Friday, April 26, 2019

Review: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy

Title: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy
Author: Alexandra Walsh
Publisher: 28th March 2019 by Sapere Books
Pages: 464 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 5 cups

What secrets were covered up at the court of Henry VIII …?
Whitehall Palace, England, 1539
When Catherine Howard arrives at the court of King Henry VIII to be a maid of honour in the household of the new queen, Anne of Cleves, she has no idea of the fate that awaits her.
Catching the king’s fancy, she finds herself caught up in her uncle’s ambition to get a Howard heir to the throne.
Terrified by the ageing king after the fate that befell her cousin, Anne Boleyn, Catherine begins to fear for her life…
Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2018
Dr Perdita Rivers receives news of the death of her estranged grandmother, renowned Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy.
Mary inexplicably cut all contact with Perdita and her twin sister, Piper, but she has left them Marquess House, her vast estate in Pembrokeshire.
Perdita sets out to unravel their grandmother’s motives for abandoning them, and is drawn into the mystery of an ancient document in the archives of Marquess House, a collection of letters and diaries claiming the records of Catherine Howard’s execution were falsified…
What truths are hiding in Marquess House? What really happened to Catherine Howard?
And how was Perdita’s grandmother connected to it all?
THE CATHERINE HOWARD CONSPIRACY is the first book in the Marquess House trilogy, a dual timeline conspiracy thriller with an ingenious twist on a well-known period of Tudor history.
My Thoughts

Yes, I am a huge historical fiction fan, with the cherry on top being anything Tudor! So I was fairly confident I would find something in this book ... and I did. The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is first in a trilogy, ‘The Marquess House’ and combines a dual narrative with a mystery/thriller component. What we have here is a truly intriguing piece of literature that, similar to Laura Anderson’s The Boleyn Trilogy, offers a sensible spin on what could have been. Love it!

“How we view ourselves as a nation comes from the way we regard our collective history. But what if it were wrong? What if the version of history we have all been taught, that academics have studied for centuries, is in fact nothing more than a huge fabrication? That we have all been duped into believing lies, and that it’s all been done with the collusion of successive governments.”

What I found most impressive here is the extensive research Alexandra Walsh has undertaken. Although a work of fiction, it reads like an accurate recount of King Henry VIII court except a new creatively inspired twist on the well known tale of his wives. I was also impressed with how the two narratives worked so well together, creating a seamless jigsaw puzzle to be put together by the end. For history buffs, you will LOVE what Walsh has done here and how she has used historical facts to support new and exciting interpretations. You will ponder and reflect on how events may have transpired given situations and characters of Henry’s court in the 1540s. I should have probably scored this as a 4.5* given the far fetched conspiracy of the modern day and with the ending being a little fantastical, but I was prepared to suspend disbelief as it’s such a rollicking good tale!

‘Suddenly, she realised the true helplessness of her situation. Although her betrothment to the king had elevated her status at the court, to her family and, most particularly, her uncle who was the head of the Howards, she remained a puppet to be used in order to help him achieve his own plans and ambitions.’

Catherine Howard is probably the weakest and most flighty wife of the six wives, but here, Walsh gives her a real voice and takes the commonly accepted facts, twisting them in an absolute refreshing way to provide an utterly sympathetic tale of what might have been. This is not an easy path, rather, a complex and well thought out thriller produced with a plot that will keep you going right to the very end. Take your Tudor knowledge and turn it on its head! How fascinating! I can’t allude to much without giving away the turn of events, but suffice to say I fully embrace this new version of Catherine Howard and find it to be supported with some realistic fiction.

‘What had captured her imagination was the possibility that there was a different version of events leading up to Catherine’s death. One that suggested she had not been the spoilt, promiscuous child so many biographies hypothesised but, rather like her cousin Anne Boleyn, was the innocent victim of her scheming and powerful male relatives.’

Although the first in a trilogy, this story does reach some satisfying conclusions, whilst providing me with enough incentive to want to continue the journey for the follow up. I can only congratulate the author on her creativity and unique way of weaving historical facts with well thought out fiction. The research and imagination blend perfectly for a most thrilling read. Highly recommend for historical fiction fans.

“But if that’s the case and Catherine Howard wasn’t executed,” said Perdita, “where did she go and what happened to her?”  

