Thursday, November 28, 2019

Review: Love Letters from Montmartre

Title: Love Letters from Montmartre
Author: Nicolas Barreau
Publisher: 26th November 2019 by Hachette
Pages: 250 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary
My Rating: 3.5 cups

Julien Azouly, the famous French writer of beautiful romance novels, has stopped believing in love. When his beloved wife, Hélène, dies at the age of thirty-three, leaving him alone to raise their young son, Arthur, he is so devastated that he loses faith in the happier side of life—and along with that his ability to write.
But Hélène was clever. Before her death, she made her husband promise to write her thirty-three letters, one for each year of her life. Six months after the funeral, Julien finds himself standing in the most famous cemetery in Paris, the painful first letter in his hand. Little does he know that something strange—and wonderful—is about to happen.
An ode to love, Paris, and joie de vivre, Love Letters from Montmartre brings the reader down narrow streets, past the cozy red bistro on Rue Gabrielle, and all the way to Montmartre cemetery with its beautiful stone angels, where we will discover the truth we all hope to find: that love is real, that miracles can happen and that—most of all—it’s never too late to rediscover your dreams. Empathetic and wise, this is the deeply profound yet very human story of a man who finds love just when he thinks all is lost.
My Thoughts

‘Maman told me that you have to trust in life itself and that, in the end, everything will make sense. But when it comes to your death, my darling, I still can’t see any sense at all.’  
How would it feel to lose the love of your life as you are just beginning your journey together? The author here presents a truly telling tale of the utter devastation felt by the main character, Julien. When his wife died, leaving him to care for his young son, we are witness to the complete grief and helplessness he feels.
His wife, Helene, cleverly made a last request that Julien promise to write one letter to her for each of her 33 years. Struggling to fulfill this last request, Julien finally begins and ultimately finds the whole process somewhat therapeutic. The letters are placed in a secret compartment of an angel statue found at his wife’s grave site located in the Montmartre cemetery in Paris. 
‘Where are these letters leading me, Hélène? Are they even leading me anywhere? Or are they simply a nice pastime, a kind of self-gratification for a man who has lost his wife and can’t stop feeling sorry for himself and thus clings to the last little trace of hope? Clings to a dead woman who is lost forever? What kind of pointless game is that? But what am I saying?! No, my love, forgive me! None of my letters to you are pointless.’
One day the letters vanish and he sees this as a sign. Thus proceeds the moving tale of both his quest to understand what is going on and also the mystery to see who is indeed responsible. Is it a sign from his wife or a gesture by another kind being to engage with Julien and bring him back to the land of the living?
This is a heartfelt story as you feel the plight of Julien trying to recover from his loss and the kind people around him who never give up in their attempt to draw him back into a life worth living. 
‘You once told me that writing the letters would possibly help me - and you were right, my clever wife. When I write these letters to you, I feel distracted. They knit my life back together, open a new perspective, keep me going. And the prospect of finding an answer at the grave naturally heightens these feelings all the more.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher Hachette Australia.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Review: The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

Title: The Girl Who Reads on the Métro
Author: Christine Féret-Fleury
Publisher: 29th October 2019 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 192 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, France
My Rating: 2.5 cups

In the vein of Amelie and The Little Paris Bookshop, a modern fairytale about a French woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets a reclusive bookseller and his young daughter.
Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her metro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.
One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman's name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette's daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.
Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all.
My Thoughts

‘She had always loved the smell of books, especially when she bought them second-hand. New books had different smells too, depending on the paper and glue used, but they said nothing of the hands that had held them, the houses that had been their home; they had no story of their own yet, separate from the one they told–a parallel story, hazy, secret.’

The Girl Who Reads On The Metro is aimed at fans of The Little Paris Bookshop and aimed at all book lovers. The whole passuers was fabulous - giving out books to strangers or leaving them in particular places - I loved this bookish ploy, especially with how the story ends with the minivan. Books can help you through life.

