Saturday, February 23, 2019

Review: Summer on the Italian Lakes

Title: Summer on the Italian Lakes
Author: Lucy Coleman
Publisher: 5th February 2019 by Aria
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 2.5 cups

Bestselling Brianna Middleton has won the hearts of millions of readers with her sweeping - and steamy - love stories. But the girl behind the typewriter is struggling... Not only does she have writer's block, but she's a world-famous romance author with zero romance in her own life.
So the opportunity to spend the summer teaching at a writer's retreat in an idyllic villa on the shores of Lake Garda - owned by superstar author Arran Jamieson - could this be just the thing to fire up Brie's writing - and romantic - mojo?
Brie's sun-drenched Italian summer could be the beginning of this writer's very own happy-ever-after...
My Thoughts

In essence, this is a getaway romance about two authors that come together at a writer’s retreat at the Italian lakes - wonderful and inviting descriptions of the Villa Monteverdi and the views overlooking the lake, make it a worthwhile escapism to Italy, with the right mix of romance and atmosphere to make you feel like you are there.

Brie is a romance writer and Arran, a military historical writer - just about as different as you can get - but the sparks fly and the inevitable romance occurs. Bring into the mix the couple’s separate troubled past relationships and there is enough there to engage the reader.

I do have to admit, however, that I found this book quite methodical, characters cardboard cutouts and the book used as a platform to ‘preach’ on a number of issues - everything from trolling, to relationships, to becoming an author. I found it overall to be rather clinical, providing too much information that did not necessarily weave in seamlessly with the story. It felt at times, as if the author used her book as a forum to speak directly to the reader on these issues with a mixture of her opinion and facts. Unfortunately, that made it somewhat disconnected and even conflicted this message with the plot on one occasion.

So whilst I loved the premise of the story, I found the writing style challenging. I admire the author for making a statement on these important issues, however, it just seemed to be at odds with the overall intended romantic nature of the book.

‘We live in a world where the bad news hits the headlines faster than the good news, if it makes it at all. Good deeds go unrecognised all the time, but I suspect that it’s not often they go totally unnoticed, or unappreciated. What many suffer from is a hesitancy to put themselves in a position where they reach out to offer help, love, or simply a listening ear, because they fear rejection.’

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, February 20, 2019

Review: The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Title:  The Department of Sensitive Crimes
A Detective Varg novel
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: 12th February 2019 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 240 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: General Fiction (Adult) , Mystery & Thrillers
My Rating: 3 cups

From the beloved and bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series comes a lighthearted comedic novel about a Swedish police department tasked with solving the most unusual, complicated, and, often, insignificant crimes.
The detectives who work in Malmo Police's Department of Sensitive Crimes take their job very seriously. The lead detective, Ulf Varg, prioritizes his cases above even his dog's mental health. Then there are detectives Anna Bengsdotter, who keeps her relationship with Varg professional even as she realizes she's developing feelings for him . . . or at least for his car, and Carl Holgersson, first to arrive in the morning and last to leave, who would never read his colleagues' personal correspondence--unless it could help solve a crime, of course. Finally, there's Erik Nykvist, who peppers conversations with anecdotes about fly fishing.
Along with an opinionated local police officer named Blomquist, the Department of Sensitive Crimes takes on three extremely strange cases. First, the detectives investigate how and why a local business owner was stabbed . . . in the back of the knee. Next, a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. And, in the final investigation, Varg must determine whether nocturnal visitations at a local spa have a supernatural element.
Using his renowned wit and warmth, Alexander McCall Smith brings a unique perspective on Scandinavian crime. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a literary master.
My Thoughts

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is the first in a new series, by the much-loved author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series -  Alexander McCall Smith. Having written a number of series, it’s always tempting to delve into McCall’s newest writing, as I adore his warmth and philosophical observations. Whilst this proved a very different read, it was still light and quirky with his signature ramblings:

‘Sometimes we stumble over the truth. We think we find it, but it finds us.’
Anna asked, ‘Does that matter? What counts is the result, not the route by which one reaches the result. it’s often all a matter of luck.’
Ulf pondered this. The role of luck in human affairs had always intrigued him. So much of what we did was influenced by factors that were beyond our control –the vagaries of others, sequences of events that we initiated in ignorance of where they would lead, chance meetings that led to the making of a decision that would change our life.’

I am a huge fan of McCall's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and have delved into some of his other tales but sadly this one was not up there with my favourites even though it follows a similar vein as No.1 Ladies. We have a detective working on quirky cases who contemplates and passes observations. The ‘crime’ side of the novel is very gentle, much like No.1 Ladies.  The problem I feel is that, that being character driven, Ulf and associated characters do not portray the same charms as Mma Ramotswe and crew. It seemed to lack that unique attraction and heartfelt engagement of the African plains. Maybe it was not transferable to Sweden?