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, April 24, 2019

The Pieces of You and Me

Title: The Pieces of You and Me
Author: Rachel Burton
Publisher: HQ Digital
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance.
My Rating: 4.5 cups


‘A beautiful story of second-chance love between two perfectly imperfect characters. Rachel writes with such emotional honesty, it leaves me lost for words.’ Sarah Bennett She’d turned her back on love. But fate had other ideas.
A powerful and uplifting second chance love story to make you laugh and cry, perfect for fans of Katie Marsh, Sheila O’Flanagan, and Amanda Prowse.
When Jess and Rupert parted ways, it was the end of a great love story that might have been. Now ten years later, the very different paths they have taken in life will bring them back together for a chance meeting.
But with so much left unsaid about the break up neither ever recovered from and with each keeping their own devastating secrets, will they finally be able to make the fractured pieces of their love for one another whole again?
‘Once again Rachel Burton has blown me away with a poignant romance entwined in the battles of the real world.The Pieces of You and Me is an enthralling love story that asks the question – can true love stand not just the test of time but the challenges we face along the way? Jess and Rupert are both fabulous and flawed and their story feels as real to me as the people I see every day. A down to earth and wonderfully uplifting story of love and second chances.’ Lauren North

My Thoughts
“It was his laugh that I recognised first. That low rumble was as familiar to me as my own, even after nearly a decade”
This was a beautiful, love story of 2 characters who had a chance at love, second time around. It was a lighthearted romance with a few serious issues thrown in to give it substance.
I really enjoyed reading about how the 2 protagonists reconnected after nearly 10 years apart. They each had their own troubles along the way and had dealt with health issues. They had parted due to a misunderstanding and were drawn back together by a mutual friend.
Every chapter started off with either Jess or Rupert in the first person in the past or the present and told their side of the story. I really enjoyed this way of writing and it gave me (the reader) an insight into their separate lives and also their past lives together.
I highly recommend this book as a very enjoyable and easy read.

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, April 22, 2019

The Things we Cannot Say

Title: The Things we Cannot Say
Author: Kelly Rimmer
Publisher: Hachette Australia, 26th February 2019
Pages: 432 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
My Rating: 5 cups


In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it.

My Thoughts

“War had taken almost everything from me; but I refused to let it shake my confidence in the man I loved.”

This book is a definite 5 star read. From the beginning to the end, it had me completely enthralled. The characters, the double storyline, Kelly did an amazing job with this book! She weaved the two storylines together so well and each one had its own identity as well as being mingled together with the other one. I really enjoy reading books between the past and the present day and this one was no exception.

In the present day story, Alice is a mum of 2 children, Eddie and Pascale, Eddie has severe autism and is non-verbal so it’s extremely difficult for everyone when his routine is disrupted or anything changes.

“Today’s disaster happened when Eddie reached the yoghurt aisle...At some point recently, someone at Go-Gurt decided to improve the design of the graphics on the tubes...I’m sure no one at Go-Gurt realized that such a tiny change would one day lead to a seven-year-old boy smashing up a supermarket aisle in a bewildered rage.”

The significance of what the old lady in the supermarket gives Eddie to calm him down, only comes out right at the end of the book.

I especially loved the special relationship between Eddie and Alice’s grandmother (his great grandmother), Babcia.

“In a world that doesn’t understand my son, he’s always had Babcia, who doesn’t care if she understands him or not-she simply adores him the way he is...He nestles into her side and closes his eyes, and as she sinks back into the pillow, she rests her cheek against Eddie’s blond hair. Then Babcia closes her eyes too, and she breathes him in as if he’s a newborn baby.”

The other part of the story is set in Poland, during the Nazi Occupation and outlines Alina’s relationship with her family and her great love, Tomasz. Alina is quite naive and until she personally witnesses the struggles of her family and loved ones, she doesn’t realise the severity of the war and then her innocence is gone forever.

“From there though, I saw everything differently-for the first time, I understood the recently frenetic activity of my parents and brothers, and I finally understood their bewildering insistence on preserving perfectly good food before it was even necessary to do so.”

After Alina witnesses a brutal execution, her life changes forever and she has fears for her and her families’ safety. She grows up and realises she has to be the one to try and save them and find Tomasz.

I loved the way this book switched between the two stories and they both intermingled so well together. The ending provided answers to all of the unanswered questions throughout the book in both time frames and the twist at the end, tied it all up so nicely. Kelly did an amazing job of being able to combine two stories together and her descriptive writing really made me think I was there in both the past and the present.
I highly recommend this book and know you will love it as much as I did. A 5 cup read for sure!  