The author does an exemplary job at presenting contemporary issues, such as the recent terrorist attacks in France, and the impact this has on people wanting to hide away from the world and live rather in books. It would have been good if the author had expanded on this and really developed both plot and characters on their journey - more emotion was needed with less time spent in superfluous moments or conversations. 

So whilst the concept and  potential was there - that being the power of books to transform people - I cannot help but feel it was lost in a story that did not correlate well enough. Some characters fell rather flat for me and the story somewhat disjointed. 

I do love a book about books and although this short story and easy to read,  it lacked depth and was a little too slow at times for me. I appreciate that the lead character truly believed that you could find yourself in books and help people through life. I just wished more from this book. 

‘ ... he at least made no pretence of leading a ‘normal’ life. He had chosen to hide away in a fortress built of books, fragments of which he regularly sent out into the world, like sending messages in bottles across the sea, offerings and gestures of affection destined for kindred spirits, those who, outside the walls, were confronted with real life.’

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, November 18, 2019

Review: Last Christmas: Memories of Christmases Past and Hopes of Future Ones

Title: Last Christmas: Memories of Christmases Past and Hopes of Future Ones
Author: Greg Wise, Emma Thompson
Publisher: 29th October 2019 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 235 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: holiday, Christmas, social issues, nonfiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

When you think back to Christmases past, what made it magical? Looking towards the future, what would your perfect Christmas be? What would you change? What should we all change?
The perfect holiday book, featuring the remembrances of Meryl Streep, Emilia Clarke, Olivia Colman, Caitlin Moran, and more, to coincide with the upcoming movie LAST CHRISTMAS, starring Emma Thompson, Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding.
This is a beautiful, funny and soulful collection of personal essays about the meaning of Christmas, written by an exceptional body of voices from the boulevards of Hollywood to the soup kitchens of Covent Garden.
Stepping away from the holiday shopping, the midtown Manhattan window decorations, and the gingerbread cookies and hot cocoa, this gem of a book is introduced and curated by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise and celebrates the importance of kindness and generosity, acceptance and tolerance - and shows us that these values are not just for Christmas, but for every day of the year.
25¢ from every book sold will be donated to Crisis and The Refugee Council! 
My Thoughts

"But there must be something more to all this than just marketing and merchandise. For all the differences of our time which pull people apart, something about Christmas now seems to bring us together. As one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar seeps into other cultures’ diaries as a special date, it calls on us to consider just what makes it so powerful for so many around the world.”

A Christmas book of a different flavour,  an honest collection of essays from an array of people writing on the theme of Christmas - not the fluffy, commercial stuff but rather, husband and wife duo have zoned in on people to capture the essence of this celebration and what we humans are really seeking at this festive time of year. All up, the result is most thought provoking read with some real gems to be discovered within its pages. 

"I don’t know. I know I often wish more would happen to show warmth to others. And I wont claim I’m an angel myself in that regard - it’s so easy to lose track of your own good intentions when Christmas is bearing down on you. But I do think we’re forgetting what Christmas is. And there are still wonderful selfless people who do all those wonderful things.How do we make it a thing that we ALL naturally do at Christmas? And every other week in between?”

There are stories that are funny, some desperately sad and the majority filled with meaning - something for everyone to be sure. Actors, politicians, charity workers, homeless - just some of the line up who contribute to this collection on what Christmas means to them. This book ties in with the film currently in cinema and revolves around the theme of tolerance and acceptance. Proceeds of this book will go to two of the charities mentioned throughout. So whether you wish to hear from the famous Meryl Streep or Emilia Clarke, or rather the lesser known political refugees or volunteers, I found it to be a real window into people's mindset at this hectic time of year and it cuts to the core of the essence of this occasion. 

