Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review:The Other Half of Augusta Hope

Title: The Other Half of Augusta Hope
Author: Joanna Glen
Publisher: 13th June 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia - The Borough Press
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: general fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in. At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi. And now that she's an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia. When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta's life, she's propelled headfirst into the unknown. She's determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?
My Thoughts

‘There are places–aren’t there? Places which are so full of feeling you hardly dare return to them. I wonder which place it is for you.’

This is really a rather extraordinary book. Upon completion, events remains with you and the significance of the message grows stronger. At first it seems a little ‘left of centre’, especially considering the rather unique style of writing. Then you begin to realise that is the whole point - Augusta Hope is ‘left of centre and a most unique character. This book will grow on you as it is clever ... and funny ... and sad. Very sad. 

‘I didn’t bother to talk about the fact that love might be the hugest word there is in the world and that we would never, across a whole lifetime, work out what it meant.’

The story revolves around Augusta Hope, a twin, who feels she simply does not fit in and dreams of escape to more exotic locations. She is a logophile - a lover of words - and is always asking questions. Her parents find her hard to understand/appreciate, however her more mainstream twin, is her champion. 

‘Don’t you want to be extraordinary?’ I said. ‘To have an extraordinary life?’ 
‘I’m happy to be ordinary,’ said Julia.

Running parallel to Augusta’s story is that of Parfait - a young boy growing up in wartorn Burundi, who likewise dreams of a better life. The story of his journey will break your heart, as indeed, both Parfait and Augusta experience life changing occurrences. The constant thread through both of these tales in Joanna’s writing, it really is exquisite. Words of wisdom literally fly off the page in a highly unique yet beguiling way. The range of topics she fears not to embrace - plight of refugees and postpartum depression, to name but two - is full of courage. 

‘None of us can ever imagine being someone else. Isn’t that why being human is lonely? Because however many words there are in a language, they never express the actual thing, the actual feeling, the actual being ourselves?’

As you follow along the journey’s of Augusta and Parfait - from childhood through to adulthood - you will be moved by their struggles as both strive to find a place that is right for them in this world. This is a story that has a little of everything - some laughter, lots of love and simultaneously, great and overwhelming sadness - all surrounded in a cloak of serendipity. You will laugh ... you will cry ... but you certainly will not regret stepping into the world of Augusta Hope. 

‘I always had some kind of ache inside me,’ said Parfait.
 ‘Me too,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know anyone else had that ache.’ 
‘I always assumed everybody had it,’ he said. 
We were talking fast now, our words crashing against each other. 
‘I thought I’d been born into the wrong life,’ I said.

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, July 27, 2019

Review: Undara

Title: Undara
Author: Annie Seaton
Publisher: 22nd July 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, thriller
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Within the treacherous caves of Undara, a betrayal will test the bonds of friendship and family. A page-turning new eco-adventure for readers who love Di Morrissey. When entomologist Emlyn Rees arrives at Hidden Valley she wants nothing more than to escape her marriage breakdown by burying herself in the research team's hunt for new species of insects in the depths of the dramatic Undara lava tubes. However, little does she suspect she will be the key to solving a mystery that's more than one hundred years old.
Travis Carlyle is initially resistant to letting some city folks tramp over his cattle station, but soon the researchers' findings and a growing friendship with Emlyn bring opportunities to turn around his struggling farm. With a broken marriage behind him and children to care for, Travis needs to plan for the future and this could be his family's best chance.
But when things start going wrong for the farm and around the dig site, Emlyn and Travis are at a loss to understand why. Are they cursed with bad luck, or is there a more sinister force at play? Are the tall tales of enigmatic stockman Bluey turning true? As the unseen saboteur grows bolder, Emlyn and Travis are caught in a race against time to save the station ... and their lives.
My Thoughts

I had the pleasure of reading Annie’s ‘Whitsunday Dawn’ and thoroughly loved it (review HERE). So it was with great anticipation that I came across her next read, ‘Undara’.  According to Queensland (Australia) Parks:

‘Undara’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘long way’. The park protects one of the longest lava tube cave systems in the world. About 190,000 years ago, a large volcano erupted violently, spewing molten lava over the surrounding landscape. The lava flowed rapidly down a dry riverbed. The top, outer-layer cooled and formed a crust, while the molten lava below drained outwards, leaving behind a series of hollow tubes.

How fascinating! Annie has certainly done her research on this one! I had never heard of it and aside from the fictional narrative, I was blown away by the non fiction research and detail provided in this read. Undara has certainly made it onto my travel bucket list now! So it really is a moment of genius to set a thriller/mystery around this fantastic natural phenomenon. There was so much to learn not only about the tubes themselves but, as in Annie’s previous book, the present day scientific work going on there is also well worth a mention. 