Still, it is McCall’s writing that I enjoy and a pleasant enough read, sprinkled with the musings that we have come to love and expect.

‘There were subtleties in the claiming of space; we staked out our territory on beaches, small squares of sand to which we felt entitled to return after our swim; we created all sorts of unseen boundaries, temporary and informal, by leaving our possessions on seats and benches  – a jacket left on a chair made a claim every bit as specific and discouraging as a notice of legal title. This is mine –I’m coming back. Don’t think of sitting here.’

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, February 17, 2019

Review: Homestead on the River

Title: Homestead on the River
Author: Rosie Mackenzie
Publisher: 29th January 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ (Fiction, Non Fiction, YA) & MIRA
Pages: 512 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3 cups


An unforgettable tale of love, loss and betrayal from an exciting new Australian voice in historical fiction. In stark contrast to her own childhood during the last days of the Raj in India, the spectacular beauty surrounding their home, Rathgarven in Ireland has proven to be a happy place for Kathleen O'Sullivan and her husband, James, to raise their four children. But Kathleen is no stranger to heartbreak, and when the family is faced with losing everything, she knows they will need to adapt to survive. Even if that means leaving their beloved home and moving to Australia to start afresh.

Lillie O'Sullivan knows that her mother and father haven't been entirely truthful about the reasons for their move to Australia. But as they settle into their new home in rural New South Wales she is willing to give it a chance. That is, until the secrets her parents have kept for so long finally catch up with them.

Secrets that have the power to destroy their family and ruin their future.

From the vibrant colours of India to the meadows of Ireland to the harsh but beautiful Australian land, a family fights for their future.

My Thoughts

A somewhat epic family saga spanning around the world, from Ireland to Australia and set in the 1960s. This tale centres around a family who have to give up their family estate in Ireland and are forced take up a new adventure in outback Australia.

Whilst it seems appealing, there is a lot going on with this book trying to do too much in my opinion. There is a large cast of characters with backstories to match, full of many dramas.  However, few are dealt with in a way to engage the reader sufficiently despite the 500+ page reading. There really is not that much set in the last days of Raj, India which is rather disappointing - a cryptic prologue to try and engage the reader is about it. We then move to Ireland where the father loses the family estate which all seems rather unbelievable and out of character. There is this ‘mystery’ held over the reader for the entire book and it is not until the last 10% of the book that anything really happens with regards to a few key plot lines.

The story of two generations contains love and loss, secrets and betrayal with their  impact upon many of the family members. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot on offer with this read, but I felt that a condensed version focused purely on certain characters would have produced a more engaging and in depth read - certain sections were just too simplistic with the writing lacking depth. It rambles on a bit with some passages and interactions either irrelevant or drawn out for far too long.

The characters are, however, relatable and engaging (although I did have a real problem with Lillie’s reaction to her shock twist towards the end, as once again it seemed out of character) as it sweeps over many drama filled moments 1960s style.

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, February 15, 2019

Review: The Tanglewood Tea Shop

Title: The Tanglewood Tea Shop
Author: Lilac Mills
Publisher: Canelo, 31 January 2019
Pages: 270 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

Patisserie-Chef Stevie is stuck in a rut. Her beloved Great Aunt Peggy has passed away, she’s been fired from her job and the love of her life has walked out the door. But when she’s called to the solicitor’s office to hear the reading of Peggy’s will, Stevie’s life begins to change.

Left with a large amount of money, Stevie is determined to take Peggy’s advice and turn her life around. The quirky tea shop that she sees up for sale in the beautiful village of Tanglewood must be a sign, and Stevie can’t wait to make it her new home.

But what happens after your dreams come true? It turns out that life in the village isn't as idyllic as it may have seemed. With local mums waging war against sugar, a tea shop and its patisserie-chef owner are definitely not welcome.

When the gorgeous but grouchy local stable-owner, Nick, shows up he seems like just another fly in the pastry batter but as the two grow closer, Stevie realises he might just be the perfect reason to stay and win over the village...

This laugh-out-loud romantic comedy is perfect for fans of Daisy James, Holly Martin and Portia Macintosh.
My Thoughts

The Tanglewood Tea Shop is a lighthearted novel to escape into when life gets hectic. It begins with the protagonist, Stevie, inheriting a very handsome sum of money from her Great Aunt Peggy. She spent a lot of time with Peggy when she was alive and was always there for her, hence the large inheritance.

"...How much?” It came out as a strangled yell as Stevie spluttered tea down her chin.’

Some people are not happy for Stevie’s inheritance and proceed to protest very loudly. Stevie is determined to not ‘fritter it away’ and do something worthwhile with the money.

‘Please, use the money to follow your heart. I know you’ll spend it well.  I have total faith in you. You were always my favourite. I know I shouldn’t say it, but it’s true. I loved you like a granddaughter and I always will, wherever I am now.’