“I want to go back in time, sit with my mother and father and my brother and sister, give my silly conceited young self a sharp slap and tell him how lucky he is. But perhaps the best way to do that is to help remind the world that many of our brothers and sisters are holding each other fast in strange lands, dreaming of the chance to sit in a place they can call home.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher Hachette Australia.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review: The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker

Title: The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker
Author: Joanna Nell
Publisher: 24th September 2019 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary
My Rating: 4.5 cups

As the wife of retired ship’s doctor Dr Henry Parker, Evelyn is living out her twilight years aboard the Golden Sunset. Every night she dresses for dinner and regales her fellow passengers with stories of a glamorous life travelling the world. The crew treat her with deference. And forbearance.
But when Henry goes missing, Evelyn sets off to search every part of the ocean liner to find him; misadventures are had – all new to Evelyn. If only she could remember the events of the night before as clearly as she can recall the first time she met Henry on a passage from England to Australia in 1953 and fell in love – abandoning her dreams to become a midwife to be a wife instead – and the long-ago painful events that left Evelyn all at sea.
Why is it so hard to remember some things and so hard to forget others? And where is Henry?
My Thoughts

The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker by Joanna Nell is yet another wonderful tale following up from her first book, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village. Here we have a similar heart-warming and insightful story of people in the latter stages of life as it once again opens our eyes and hearts to life for this ageing generation. 

This is the story of Evelyn, her past and present, and I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks to the beginnings of her life long journey with her beloved Henry. There are indeed many layers to this story, one of which, is the sacrifices Evelyn made in giving up her own dreams to become the wife of a ships doctor. These flashbacks also provided a window into what life might have been like living aboard a cruise ship and the many, many places they were able to visit. 

"There was something about travelling on a ship that was different to any other mode of transport. Away from civilisation, in close proximity to complete strangers who share that  peculiar sense of being in limbo for weeks at a time, a voyage is unlike a journey in a train carriage or aircraft cabin. Time stands still on a ship. Like living for a while in a dream. "

However, the main theme here is one of ageing and the issue of dementia which I thought was handled well, and with Joanna being a doctor herself, providing a real insight into what it must be like to suffer from this tormenting disease. As in her previous novel, Joanna proves that she is most adept at capturing the voice of this sometimes forgotten generation and I both love and admire that. In the character of Evelyn Parker, we have the voice of the many Seniors - both male and female - who are fighting the decline of their mental faculties. I found this interpretation to be real, honest, compassionate and at times, heartbreaking. The feelings and intelligence of people suffering from this condition is not to be underestimated, yet the frustrations and ploys to mask it truly pulled at my heartstrings. 

 “The whole thing was exhausting. Worrying about Henry. Being old. Trying to remember how a normal person behaved. With all her aches and pains and a bone-curdling weariness, every day she felt like she was coming down with the flu. Evelyn shrank into the lounger and let the reflection from the water dance on her face.”

So in this novel you will appreciate the setting and story but be swept away by the poignant plight of a generation fighting to maintain their independence. An emotional and nostalgic last voyage for not only Mrs Henry Parker but the many who face the curtains closing on their past memories and present engagements. I walked away appreciating just how precious, both good and bad, the memories are for not only ourselves but those dearest to us. 

"It is as though I skimmed through the last few chapters, eager to see what happened without paying full attention. In my memory there are pages still stuck together, things I simply can’t recall. I remember the emotions and feelings rather than the events themselves."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher Hachette Australia.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review: A Treacherous Performance

Title: A Treacherous Performance: A Regency Cozy
Author: Lynn Messina
Publisher: 15th November 2019 by Potatoworks Press
Pages: 220 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, historical fiction/romance, Regency
My Rating: 4 cups

Having inexplicably nabbed the Duke of Kesgrave, twenty-six-year-old spinster Beatrice Hyde-Clare is determined to marry him at once and no amount of handwringing from anxious family members, worried friends and well-meaning acquaintances will convince her to delay. Except…maybe she is a little swayed by her uncle’s efforts to make amends for treating her with cold indifference during her childhood. And her aunt’s concern about the growing scandal around her unfortunate habit of unmasking murderers in the middle of society events isn’t entirely unfounded.
And then there’s the truly unfathomable appearance on her doorstep of the former Miss Brougham, the spiteful heiress whose cruel taunts derailed Bea’s social career. Remarkably, the society matron has a mystery to solve and knows Bea is the only person who can help her. A dead grandfather, a missing jewel, a cryptic letter, an opportunity to condescend to her archnemesis—the case seems simple enough.
And yet somehow it all goes terribly, horribly wrong.
My Thoughts

“He merely sighed resignedly and said, “Oh, hell, Bea, another dead body?”

