Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Title: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Publisher: 7th May 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is.  Thanks to Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome's got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter. 
Cussy's not only a book woman, however,  she's also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble.  If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she's going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler. 
Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage,  fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.
My Thoughts

‘Their hunger for books could teach them of a better life free of the hunger, but without food they’d never live long enough or have the strength to find it.’

In the author’s words this book is “a fascinating and important footnote of history” detailing the blue-skinned people and the Pack Horse librarians, both of Kentucky - two things I had no knowledge of. Isn’t it fabulous when a unique story is created regarding a piece of history little known about? Add to that strong characterisation combined with themes of prejudice and poverty, and there is much to be gained from this read. 

‘I liked my freedom a lot—loved the solitude these last seven months had given me—and I lived for the joy of bringing books and reading materials to the hillfolk who were desperate for my visits, the printed word that brought a hopeful world into their dreary lives and dark hollers. It was necessary.’

A fictional account, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, tells the story through the eyes of Cussy Mary - the supposed last of the blue-skinned people - how she became one of the travelling librarians and the relationships she develops with those to whom she delivers books. Mary’s world is a hard and cruel place, not only through the prejudice she endures due to her skin colour, but also because the hills of Kentucky were a rough and rugged place to live at that time. There is a lot of sadness and the writing delivers some heartbreaking moments:

“Why couldn’t you let him grow up?” I curled myself into a tight ball on the blood-soaked Kentucky soil, wailing for Henry and all the Henrys in these dark hollows who’d never be a common grown-up. Stuck forever as Peter Pans.

Mary’s story is engaging in itself, however, it’s the small glimpses into some of the secondary characters that really shed rays of hope, and at the other extreme, pure sorrow into the reader’s heart. There is some good writing here  (if you can adjust to the southern accent) and it is well researched, not only the Pack Horse Library project, but also themes such as rural poverty, life of a coal miner, discrimination and more. 

She latched on to my hand and laid the apology with a firm grip. I looked down at us bound together like that, tried to draw back, but Angeline squeezed tighter and whispered, “Hain’t no harm. Our hands don’t care they’s different colors. Feels nice jus’ the same, huh?”

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek will in equal measures break and warm your heart. I struggled at times but with much to offer, I am happy I persevered. There is much to learn from history and of course at its heart, it’s a story about books and how, even in the toughest times, they can add a little light and pleasure. 

‘... it was our first taste of what a library could give, a taste to be savored—one that left behind a craving for more.’

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, June 28, 2019

Emma - Outback Brides of Wirralong

Title: Emma - Outback Brides of Wirralong
Author: Kelly Hunter
Publisher: 5th June 2019 by Tule Publishing
Pages: 149 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, womens fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Lady Emmaline Lewellyn Grayson has never felt at home in her stuffy, aristocratic world. She might look the part of a Lady and play it to perfection, but a wilder world has always beckoned. A world where people say what they mean and keep their promises. A world where, if a man says "I love you," the next word isn’t “but…” 
Liam McNair is a rough and tumble cattleman with a station to run and no time to babysit a fragile English rose. But if Lady Em needs a keeper for the short time she’ll be in Australia, it might as well be him. He’ll show her the Outback, keep her out of trouble, maybe have a little fun and at the end of her stay he’ll gladly wave her on her way. 
Three months. Two worlds. One proposal. Decision time.
My Thoughts

The Outback Brides of Wirralong is a series of romance books by a selection of Australian authors.  Together they bring to life a fictional Victorian town through selected stories filled with drama and romance. Each book can be read as a standalone. Having read Barbara Hannay’s contribution (HERE),  I could not pass up the opportunity to read another, as I had so enjoyed the first. 

‘No guarantees of safety here—that wasn’t the way the outback worked. But knowledge and awareness and attentiveness were her tools and she used them to the best of her ability.’