‘Emlyn looked up at the sky; the stars out here were incredible, and she held her breath as she gazed at the glowing pinpricks of life that formed a solid band of light from east to west. It soothed her and put everything in perspective. As a speck of microcosmic dust, her life was insignificant, her existence miniscule, so there was no point giving in to her emotions.’

The story itself is a good one! It is a slow build up but once it gets going the escalating tension will easily see you through to a satisfying end. The two main characters, Emlyn and Travis, are on their own journeys and I was really glad of the way Annie lay out their relationship. Romance is in no way the focus here and the way the storylines play out is most realistic. I also appreciated the minor step back in time with another mystery from last century which unfolded alongside the present day one. It added a nice touch with a fitting conclusion for closure. 

Undara is certainly a book worth looking into on a number of levels. Annie takes the reader in directions they certainly would not be expecting. I highly recommend this book and for no other reason than Emlyn insists on drinking tea out of a cup as we do here at Great Reads & Tea Leaves

‘David had always smiled at her insistence that you should only drink tea out of fine china. She picked up the cup and twirled it around. It had come from a Royal Albert tea set that Gran had left to her, and she carried it everywhere she went. The gold rim was chipped, and the once-bright flowers had faded, but holding it always soothed 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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Review: Devil's Lair

Title: Devil's Lair
Author: Sarah Barrie
Publisher: 17th June 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ (Fiction, Non Fiction, YA) & MIRA
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, thriller
My Rating: 4.5 cups

For readers of The Dark Lake and The Dry, comes this taut psychological suspense set in a dramatic Tasmanian landscape from bestselling author Sarah Barrie.
A lonely widow, a sinister act, a remote mansion with a dark past...
After the violent death of her husband, Callie Jones retreats to a cottage in the grounds of an old mansion in Tasmania. The relative remoteness of the place and the wild beauty of the Tasmanian landscape are a balm to her shattered nerves and the locals seem friendly, particularly horseman Connor Atherton and his siblings at the nearby property, Calico Lodge.
But all is not well: the old mansion has a sinister past, one associated with witchcraft and murder. As Callie is threatened by odd events in the night and strange dreams overtake her sleep, she begins to doubt her own sanity. What's really going on beneath the surface of this apparently peaceful town? Are her friends and neighbours really who they seem? As events escalate, Callie starts to realise that the mansion may hold the key to unlocking the mystery, but the truth might have as much power to destroy as it does to save.
My Thoughts

Devil’s Lair is a wonderful psychological thriller by Aussie author Sarah Barrie. A well crafted story set against the backdrop of the Tasmania wilderness, where murders are taking place and you will be kept guessing until the very end as to why everyone is so frightened and what is the motivation behind it all. 

It is easy to lose yourself in this murder mystery tale where elements of the supernatural combine nicely against a balance of new beginnings and a little romance. Although you might ascertain early on the who, it will be the why that will keep you turning pages with impactful revelations right to the very end. 

Sarah brings to life the magnificence of the Tasmania wilderness which provides the perfect remote backdrop for this thriller. The flora and fauna play a significant role in creating a suspenseful atmosphere. There are a range of well fleshed out characters, all with something to offer. The interactions, particularly between the Atherton family members, make it all appear so normal and relatable. There is Indy and Logan from Sarah’s previous book, however, this is most definitely a standalone read. There are characters you will love and some that will frighten and repulse you ... all comprising the necessities of a good murder mystery. 

With a little gothic flavour added to a murder mystery, Devil’s Lair is sure to please and keep you in suspense. If psychological thrillers are your thing, I have no doubt Sarah’s latest read will be sure to please. 

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, July 13, 2019

Review: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes

Title: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes
Author: Ruth Hogan
Publisher: 11th June 2019 by Crooked Lane Books
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

Masha is drowning.
Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago.
Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town's lido, where she seeks refuge underwater - safe from the noise and the pain.
But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women - the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician's wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice - opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again.
Until the fateful day when the past comes roaring back...
My Thoughts

‘Some people leave an indelible imprint on your life, like the indentation of a fossil in rock.’

I have thoroughly enjoyed all Ruth Hogan’s novels, so I had high expectations coming into, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes. Once again she presents you with such an original tale, inclusive of all the quirkiness we have come to know and love. There is a beautiful balance within this novel that contains such overwhelming sadness yet also includes light and a hopeful outlook.

“I want to change my life. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it just yet. I don’t have a plan, just a feeling. A feeling that this, the way I’m living now, is not enough. Not any more. And only I can change it.”