I have been a fan since I first read Lynn’s, ‘Prejudice and Pride’ some years ago. Following up with reads from some of her Regency series, have only confirmed that time and again she produces fun and entertaining escapism with a wicked mystery thrown in for good measure. She is without doubt a most witty and clever author of the Regency period.

Here we have another great installment in the Beatrice-Hyde Clare mysteries, continuing on with the charming yet quirky read.  This is number five in the series. Once more you will find historic detail (this time immersion in a theatre company), a murder to be solved, romance and all tied together with humour. 

The two main leads of Beatrice and her now betrothed Kesgrave are one of my favourite couples - right up there with some of the classic couples from Deanna Raybourn - Lady Julia Grey or Veronica Speedwell - heroines and partners - it’s romping good Regency fun. Their interactions are the highlight of the books - wit and banter that cannot help but bring a smile to your face. To once again spend time with Bea and Kesgrave, for their relationship has advanced further, and the warmth and wit is in full throttle. What I appreciated most with this particular instalment were their interactions felt more in unison and made a great team.

“I gave you the opportunity to shine. And you are very welcome. Now do stop angling for compliments and tell me what you think of our suspects.”

The only thing to consider is that I feel this is not really a standalone. The first 20% picks up directly after the conclusion of the last book and will be somewhat confusing if the reader is unfamiliar with previous plots and characters. You may get away with reading it as a standalone, but why try when there are four earlier stories that await and are just as engaging and will bring a fuller appreciation of the lives of Bea and the Duke. I recommend that you read these books together as a series and in order. It's the best way to truly appreciate the wonder that is Miss Beatrice Hyde-Clare.

I am a fan of all Lynn’s Regency novels and for good reason. For there is nothing better than having light, entertaining escapism with a well thought out mystery and characters whose dialogue and thoughts are the eptimoy of humour that await you at the end of a long day. Having undertaken this journey with Bea from the beginning, it is wonderful to see how far she has come and grown into herself. Such depth cannot be overlooked it what is a most definite ‘cozy’ mystery. 

“... (I am) struck dumb by you - by your wit and your fearlessness and your intelligence and your sense of humor, so mischievous and sharp, and your beauty.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the author.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing

Title: The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing
Author: Debra Adelaide
Publisher: 24th September 2019 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 272 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: nonfiction, essays, biography, memoir
My Rating: 4 cups

Books are impractical companions and housemates: they are heavy when you are travelling, and in the home take up a lot of space, are hard to keep clean, and harbour insects. It is not a matter of the physical book, it is the deep emotional connection that stretches back to my early years. Living without them is unimaginable.
These collected essays share a joyous and plaintive glimpse into the reading and writing life of novelist, editor and teacher of creative writing Debra Adelaide.
Every book I have read becomes part of me, and discarding any is like tearing out a page from my own life.
With immediate wit and intimacy, Adelaide explores what shapes us as readers, how books inform, console and broaden our senses of self, and the constant conversation of authors and readers with the rest of their libraries. Drawing from her experiences in the publishing industry, the academic world, her own life and the literary and critical communities, she paints a vibrant portrait of a life lived in and by books, perfect for any student, bibliophile, editor, or simply: reader.
My Thoughts

‘Every book I have read becomes part of me, and discarding any is like tearing out a page from my own life.’

Debra Adelaide’s book, ‘The Innocent Reader’ is a collection of essays about reading rather than a straight out story of a literary life. The range of essays are divided into three sections - reading, writing and then the two combined - in which she describes the importance of books in shaping her (and inadvertently, other avid readers) life. 

‘Only in recent years have I come to understand that reading fiction is not a matter of escaping from the so-called real world: fiction for me is the real world, and when I read, what I feel, think and experience is as real as anything else in my life.’