Yet again I was impressed with the writing, a meaningful little story that really packs a punch. Cliched? Of course - but that’s the point!  It guarantees light and entertaining escapism, a series that has truly proved engaging - strong women finding suitable soulmates. This instalment introduces us to Emma, an English heiress and the life lessons she is encountering. Her leading man, Liam, is a real sweetie and I loved both their back stories which brings them to present day where their paths cross. 
“I always thought it would be hard to break away from my father. It’s not.” That was the wonder and in some ways the sadness of it all. “I’m still scared of being alone, don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t hard to finally stand up for myself and let him know I’m done.”

A certain highlight in this story is the location itself. Taking place on a large and remote desert property, one could almost feel the red sand on the skin or the blazing orange of a sunset. You really get a sense of isolation and how it is a labour of love to tend such a property,  a real calling in life, as it was for Liam. 
“As always, be respectful of the land, the people around you and the cattle in our care. Welcome to Country.”

I appreciated the characters, but especially the leads and was quickly hooked into Liam and Emma’s tale, particularly enjoying her chatter and self doubt. This is quite the complete little novella and I congratulate Kelly Hunter on providing such a well rounded tale, a joy to read, in a such a small time frame. Fabulous weekend read.

‘There was loneliness and there was being alone and what she was feeling was the second one and it was truly something.’

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, June 22, 2019

Review: The Girl in the Painting

Title: The Girl in the Painting
Author: Renita D'Silva
Publisher: 11th April 2019 by Bookouture
Pages: 495 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, India
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Before she goes, there’s something she must do. She fingers the letter in her pocket. She thinks of the painting that was created beside the stream. A painting of a girl, with sadness in her eyes.
Emma’s beloved grandmother, Margaret, is dying, and she has one last wish before she says goodbye. When she gives Emma a mysterious painting and the deeds to a house in India, Emma is shocked. Margaret has rarely spoken of a link to India before – she has been unwilling to ever speak of her past at all.
But now Margaret has a request for her granddaughter: Find Archana. Margaret asks Emma to give Archana the painting and – most important of all – to tell her that she forgives her.
With her grandmother on her deathbed, Emma travels deep into the heart of the Indian hills in search of answers, to a crumbling house overgrown with vines. And when she finds Archana, the secret Margaret has been keeping for over seventy years will finally be revealed – the story of a day spent painting by a stream full of water lilies, where a betrayal tore three lives apart forever
My Thoughts

‘The girl in the painting … at first glance she looks happy. But her eyes, they are sad. She is young, but she has lived, suffered. And she is … what is that word I learned with you … oh yes, she’s conflicted, I think. Afraid to be happy, perhaps?’

I was excited to finally read a Renita D'Silva book and this one proved a wonderful introduction. Told in alternating time periods between three main character voices, it slowly unveils a beautiful story, one full of tragedy and grief.  How much is one bound by duty or to feel a sense of recompense when perhaps it only brings heartache? How far are you willing to go to forgive?

There is much to love about this tale. Firstly, the location in India is presented here in all its glory from sights and smells, to cuisine and culture, from Bombay and further afield in rural villages. There is a huge spotlight on the age old custom of ‘sati’ and as horrifying as it may seem to modern eyes, it’s the mental aspect pertaining to it that holds the real story and the author unravels this so well.  Secondly, the two main historic characters are outstanding - one Indian, one English - and both, individually and together, create a realistic portrayal of what life in times now passed. The impact of their respective upbringings, provides a clash of cultures in a truly illuminating way.

At times this book is a little slow and there is some repetition, particularly in the current day timeline. I found modern day Emma to be a rather weak but necessary link in providing the satisfactory closure at the end of this momentous tale. Overall this is a really well written story with the highlight being the two women in 1920s Bombay. The switch in voice is smooth and I found the historic tale to be more enticing which, thankfully, is where the majority of our time is spent. These characters are well developed and their individual stories will sit with you for some time afterwards.