"Thank you, Babcia, I whisper, as a gentle breeze stirs the branches above me. Thank you for trusting me to find out the answers for you. I had forgotten I knew how to do 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.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

After the Party

Title: After the Party
Author: Cassie Hamer
Publisher: Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA HQ Fiction, 18th February 2019
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

An unexpected gift left at her daughter's fifth birthday party in the form of a little girl pitches Sydney mum Lisa Wheeldon into events both hilarious and life-changing.

Liane Moriarty meets Marian Keyes with a touch of Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap in this hilarious, touching and clever novel that asks what wouldn't you do to save a child?

Be careful what you wish for...

Lisa Wheeldon has a lovely life. Wife to a gorgeous husband, Scott, and a devoted mother to two small daughters, the former accountant has everything she wants - except a third child. But the universe has a strange way of providing.

On the surface, Ava's fifth birthday party seems the ideal opportunity for Lisa to meet her daughter's new kindergarten friends - all 32 of them! But from beginning to end, the day is a complete nightmare, capped off by the discovery of a little girl hiding in the Wheeldon's backyard. At first, Lisa reasons that Ellie's mum is running late. But when they open a gift from the mysterious little girl, it becomes clear her mother has no intention of returning at all...

What sort of mother abandons her child? And why has she chosen the Wheeldons?

Together, Lisa and her sister Jamie launch their own efforts to find the missing mum, a journey that will force Lisa to face her past, Jamie to confront her future and see both embroiled with angry exes, pragmatic fortune-tellers, Russian mobsters and a hyena pack of yummy mummies.

A journey that will force Lisa to rethink all she knows about being a good mother.

My Thoughts

“Two children was sensible, she and Scott had agreed. A third child would leave them outnumbered...Still, Lisa couldn’t quite quell the feeling that her family wasn’t complete.”

In After the Party, the protagonist Lisa got much more than she bargained for after her daughter, Ava’s birthday party was finally over. I really loved this book and all the issues it dealt with were extremely well written about.
I liked all the characters, especially one of the ‘yummy mummies’, Heather, who helped her get the party back on track after many disasters.

“...’Pierre? It’s Heather, darling. Mwah. Mwah. I need one of your iced, flourless, dairy-free chocolate cakes immediately. As in, yesterday...You’ve got  a spare? Fabulous...All right darling. There in a jiffy. Ciao, my strudel superhero,’ she tinkled before hanging up.”

What starts off as an innocent child’s birthday party becomes  a hunt for the abandoned child’s mother, Missy, after she leaves Ellie at Ava’s birthday party with a note.
Lisa decides to try and find Ellie’s mum herself using the help of the other mums at Ava’s school. She enrols Ellie in the school and tries to provide a ‘normal’ life for her realising Ellie has been through an ordeal.

“I have a friend who’s had to go...go away after her...ah...her sick mum...Well, I’m looking after her child, a six-year-old, Ellie, turning seven in September, and I was wondering if she could attend St John’s for the next six weeks or so.”

Lisa eventually realises she is going to need more help in finding Ellie’s mum and there is more to the story than she first thought, so she hires a private investigator.
Lisa’s sister Jamie is also going through something with her soon to be husband, Jared and it appears there could be a connection between Jared and Ellie’s mum.

“When Ellie had fallen asleep on the bed at Lisa’s, Jamie had studied her face.There was something in the little girl she felt she recognised, but couldn’t put a finger on.”

This was a very enjoyable read and the way Cassie wrote and weaved characters and stories together was very engaging. I highly recommend this book to all readers, especially readers who enjoy women’s fiction.

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: Home at Last

Title: Home at Last
Author: Meredith Appleyard
Publisher: 18th March 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Flying solo can be harder than it looks ... A warm-hearted rural romance about finding your way home. Flying solo for the first time had been the greatest high of Anna Kelly's life. So when the chance of a dream job as a pilot with the Royal Flying Doctor Service comes up she takes it, even though she has to leave her home in Adelaide and move to remote Broken Hill - a place she had hoped she would never see again.
The bad memories the town provokes remind Anna why she keeps men at arm's length but as her work proves fulfilling, her housemate becomes a friend and a warm community grows around her, Anna is surprised to discover that Broken Hill is starting to feel like home.
But there is no such thing as plain sailing and with errant mothers, vengeful ex-patients and determined exes on the prowl, life is becoming increasingly complicated. More than that, the distractingly attractive Flight Nurse Nick Harrison seems keen to get to know her better, and he has a way of finding a path through her defences. But will he still want her if the truth comes out?
My Thoughts

An engaging and heartwarming rural medical romance is what you will discover with this book. It is an enjoyable women's fiction tale, with themes of general living, family, friendships, romances, life choices and the challenges of living in a small rural town. I especially appreciated witnessing the life of a shift worker and the challenges that ensue.