Firstly, the despair and grief that consumes Masha is absolutely palpable. You can begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a child. I also love the relationship she has with her dog especially with her walks through an old Victorian cemetery, where she eventually encounters ‘Sally, Red Shoes’.  The stories Masha creates and love she provides to those dearly departed is heartwarming. The range of supporting characters are magnificent - once again, providing that balance of light and shade. They are vibrant and each have a part to play, especially Sally:

‘As I look up, I realise that Sally is studying my face intently. ‘You have lost your joy.’

What ties everything together in a Ruth Hogan novel is her writing style. There are some pretty hefty themes tackled here but through her quirky prose, you might find yourself welling up on one page and then having a huge smile come the next. Her writing, whilst for Masha is extremely introspective, is also insightful as she confronts the loss of loved ones. Filled to the brim with charm and wit, Ruth brings you through dark despair to rediscover life’s moments of pure joy. Bravo! There is a profound wisdom regaled in such a fashion that it is bound to touch your heart. 

‘... grief is not a linear thing. It reboots unexpectedly at a certain smell or sight or sound, and some days I still feel as though my world is like a patchwork quilt that’s coming unstitched.’

So fear not, Ruth will take you on a journey from the pits of despair to rays of light and hope. Such a talent to write like so and produce yet another beautiful story for her readers. To work through grief and find the will to keep living despite such tragedy and pain. This is an overall uplifting novel filled to the brim with reflective passages.

‘When the music ends for someone you love you don’t stop dancing. You dance for them as well.’

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, July 8, 2019

Review: The Daughter's Tale

Title: The Daughter's Tale
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Publisher: 1st June 2019 by Simon & Schuster (Australia)
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Based on the true story of the Nazi massacre of a French village in 1944, an unforgettable tale of love and redemption from the bestselling author of The German Girl. 
New York City, 2015: Elise Duval, eighty years old, receives a phone call from a woman recently arrived from Cuba bearing messages from a time and country that she's long forgotten. A French Catholic who arrived in New York after World War II, Elise and her world are forever changed when the woman arrives with letters written to Elise from her mother in German during the war, unravelling more than seven decades of secrets. 
Berlin, 1939: Bookstore owner and recent widow Amanda Sternberg is fleeing Nazi Germany with her two young daughters, heading towards unoccupied France. She arrives in Haute-Vienne with only one of her girls. Their freedom is short-lived and soon they are taken to a labour camp. 
Inspired by one of the most shocking atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, the 1944 massacre of all the inhabitants of the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane in the south of France, The Daughter's Tale is a beautifully crafted family saga of love, survival and hope against all odds.
My Thoughts

“Everybody has their opinion. Everybody thinks they’re right, but where does that get them? Nowhere. Nobody does anything,”

Armando Correa’s, The German Girl” was fabulous and I could not wait to try his latest tale. Don’t go in expecting strong links to his previous book as the link is tenuous. What we do have is another heart breaking story of survival against the power of Nazi Germany. 

Yes, this is another war time story, however ultimately, it is more of  a book about mothers and their daughters with the often heart wrenching decisions they had to make in an effort to protect their children. Inspired by actual events, Correa presents a fictional family, highlighting the courage people had to have when caught up in events not of their making. His writing is engaging as you are taken on a journey with first the mother and then later her daughter and their attempts to survive. You will be introduced to many strong supporting secondary characters who assist both Amanda and Lina - but ultimately this really is the story of young Lina as we also encounter her in present day New York.

Sadly however, this was not as complete a tale as ‘The German Girl’. In the blurb a clear emphasis is placed on the horrific events of the massacre but very little of the story is dedicated to that. There are many characters with much going on that it does, at times, get somewhat  confusing and some character stories are left unresolved. This then led to a seemingly abrupt ending that appeared a little rushed. The story of modern day Elise seemed superfluous to me as it contributed little to the overall tale and required more fleshing out for it to be meaningful. This would have been beneficial, particularly concerning characters such as the other sister, Viera, and her story in Cuba - she seemed quite forgotten once she boarded the boat. 

‘She knew well that no matter how the author fashions his characters, no matter which words he chooses, it is always the reader who holds the power of interpretation.’

A Daughter’s Tale is, overall, a moving WWII novel with a strong focus on the themes of family, hope, faith and above all, identity in a search for who you really are.

“You know something, Adele? I’ve lived so many lives, I don’t know which of them is coming to an end now.”