Stevie is searching the internet for a job, because she has just lost hers (so the money is very much needed) and she comes across a cafe for sale in Tanglewood. The next day she goes for a drive to see it and decides to buy it.

“She had a good feeling about this. A really good feeling.”

Stevie begins to set up her cafe and enlists the help of her good friend, Karen. I really enjoyed reading about how and where she found her equipment for the cafe, especially the tea pots, cups, saucers etc.

‘The car boot sale was huge…”You know the sort of thing I’m looking for?”...”Anything cutesy, mismatched, old fashioned...I have this vision in my head of flowery tea cups and tiny silver tongs for the sugar lumps, and real linen napkins.”...’

While Stevie is getting acquainted with Tanglewood, she meets some interesting characters. She hires Cassandra as an assistant, who is a godsend and helps Stevie negotiate her business. I really enjoyed reading about Betty, a customer in her cafe who becomes a very good friend. Betty is very eccentric and reminds Stevie of her Aunt Peggy.

‘She had orange wellies with big yellow flowers on her feet, and a pink beret completed her outfit.’

Even though life is a lot quieter than the rat race of London that Stevie is used to, setting up her business has its challenges and not everyone is happy to have her there or happy for her. I didn’t like her Mum and sister’s treatment of her and their jealousy, they were just downright rude.

Stevie has a love interest, the local stable owner, Nick. I liked reading about their developing feelings for each other and it was funny, that they were both oblivious to each other’s feelings even though it was mutual.

When a traumatic event occurs, it really shows the true nature of the characters and their relationships with each other. There are some past truths revealed and the book shows real substance. I enjoyed this part the most.

‘She was surprised so many of the villagers had turned out to help - she couldn’t imagine the same thing happening in London...Seeing so many familiar faces simply getting on with it, despite the torrential rain, gave her a warm, comfortable feeling. And the smiles and nods of acceptance aimed at her, made her finally feel as though she was a part of this little community.’

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys humourous, light hearted, escapism with a bit of substance thrown in.

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, February 10, 2019

Review: Lavender Blue

Title:  Lavender Blue
Author: Donna Kauffman
Publisher: 29th January 2019 by Kensington Books Zebra
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary romance, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

In the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains lies a small town with a big heart—and a chance to begin again . . .
When Hannah Montgomery buys a lavender farm in Blue Hollow Falls with three friends, she’s creating a life she never imagined—one she hopes will honor the memory of the sweet young son she tragically lost years ago. Standing on the porch of the sprawling farmhouse, looking out on row upon row of those lush purple plumes, Hannah is ready to embrace this fresh, new start . . .
Then she meets Wilson McCall. The stonemason hired to fix their crumbling chimneys and leaky roof is quieter than most folks in the Falls. Hannah’s not surprised to learn the widower struggles with his own grief. Who could blame her if she finds joy in making Will laugh again, or if she feels a poignant kinship when she sees him with his teenaged son?  But her deepening friendship with Will reminds Hannah that there’s a part of her that still needs to heal—awakening a tender yearning to have a life that isn’t just good enough, but lived fully—even if that means taking risks once more . . .
My Thoughts

“Now was the time for building and restoring, for repairing and learning. The time for opening their doors, their lavender fields, their tearoom, and welcoming the world.”

‘Lavender Blue’ is a sweet story with many likeable characters set in a gorgeous rural location - stunning lavender fields of Virginia. I mean, what is there not to love about this book cover? At its heart, this is a book about grieving and healing and I think Kauffman does a worthy job for such heart wrenching issues. This book is the third in a series but can most definitely be read as a standalone. I have not read any others and had no problem at all following along with the story.

“I’ve become a firm believer that not everything that’s ever happened to us in life needs to be worked on or sorted out.”

Although it tackles the different ways people deal with loss, it balances this nicely with some light romance. It is, in fact, a mutual sharing of grief that brings the two lead characters together and their romance is of a more mature kind which makes for a nice change. However, as stated, much of the book is dedicated to learning to move on from sorrow and let yourself live happily again. I appreciated Will and Hannah’s honesty and the processes and considerations they granted each other to work through and come out the other side in starting afresh.

“... if it’s not affecting your life, your ability to live it as you please, then”—she shrugged—“who cares? The past is the past is the past. Focus on the now, look toward the future.”

That being said, there were parts where it became a bit too much and repetitive concerning the sorrow, doubts and reluctance. There are many conversations where matters are discussed over and over - still, it’s a good way for readers in similar situations to view how such matters can be handled. It has some solid thoughts on how to deal with grief over the loss of a loved one.

All up this is a pleasant enough read with the themes of sorrow, friendship, love, family and friends. A well balanced heartwarming and sweet tale of healing, providing thoughtful and compassionate characters that will appeal to many.

“I’ve spent many an hour pondering that landscape and my place in it. Puts the world in perspective.” She smiled. “I call it time well spent.”

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