This story also highlighted a number of important issues such as mental health, especially when associated with remote and isolated living situations; aged care and assisting aging parents; homelessness for a range of ages - adolescent boarding school to medical shift workers, to estranged marriages, to aged care - important issues that I felt were dealt with in an appropriate and enlightening way.

At its heart, however, this is a medical rural romance, set in and around Broken Hill (NSW - Australia) with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). It was above average as far as romance goes but, at times, was a little repetitive and prolonged in sorting out the relevant issues for both major parties. What I did appreciate and wish was investigated further, was the gender role reversal of a male nurse and female pilot - I wish more had been attributed to this significant aspect. The plot is simple but engaging with regards to the various relationships and there are some good secondary characters.

The highlight of this book would have to be the fascinating insights into RFDS culture and traveling the vast regions of the Australian landscape. I understood but never really appreciated the difficulties of not only dealing with providing medical assistance to remote areas, but also the pressure it brings to those who provide such services eg. insufficient staffing, long shifts and available expertise. The cases themselves are dealt with in realistic ways, that bring about true empathy for all involved.

If learning of such true to life situations appeals to you, then I recommend you go on a journey to the heart of Australia and discover how life is for the teams who provide such valuable services.

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, April 20, 2019

The Chocolate Maker's Wife

Title: The Chocolate Maker’s Wife
Author: Karen Brooks
Publisher: Harlequin Australia, HQ
Pages: 608 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Australian bestselling novelist Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this breathtaking novel set in 17th century London—a lush, fascinating story of the beautiful woman who is drawn into a world of riches, power, intrigue…and chocolate.
Damnation has never been so sweet...
Growing up in an impoverished household with a brutal family, Rosamund Tomkins is both relieved and terrified when her parents all but sell her in a marriage of convenience to a wealthy nobleman, Sir Everard Blithman. Though Rosamund will finally be free of the torment she’d become accustomed to in her childhood home, she doesn’t know if she’s traded one evil for another. But much to her surprise, Rosamund soon discovers that her arranged marriage is more of a blessing than curse. For her new husband recognizes not only Rosamund’s unusual beauty, but also her charm and vibrancy, which seem to enchant almost everyone who crosses her path.
Sir Everard presides over a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men go to be seen, exchange news, and indulge in the sweet and heady drink to which they have become addicted. It is a life of luxury and power that Rosamund had never imagined for herself, and she thrives in it, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure. But when disaster strikes, Rosamund stands on the brink of losing all she possesses. Determined not to return to poverty, Rosamund makes a deal with the devil that could preserve her place in society—or bring her the greatest downfall.
Set against the decadent, chaotic backdrop of Restoration London, the plague, and the Great Fire, The Chocolate Maker’s Wife is a tale of revenge and redemption, love and hope—and the sweet, sinister temptation of chocolate.
My Thoughts
‘Today, my lady, you also became a chocolate maker’s wife.’

The Chocolate Maker's Wife was quite hard to get into, but once I did, I enjoyed it. The setting for this story is Restoration London, between 1662 and 1667. London in 1662 is still coming to terms with the return of Charles II to the throne. By 1667 London will endure both the Great Plague and the Great Fire.
The main protagonist is Rosamund Tomkins. She was born into poverty and treated badly by her mother, step father and step brothers. She seems condemned to a life of drudgery in her step father’s inn, but an accidental meeting changes the course of her life. Sir Everard Blithman recognises Rosamund as someone to be treasured, strikes a deal and then marries her. Could it be a dream come true?
Sir Everard Blithman opens a chocolate shop. Rosamund quickly becomes his greatest asset, she is beautiful as well as being very clever, so the chocolate shop is very popular. But Sir Everard Blithman has secrets and Rosamund is drawn into a life she didn't expect.
What I enjoyed most was the descriptions of the historical detail of the time. I  did enjoy the story, but found it quite hard to get into. It had enough interesting twists and turns to keep me interested and the mix of fact and fiction made it good too.
This is an enjoyable and entertaining read that lovers of romance and historical fiction will enjoy.

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.