Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Review: Matters of the Heart

Title: Matters of the Heart
Author: Fiona Palmer
Publisher: 27th August 2019 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary fiction, Australia, Pride and Prejudice retelling, rural romance
My Rating: 5 cups

A classic love story about manners, men and modern romance retold by bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer
Western Australia, 2019: The Bennets are a farming family struggling to make ends meet. Lizzy, passionate about working the land, is determined to save the farm. Spirited and independent, she has little patience for her mother's focus on finding a suitable man for each of her five daughters.
When the dashing Charles Bingley, looking to expand his farm holdings, buys the neighbouring property of Netherfield Park, Mrs Bennet and the entire district of Coodardy are atwitter with gossip and speculation. Will he attend the local dance and is he single? These questions are soon answered when he and Lizzy's sister Jane form an instant connection on the night. But it is Charlie's best friend, farming magnate Will Darcy, who leaves a lasting impression when he slights Lizzy, setting her against him.
Can Lizzy and Will put judgements and pride aside to each see the other for who they really are? Or in an age where appearance and social media rule, will prejudice prevail?
Australia's bestselling storyteller Fiona Palmer reimagines Jane Austen's beloved classic tale of manners and marriage, transporting an enduring love story in this very twenty-first century novel about family, female empowerment and matters of the heart.
My Thoughts

I am a huge Jane Austen fan, with Pride & Prejudice at the top of my list. I have read many, and I mean many, adaptations - some hit ... some miss. I was so excited to see what Fiona’s Aussie version would be like and  I went in with high expectations. I am happy to report that this book totally hit the mark for me! I absolutely loved it and believe Fiona would have truly made Jane Austen proud!

"But the image of his face remained with her and she couldn't figure out why it had disturbed her. Was it the rawness of his words about his mother? Something vulnerable she’d not seen in him before? Shaking her head, she tried to focus on anything but Will.”

I was so engaged in this fun and witty modern day portrayal that takes the well known formula and applies it to family and friendships in modern day outback Australia. I was eager to read it, even when I knew how it would end (a sign of Fiona’s fabulous writing) I couldn’t wait to get back to it. The Aussie outback gave this most familiar tale a fresh and unique appeal that I am sure will appeal to many. 

"‘We are living in the moment, Lizzy.’ Lottie rested her head on Lizzy’s shoulder and gestured at the view. ‘This is the best part of my life right now.’  

That being said, this rendition follows pretty closely to the original which made me happy. There are, of course, the few obvious and necessary alterations but all up it is a most satisfactory retelling of an all time classic. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of particular characters or certain events, barely containing my excitement to see how Fiona would twist it for rural outback Australia! Let’s see ....  Mr Collins/Ken Collins was a good start being slightly quirky and most definitely awkward; Kitty and Lydia are perfectly captured with their self centred, selfie snapping selves; Charlotte/Lottie is far more likeable in this modern day, the matching with Mr Collins made perfect sense; Mr Wickham/Luke Wickham - what a scoundrel! Perfection! Yet all of them (and many other familiar faces) cannot surpass the wonderful Will and Lizzie! Their chemistry literally leapt off the page and it was hard to not flip through the pages too quickly when you just new a good scene was around the corner. 

 ‘Yesterday I thought that maybe I was wrong ... I saw another side of you. The son and the brother and the respected boss.’ She gazed up at him, her heart pounding and her skin electrified. ‘But then I learned about what you did to Jane and I knew I was right all along.’ Her voice crept up, louder and shakier as she tried to contain the building rage. ‘Self-centred and conceited. I could never date a man like you.’.

What I appreciated greatly was this modern and independent Lizzie (how much do we adore that front cover!) With her plans to take over the Longbourn farm and her efforts to self educate and make do on a tight budget were admirable! Seeing her as a capable, confident and strong woman was a real win for the adaptation. I have read other books by Fiona and once again she has proven herself to be at the forefront of this wonderful surge of Aussie authors. This book in particular is just sensational, it would most certainly have been a difficult undertaking, but I have nothing but praise for her efforts. 

If you love Jane Austen’s works, are a real P&P fan, then I highly recommend you take the plunge and lose yourself in this Aussie adaptation. This simply is a must read! It is absolutely loads of fun and I can’t wait to see what Fiona comes up with next. 

Thanks goes to Hachette Australia for a copy to read and review. 

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, August 25, 2019

Review: The Collaborator

Title: The Collaborator
Author: Diane Armstrong
Publisher: 19th August 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ (Fiction, Non Fiction, YA) & MIRA
Pages: 496 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, world war II
My Rating: 4.5 cups

Is he a hero or a traitor? Based on astonishing true events set in the darkest days of World War II in Budapest, this is an enthralling story of heroism, vengeance, passion, and betrayal. It is also the story of three women linked by a secret that threatens to destroy their lives. For readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, All That I Am and Schindler's Ark (List).
An act of heroism, the taint of collaboration, a doomed love affair, and an Australian woman who travels across the world to discover the truth...
It is 1944 in Budapest and the Germans have invaded. Jewish journalist Miklos Nagy risks his life and confronts the dreaded Adolf Eichmann in an attempt save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the death camps. But no one could have foreseen the consequences...
It is 2005 in Sydney, and Annika Barnett sets out on a journey that takes her to Budapest and Tel Aviv to discover the truth about the mysterious man who rescued her grandmother in 1944.
By the time her odyssey is over, history has been turned on its head, past and present collide, and the secret that has poisoned the lives of three generations is finally revealed in a shocking climax that holds the key to their redemption.
My Thoughts

‘How was it that this man, a Jew, was able to secure special protection for his group from the Hungarians and the Germans at a time when Jews were being rounded up in ghettos and deported?’