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, July 6, 2019

Review: Maybe This Time

Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Jill Mansell
Publisher: 4th June 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Is there ever a perfect time for love?
When Mimi Huish first visits her dad's new home in the Cotswolds, she falls in love with Goosebrook and the people who live there. There's Paddy, with his electric-blue eyes and seductive charm. Friendly and funny Lois makes Mimi laugh. And seriously gorgeous Cal Mathieson is welcoming and charismatic. Though Mimi loves her city life and her career, she'd be very happy to return to Goosebrook if it means seeing more of him.
Life is about to take some unexpected and shocking twists and turns. And Mimi's path and Cal's are set to cross again and again--but will it ever be the right time for both of them?
My Thoughts

I’ve wanted to read a Jill Mansell book for an awful long time ... it was worth the wait. You know how it is ... you’re looking for that ‘inbetween’ read, just to lighten things up but not be too syrupy. This most definitely fulfilled that wish. I enjoyed this story that is mostly set in a Cotswold village and takes place over a number of years, allowing characters to develop and grow. 

Mansell’s books follow that set formula - boy meets girl, they form a connection, there will be some dilemma or obstacle before you get your happy ending. Sometimes you just need to take that comforting journey, resting solid that you know where you will ultimately end up. This, however, was a step up from your usual ‘chick lit’ as I found it had a lot more substance. There is love and laughter but shade is also provided through grief and sadness. Jill provides the perfect balance. 

I appreciated the depth and breadth of characters provided in this tale and feel sure there will be either person or traits that the reader is sure to identify with. Jill takes everyday occurrences and in equal measure, either sheds light laughter or logic to make it an engaging read. I enjoyed the real community feel this village had in providing a solid base of the range of scenarios that were to play out. 

To have a range of people and situations did take away slightly from the main characters and their developing relationship with the ultimate happy ending. It does evolve rather slowly and at times somewhat frustratingly. All up, I enjoyed my first Jill Mansell read, the comforting tale that soothes our weary souls and confirms that love wins out in the end. 

‘This was the thing about people: you could be friends with them while at the same time being aware of their various faults.’

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, July 3, 2019

Review: The Tiger Catcher (End of Forever #1)

Title: The Tiger Catcher (End of Forever #1)
Author: Paullina Simons
Publisher: 15th April 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Pages: 528 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: romance, time travel
My Rating: 2 cups

Can true love ever die?
Julian lives a charmed life in Los Angeles. Surrounded by friends, he is young, handsome, and runs a successful business. Everything changes after he has a fateful encounter with a mysterious young woman named Josephine. Julian’s world is turned upside down by a love affair that takes him—and everyone else in his life—by storm. For the two new lovers, the City of Angels is transformed into a magical playground.
But Josephine is not what she seems and carries secrets that threaten to tear them apart—seemingly forever.
A broken man, his faith in tatters, Julian meets a mysterious stranger who tells him how to find Josephine again if he is willing to give up everything and take a death-defying trip from which no one has ever returned.
So begins Julian and Josephine’s extraordinary adventure of love, loss, and the mystical forces that bind people across time and space. It is a journey that propels Julian toward an impossible choice which will lead him to love fulfilled…or to oblivion.
The Tiger Catcher takes readers from the depths of despair to the dizzying heights of joy in the first novel of an unforgettable trilogy of love lost and found. For all fans of Outlander, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Jojo Moyes.
My Thoughts

Paullina Simons fame from ‘The Bronze Horseman’ trilogy saw her loved by many far and wide. So news of a new trilogy had fans in eager anticipation. Billed as an ‘epic romance’ was encouraging. Sadly, however, Paullina has some known misses for her equally huge hits and I found this latest instalment fell into the former category. Whilst the concept (following along similar lines to Time Traveller’s Wife) was understandable, this book regrettably fails, in my opinion, due to some really poor and unlikeable characters. 

It would be hard to describe the relationship between the two main characters as epic, as the type of love portrayed was anything but. Both leads were difficult to connect with and the first part of the book is rather drawn out with little gained. Josephine I just did not like  (at all!) and Julian lacked a backbone. For me, it wasn’t love, rather convenience and infatuation. There was just no depth to their relationship and I could not be sold on it.

The concept is credible as stated and quite unique. I cannot really elaborate as it would give away some incredible twists and turns. Yet, I feel it is important for someone venturing into this read to understand that this is no regular romance as there are unusual plot twists. I could be more accepting of this if I was invested in the two main leads, however, that was never going to happen. 

I am so disappointed that I did not like this book as I was hoping for a romance on the scale of Tatiana and Alexander (Bronze Horseman) but it was not to be. Instead I was given shallow characters where one was manipulative and the other, gullible. Two stars for Paullina’s writing and research, with credit for creative imagination.

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.