Thursday, May 28, 2020

Review: The Jane Austen Society

Title: The Jane Austen Society
Author: Natalie Jenner
Publisher: 26th May 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 307 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups


Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

My Thoughts

"But one can always read Austen.’ And that’s exactly what Austen gives us.  A world so a   part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic. Even with so many flawed and even silly characters, it all makes sense in the end. It may be the most sense we ever get to make out of our own messed-up world. That’s why she lasts, like Shakespeare. It’s all in there, all of life, all the stuff that counts, and keeps counting, all the way to here, to you.’ 

This is a sweet story that takes place after WWII involving an unlikely group of people who are bound by their love of the writings of Jane Austen. With this shared passion, they decide to work together to preserve aspects of her life from when the author herself was located in Chawton, England. A definite highlight is this setting ... Chawton ...   lovingly portrayed with quaint village life on display.

Firstly, all Austen lovers will fully appreciate the many references made to the original works - it’s lovely to lose yourself not only in the homage paid but also in the comparative analysis given to preferences of Pride and Prejudice over Emma for example; or, Lizzie versus Emma. It is clear to see both the love and knowledge the author has of Austen’s writing. These book discussions subtly run parallel to the events of characters' own lives in the current storyline. A clever blend and there are some passages that I could lose myself in and demanded a reread and ponder:

‘He had gone to work every day merely to survive, saving for himself a few hours every night to disappear into fictional worlds of others’ making. He was hoping to find some answers inside these books, answers for why he didn’t care about some things and cared too much about others. He had always felt different from everyone else around him, different in a way that was so essential to his being that it practically blocked everything else out, it was so huge. It was as if a whole other world were inside him, so big that he couldn't see it without somehow getting completely out of his own way.’

Bring together an eclectic group of characters - ranging from a Hollywood actress, and Sotheby’s auctioneer to the local doctor and farmer to name but a few - and it makes for entertaining reading. What they have in common is their love of Austen’s works and each, in their own way, wishes to keep her words and memories alive. Thus, they come together to form The Jane Austen Society. Multiple stories are handled well as it meanders along at a gentle country pace. You will come to care about these characters who deal with issues ranging from love to loss. 

If you adore Jane Austen as I do, then this is perfect for you. It is highly character driven but very gentle in its execution - nothing great happens, it’s the exploration of the everyday with a sprinkle of romance. So put the kettle on, curl up and take a slow stroll through the streets of Chawton post WWII.

(Recommended for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

‘... inside the pages of each and every book was a whole other world. He could disappear inside that world whenever he needed to - whenever he felt the outside world, and other people, pressing in on him - a pressure from social contact and expectations that was surely routine for everyone else, but affected him much more intensely and inexplicably. But he could also experience things from other people’s point of view and learn their lessons alongside them, and - most important to him - discover the key to living a happy life...’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Review: The Women Who Ran Away

Title: The Women Who Ran Away
Author: Sheila O’Flanagan
Publisher: 26th May 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 435 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, women’s fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

In Sheila O'Flanagan's stunning new novel, two women face up to shocking truths about the men they've loved - and start to make their own decisions about what to do next...
Deira isn't the kind of woman to steal a car. Or drive to France alone with no plan. But then, Deira didn't expect to be single. Or to suddenly realise that the only way she can get the one thing she wants most is to start breaking every rule she lives by.
Grace has been sent on a journey by her late husband, Ken. She doesn't really want to be on it but she's following his instructions, as always. She can only hope that the trip will help her to forgive him. And then - finally - she'll be able to let him go.
Brought together by unexpected circumstances, Grace and Deira find that it's easier to share secrets with a stranger, especially in the shimmering sunny countryside of Spain and France. But they soon find that there's no escaping the truth, whether you're running away from it or racing towards it . . .

My Thoughts

A Sheila O’Flanagan book always guarantees a good read. On this occasion serendipity plays a role bringing together two women (at different stages of their lives) who find themselves together on a road trip through France and Spain. Current world circumstances dictate that this book provides some much needed armchair travel to two fabulous European countries. These women are at different stages of their lives and are dealing with different issues. What these differences do however, is allow them to work through things together removed from the usual life demands. 

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book was the rich descriptions of locations that they traveled through from the time they got off the ferry at Roscoff to their final destination of Cartagena. Sheila provides just enough detail of places such as Bordeaux or Pamplona to make them come to life and invite you to feel a part of the journey. Two further interesting inclusions were the use of classic novels and the treasure hunt. Loved the snippets of classic literary references as both lead characters work together to solve clues regarding the destinations en route. 

‘Why not do something even madder than her original plan and travel with a woman she hardly knew, following a treasure hunt set by a dead man! Because it’s crazy, that’s why, she told herself. Bonkers. But then you’re crazy and bonkers too, aren’t you? ‘OK.’ She smiled at Grace. ‘I will.’