Always up for anything WW2 related, especially when factually based, this is a fascinating story surrounding Rudolf Kastner and his crusade to rescue over 1000 Hungarian Jews from imminent annihilation by the Nazis. Attempting to select a cross section of Jews from all areas of society, as well as people from his home village and family members, there would be, sadly, no simple outcome. Unlike Oscar Schindler, it would appear that controversy surrounded Kastner (fictionalised Miklos Nagy in the story) concerning not only human costs but also a moral complexity surrounding the whole debacle. After the war, when Kastner was working for the government in Israel, he would be accused of collaborating with the Nazis in his attempt to save lives. As the author states herself, ‘I’m fascinated by the moral ambiguities of the story .... How do you balance the merit of rescuing over fifteen hundred Jews against the crime of writing an affidavit to exonerate a Nazi? Can a man be a hero as well as a collaborator?  Was it possible to be both? Can the end justify the means? Were human actions able to be judged in absolutes?’

‘There were times when he saw himself as a modern-day Noah, sending his ark out of Hungary in the hope that this tiny part of the community might survive the Nazi inundation.’

Not only do you have a fictionalised version of events during WW2 and in Israel in the early 1950s, but this tale is also told through the eyes of one young Australian - a woman whose grandmother was one of the lucky survivors on that train. Unable to get a satisfactory response from her family, Annika sets off to first Budapest (loved the descriptions of this city!) and then to Tel Aviv Israel, in an attempt to discover the truth and meaning of not only her grandmothers (and thus her very own story) but also the meaning and angst behind the whole situation. 

‘Appalled by their gullibility, Miklós had argued with the council members in Budapest, urging them to stop co-operating with the Nazis. Frustrated by their inability or unwillingness to see through the deception, he shouted, ‘You can’t believe what they say. By colluding with them, you’ll only make it easier for them to destroy our whole community.’

The story will move between past and present with the themes of collaboration and heroism mixed with deceit and honesty battling it out in both storylines. The link between Annika’s grandmother and the historical story I found to be really well done. There is also a whole lot of Israeli history and politics involved for those who try to wrap their head around this controversial place in the world. 

‘He knows that for most people, denying reality is preferable to confronting a disturbing truth.’

‘This is a trick question, and there is no way of answering it truthfully without incriminating himself. It’s a question that assumes that actions can be judged in black or white, but he knows that the truth always lies inside a narrow crack in between. He longs to explain this but knows that isn’t possible.’

For me, I was totally engaged in the whole dilemma of hero versus traitor. How could a man who saved so many from certain death, be at the same time, vilified by so many? And the final plot twist (which I had suspected) was still well presented. Although a little long in parts, this is most certainly a fascinating tale of courage and compassion during dire circumstances. Tied in neatly to the present day with the search for not only the truth but also personal answers, this is a book I would highly recommend to history lovers. 

‘For many years, I used to wonder if my life had any meaning. But if I can save this group of Jews, I’ll feel I haven’t lived in vain.’

‘What makes it worse is that our own government is collaborating with the Nazis,’ Ilonka sighs, and Miklós nods. ‘One day they will pay for their collusion,’ he mutters.

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, August 17, 2019

Review:The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy - The Marquess House Trilogy #2

Title: The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy - The Marquess House Trilogy #2
Author: Alexandra Walsh
Publisher: 1st June 2019 by Sapere Books
Pages: 475 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 4.5 cups

A timeshift conspiracy thriller that will shock you to your core! Perfect for fans of Dan Brown, Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse and Tom Harper. 
Was Elizabeth I really the last Tudor princess…? 
Nonsuch Palace, England, 1586 
Elizabeth I has been queen for 28 years. She has survived hundreds of plots against her but now she faces the revelation of a secret she thought would remain hidden forever… 
Elizabeth is not the last of the Tudor line — there are two more legitimate heirs to her crown. 
Her sworn enemy, Philip II, King of Spain, has discovered the secret and thinks he can control the missing princess as his puppet queen. 
Can Elizabeth maintain control over her throne? And what happened to the lost Tudor heirs? 
Castle Jerusalem, Andorra, 2018 
Dr Perdita Rivers and her twin sister Piper are safely hidden in Andorra. 
Despite their narrow escape from those pursuing them, Perdita is determined to continue her grandmother’s legacy by uncovering her ground-breaking research into the English royal bloodline. 
But she soon realises that nothing about the Tudor era was as it seemed. And now the national identity of Great Britain must be called into question. 
With their enemies still tracking them and the lives of those they love in deadly risk, Perdita and Piper must succeed in exposing the secrets of history or there is no hope of them escaping alive... 
THE ELIZABETH TUDOR CONSPIRACY is the second 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

I loved the first book in this trilogy, The Catherine Howard Conspiracy (HERE), so it was with great anticipation that I embarked on the second book. It did not disappoint. If you enjoyed the first, this book follows a similar style with chapters in the past and present with a mystery that continues to unravel. However, you most definitely need to have read book one before reading this latest instalment. 