Overall, these essays share the joy of reading and writing and from the perspective of all Debra has achieved as a reader, writer, editor and teacher of creative writing. There is much to both relate to and appreciate in her reflections and musings as Debra explores what shapes us as readers; how books achieve so much through informing, entertaining and ultimately broadening our sense of self. With essays drawn from her own life experiences and the broader literary community, Debra paints a picture for all bibliophiles to appreciate. 

‘During this time, reading made sense, not because any of the books explained anything or revealed information or elucidated mysteries, but in and of itself. The process was all. I became the words, I became the book, and so escaped myself.’

Not being a writer, I found the first and third sections more enjoyable as Debra clearly portrays the life of an avid bookworm and our obsession with the fictional world and how it allows both escapism and immersion into alternate realities. If you are a writer, or desire to write, I am sure the second section will provide interesting thoughts on the writing process. 

‘I invariably open a new book with no other expectation than that I will be transported to a wonderful new world. I often feel that a book I particularly admire or love is written for me alone, that the author has somehow peered straight into my heart and articulated my deepest thoughts, given voice to my most private desires, and that I am as dear to the author as she or he is to me.’

All up I found this book to be a soothing balm to a readers soul, indeed a vindication for all the many hours we have lost ourselves to the art of reading. Throughout many parts of the readings, Debra valiantly captures what it is to be in love with books and reading. 

‘Retiring at night with a favourite book is the most romantic and thrilling date. Throughout the day, while in a meeting, or when waiting at the bus stop, or queuing for coffee at lunchtime, you remember that at the end of the day, when all is done that has to be done, there awaiting is your bed and your book.’

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, November 4, 2019

Review: Just One Wish

Title: Just One Wish
Author: Rachael Johns
Publisher: 21st October 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 496 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: drama, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

Three women, three secrets, one life-changing journey. Alice has always been a trailblazer as a scientist, activist and mother. She knew her choices would involve sacrifices, but now, on the eve of her eightieth birthday, she's beginning to wonder if she's sacrificed too much.
Alice's daughter, Sappho, rebelled against her unconventional upbringing, choosing to marry young and embrace life as a homemaker, but her status as a domestic goddess has recently taken a surprising turn.
Ged has always been the peacemaker between her grandmother and mother. A tenacious journalist, she knows what she wants in life and love, yet when everything in her world starts falling apart, she begins to question whether she really knows anyone at all.
At a crossroads in each of their lives, Alice, Sappho and Ged embark on a celebratory trip together, but instead of bringing them closer, the holiday sparks life-changing consequences and lifts the lid on a fifty-year-old secret.
Can Ged rescue her family if their story is built on a betrayal?
My Thoughts

‘All my life I’d felt torn between Mum and Gralice on some level, but this … this was worse than ever because this wasn’t about differences of opinion, this was about matters of the heart. I loved them both and this rift between them was tearing me to pieces.’

Rachael Johns once again provides her readers with a fabulous contemporary family drama through the life experiences and choices of three generations of women. Set in my home state of Victoria and told from the perspective of the youngest family member, Ged (Geraldine), this story follows along as family secrets come to light for all - grandmother, mother and daughter - and the impending implications of the decisions each of them have to make. 

This book is reflective of a number of present day multigenerational issues which makes for contemporary reading. Some of the topics raised include: feminism, single parenting, LGBT, impact of social media and aged care being the main ones. There is quite a lot going on here. Whilst I applaud Rachael, I did find that at times the pacing became a little bogged down as so many conversations pertaining to these issues were engaged upon. 

Overall, however, reading Rachael’s books is always sure to make you smile, make you think and ponder the deeper, more engaging issues raised. Just One Wish is most certainly a realistic portrayal of the complexity of modern day families that is sure to resonate with many readers. 

‘If I’ve realised one thing—perhaps too late—it’s that life isn’t black and white. It’s a million shades of grey and there isn’t one truth that fits everyone.’

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.