About Darcy
Author: Gabrielle Malcolm
Publisher: 11th November 2019 by Endeavour Media
Pages: 268 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs , Nonfiction
My Rating: 4 cups

For some, Colin Firth emerging from a lake in that clinging wet shirt is one of the most iconic moments in television. But what is it about the two-hundred-year-old hero that we so ardently admire and love?

Dr Gabrielle Malcolm examines Jane Austen’s influences in creating Darcy’s potent mix of brooding Gothic hero, aristocratic elitist and romantic Regency man of action. She investigates how he paved the way for later characters like Heathcliff, Rochester and even Dracula, and what his impact has been on popular culture over the past two centuries. For twenty-first century readers the world over have their idea of the ‘perfect’ Darcy in mind when they read the novel, and will defend their choice passionately.

In this insightful and entertaining study, every variety of Darcy jostles for attention: vampire Darcy, digital Darcy, Mormon Darcy and gay Darcy. Who does it best and how did a clergyman’s daughter from Hampshire create such an enduring character?

A must-read for every Darcy and Jane Austen fan.

My Thoughts

‘He is now an archetype that defines a whole strand of characters in fiction, drama, media and popular culture. These are identified by a single name - Darcy.’

I love everything Austen with Pride and Prejudice and  Mr Darcy being my all time favourite. So this book was a must read and proved to be so very interesting through its analysis of literature from Austen’s time right up to contemporary tales. Especially considering the latter, undoubtedly, the story of Darcy has been a worldwide phenomenon  with its impact on romance writing. 

Gabrielle Malcolm has undertaken a vast amount of research and I truly appreciated both comparative books discussions to character adaptations and fan fiction, even the inclusion of the web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I adored watching online. One cannot doubt the influence that Jane Austen has had on the literary world. Reading much like an essay, Gabrielle details literature, film and television examples that she analyses and ties back into the original. Character comparisons from the Bronte’s Rocherster or Heathcliff to modern day Edward Cullen or Christian Grey. From Bronte and Heyer, to Helen Fielding and Curtis Sittenfeld. From the big screen 1940s Laurence Olivier to 2005 with Matthew Macfadyen strolling through the misty field. From Bollywood to zombie adaptations ... it’s all here. 

‘Darcy’s story arc is one of personal development and the growth of self-knowledge, so that he gains insight into his feelings and the conflicting emotions that so trouble him.’

Garbrielle delivers a wealth of research in her bid to study the impact each of these portrayals, tied in to perception of character, has had on the legacy that is Austen and her Darcy. Be warned, this is a definite scholars account  of why this aristocratic hero has endured. There’s Something About Darcy may be too dry for some, contain too many spoilers of books unread for others, or lack the in depth analysis with its broad approach. However, for me, it was brilliant. 

Gabrielle Malcolm is to be commended for undertaking a book such as this, with an incredible eye for detail yet simultaneously presenting an engaging approach making it accessible to many. A must read for all Austenites as they are sure to appreciate this thorough and unique study of one of the most well loved characters in all of literary history. 

‘Darcy’s ability to change his views, modify his opinions .... and learn from his mistakes have powerfully impressed readers for the past 200 years.

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.