The Girl In The Painting presents a compelling story made up of many parts - culture, family obligation, custom - all wrapped in the shroud of love and tragedy. This is a book I would most definitely recommend, particularly for those interested in Indo-British relations.

‘By not letting go of my past, being haunted by it, I have lost my present, maimed my future.’

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, June 9, 2019

Review: The Scent Keeper

Title: The Scent Keeper
Author: Erica Bauermeister
Publisher: 21st May 2019 by St. Martin's Press
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 4 cups

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world--a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.
My Thoughts

‘The Scent Keeper’ is a truly unique and special tale about secrets and forgiveness, all linked by the power of scent. This is a book that will bring your senses/scents alive, transporting you to far off places, evoke forgotten memories that remind you of days long gone. I very much enjoyed this book with its flavour of magical realism with lent itself perfectly to Emmeline’s coming of age story.

Emmeline’s entire life is shaped by fragrances and the power of scent to capture moments in time. It’s a beautiful evocative tale. From the outset on her tiny island retreat with her father, to embarking on a journey of discovery, this story will draw you in. Who exactly is she and where will the scent trail lead on her quest to reveal the many hidden truths of her history.

‘We are the unwitting carriers of our parents’ secrets, the ripples made by stones we never saw thrown.’

The most powerful aspect of this book is the writing. It is magnificent. You will become immersed in its lyrical prose that will, at times, have you pausing for reflection. Erica Bauermeister is a gifted writer and she imparts this tale beautifully with much creativity. This is a tale full of imagination and emotion.

‘I remember the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father’s beard as he read to me at night ... an olfactory reminder that had sunk into the walls and never quite disappeared. I remember the way the rain seemed to talk to the roof as I fell asleep, and how the fire would snap and tell it to be quiet.’

I highly recommend taking the time to lose yourself to the magic that is this book with its unique premise. Exploring important themes in the guise of following and losing yourself to the power of scent.

‘All those stories, all those lives, each one an entire world to the person living it, and yet I knew none of them. Maybe that’s how it always is, I thought—we all just go along, catching glimpses of one another, thinking we know everything.’

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, June 2, 2019

Review: Jenna - The Outback Brides of Wirralong

Title: Jenna - The Outback Brides of Wirralong
Author: Barbara Hannay
Publisher: 8th May 2019 by Tule Publishing
Pages: 141 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

Jenna Matthews is a city girl, no question. Despite a childhood spent in the Outback, she's committed to her fast-paced life and the competitive world of corporate law. When her best friend asks her to be bridesmaid, Jenna finds herself in Wirralong and wildly attracted to the best man. A fling? Why not?
Dangerously sexy Sam Twist runs his vast family sheep property and is as keen as Jenna to keep their relationship at fling status. Then the authorities turn up on his door step and Jenna jumps in to help despite Sam’s protests.
She soon learns that after years of drought, there are others in the district who need her skills. Her dilemma? Spending too much time around Sam is perilous. He could rob a girl of her heart.
My Thoughts

The Outback Brides of Wirralong is a series of romance books by a selection of Australian authors.  Together they bring to life a fictional Victorian town through selected stories filled with drama and romance. Each book can be read as a standalone and, on this occasion,  I could not pass up the opportunity to read Barbara’s contribution as she is a firm favourite of mine.

Barbara Hannay is a talented writer, I mean who could write so much in so few words, providing such an engaging getaway. A classic scenario of workaholic city girl meets sexy outback farmer. Cliched? Of course - but that’s the point - it guarantees light and entertaining escapism. For a breath of fresh air, take a journey with Barbara as she transports you to the country where Jenna and Sam try to distance themselves from their certain attraction. Add in a few sweet lambs, a big international corporation fighting over land rights and this little novella packs a real punch.
 Superbly written, I highly recommend this light and romantic novella that has more to it than first meets the eye. A great weekend read.

‘How did people get over the biggest mistakes of their lives?’

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.