‘Would a woman be capable of reigning for so long without a man to guide her while creating a prosperous country and resolving so many of its political issues? Elizabeth worried most men of her era because she was strong, politically astute, clever and educated to a higher standard than most of her privy council’

Returning to this clever scenario set up by the author, I still thoroughly embraced and enjoyed the whole twist on the accepted thinking of the Tudor lineage. The dual narrative once again works well as the author has really done her research in an attempt to make the whole plot appear plausible! Love it! On the flip side however, I did not find this book to read at quite the same pace of the first but found it still to be a rollicking good tale. Also, for the Elizabethan chapters, you really had to be thinking straight with the large (and I mean large) assortment of characters (all real though - which is actually mind blowing when you think about it). However, sometimes it did read a little like a history text book of ‘who’s who’ and you had to look past the rather large information dumps. Similar to the first, you really have to suspend your logical thinking and just go with it, for given the combination of fact and fiction, it really makes you wonder just what could have been. 

On the contemporary side of things, the story surrounding the MI1 Elite conspiracy is fun with all the characters returning from the first book and some loose ends tied up. It really is a wonderful trilogy and I can’t wait to read the final instalment. The author’s note at the end helps to explain exactly where her thinking was coming from and how she tried to substantiate her claims. If you are a Tudor fan, you simply cannot pass up this opportunity to read a most effective and plausible version of events. It is Tudor history at its best. 

‘Contrary doesn’t even begin to cover it but if you filter in all that we’ve discovered, these strange decisions begin to make more sense.’

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.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review: You, Me and the Movies

Title: You, Me and the Movies
Author: Fiona Collins
Publisher: 14th November 2019 by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers Corgi
Pages: 388 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, romance
My Rating: 4 cups

He only speaks in movie references but they make her remember everything...
After a marriage which threatened her entire sense of self, Arden Hall is divorced, doing a lacklustre job and living a quiet, rather unexciting life. But one day, visiting a friend in a London hospital, she suddenly re-encounters her former lover from thirty years ago, charismatic Film Studies lecturer, Mac Bartley-Thomas, who is lying in a bed on the same ward.
Suffering from a brain injury and unable to converse, all Mac can utter is short references to the famous films he and Arden once watched together, back when she was a student and they conducted their affair: Casablanca, Bonnie and Clyde, Some Like It Hot and more...
These movies spark both bittersweet memories of their passionate relationship and the potential for a more reflective Arden to finally fulfil the promise of her younger self. And in the course of her visits to Mac, she starts to reconnect with the world in a way that she didn’t think was possible...
My Thoughts

‘Do you ever wonder what happens after the end of the movie?’ I say. ‘After all the decisions have been made, all the kissing has been done, the baddies have been banged up, the goodies have found the treasure? Do you wonder what comes next?’

You, Me and the Movies is a book that certainly grows on you with its bittersweet, nostalgic reflections about past regrets and future possibilities. This story alternates between present day middle aged Arden and her reminiscing about the great love affair of her life with Mac when she was a university student. It is interesting to see how the dual narratives progress with its impact on present day.

‘I know I am a survivor, that I have survived so much, but I don’t know how to move on from it. How to get the old me back. I want to be funny and optimistic. I want to be someone people are happy to spend time with. It seems I have forgotten how to be that person.’

The highlight for me is, of course, the movie referencing. With Mac only able to converse (present day) with short references to famous films, it provides Arden with the trigger to reflect on what was and what has evolved. The list of classic movies provide the catalyst to all that unfolds in the reminiscing. A self confessed movie buff, I relished the references, everything from classics such as Casablanca and Kramer versus Kramer, to modern day ones such as Pretty Woman. I reveled in their discussion and analysis of the films, both in isolation and in tandem with how events were unfolding in the story. They provided the perfect link between the past and present narratives, providing the spark  for often bittersweet reflections, yet simultaneously, a stimulus for fleshing out unfulfilled promises to younger selves. Will they provide the bridge to reconnect with the world when Arden thought there were no possibilities?

‘Showing up is not enough, I think. So much more is required. I want and need to apologize, to start over, to build a bridge I’m not sure I have the tools for. I simply don’t know where or how to start. ‘

This book slowly trundles along (a bit too dragged out in some passages) but I encourage you to persevere for the ending is heartfelt and enlightening. Don’t worry ... you don’t need to have watched all the films in question in order to enjoy the book (but it does deepen one’s appreciation). Also, this most certainly is not a light hearted romance. It is a well written story with an array of engaging characters with the themes of regret and redemption. 

‘Mac believed in the magic of the movies, the finite Hollywood ending. But I also knew what he was saying was true–there were some things that weren’t magical, or turned out the way you wanted.’

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.