The idea behind this book is rather unique. Grace is a widow fulfilling her husband's last wishes of a treasure hunt. Deira is escaping Dublin after the unexpected departure of the man she thought to be her soulmate. Initially they socially cross paths but after a certain incident, make the decision to pair up and share the journey finding it easier to work through clues together. Of course, the journey evolves into more than just the literal excursion, as both women are on a course to learn about themselves and the choices and options life has in store for them. Despite the age gap, the two women worked together and supported one another. 

“Don’t judge her,’ said Grace. ‘Everyone’s very quick to pass judgement these days, and we don’t always know what’s going on in each other’s lives.”

Sheila’s books always provide good escapism, this one particularly so with its unique concept and armchair travel on offer. What person doesn’t love a road trip! This is a really lovely one through the French and Spanish countryside with two women whose lives will forever change as a result. 

‘It was so damn easy for people to tell you that you had plenty of time to start a family after doing the things you wanted to do, but life wasn’t like that. It hurtled past when you weren’t paying attention until suddenly you realised that policemen didn’t only look younger, they were younger, and that you didn’t recognise a single tune on the radio. And that somehow the  exciting, energetic stuff you’d put off doing was now being done by other people while you rubbed Voltarol onto your aching back.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Review: Latitudes of Longing

Title: Latitudes of Longing
Author: Shubhangi Swarup
Publisher: 12th May 2020 by Hachette Australia/Quercus
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 2.5 cups

A sweeping, lyrical debut about the love and longing between humanity and the earth itself, by a major new literary talent from India
A spellbinding work of literature, Latitudes of Longing follows the interconnected lives of characters searching for true intimacy. The novel sweeps across India, from an island, to a valley, a city, and a snow desert to tell a love story of epic proportions. We follow a scientist who studies trees and a clairvoyant who speaks to them; a geologist working to end futile wars over a glacier; octogenarian lovers; a mother struggling to free her revolutionary son; a yeti who seeks human companionship; a turtle who transforms first into a boat and then a woman; and the ghost of an evaporated ocean as restless as the continents. Binding them all together is a vision of life as vast as the universe itself.
A young writer awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in India for this novel, Shubhangi Swarup is a storyteller of extraordinary talent and insight. Richly imaginative and wryly perceptive, Latitudes of Longing offers a soaring view of humanity: our beauty and ugliness, our capacity to harm and love each other, and our mysterious and sacred relationship with nature.
My Thoughts

This is an interesting book. A series of four connected stories that take the reader on a journey through Asia,  geographically covering areas from India to Pakistan to name but two. Latitudes of Longing is full of lyrical writing and imagery. The characters are secondary inclusions when compared to the rich descriptions of the locales they live in. 

‘The life of an equal couple in the latitudes of longing and the longitudes of trepidation has hitherto been a rare, undocumented phenomenon—like a whale giving birth in Antarctica or white elephants mating in south Asia.’

The book begins quite strong but as it proceeds it slows down and becomes repetitive. If you relish writing about natural environments you will love this book. The descriptive language used is mind blowing as it sweeps you away across land and sea. However, for myself, it became too much - too many metaphors, similes and alliterations. It would make great poetry but not a story in its current form. This is unfortunate as the author clearly has a lot of talent and a definite way with words. With guidance the magical use of language could be channeled to provide a balance with the story itself. 

‘She moves around in her cotton sari like leaves rustling in the breeze. She breathes as imperceptibly as a tree, sucking in all the room’s air and spilling it back, fragrant. Like a bird, her gaze is intense, unblinking. With a single nod, it shifts from the metallic blue eyes of a fly perched on her wrist to an Andaman padauk trunk toppling somewhere on the archipelago, to a pod of dolphins entering the bay.’

Latitudes of Longing has much to offer as a lyrical dedication to the natural environment. A slow journey with much to ponder that many will love. Sadly, I struggled with it overall. 

‘The evening will come to an end. The only way to recapture it will be to travel along with the sun, experiencing the sunset again and again in the topographies of different longitudes and latitudes...’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Review: Echoes of the Runes

Title: Echoes of the Runes
Author: Christina Courtenay
Publisher: 10th March 2020 by Hachette Australia/Headline Review
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance, Vikings
My Rating: 3.5 cups

The pacy, evocative and romantic new dual-time novel from Christina Courtenay is perfect for fans of Barbara Erskine, Diana Gabaldon and Vikings.
Their love was forbidden. But echoed in eternity.
When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother's summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiance Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artefacts like the gold ring Mia's grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision - and from Charles.
Whilst Mia becomes absorbed in the dig's discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the 'White Hawk', who stole her away from her people in 869 AD.
As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe's inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them...
My Thoughts

This dual time Viking narrative set in current day and ninth century Sweden is a well researched and entertaining book. It reads well with good pace, is rich in both Viking lore and archaeological interests. Add to this romance in both timelines and what you have is an easy read to escape with. 

I found the historical timeline to hold more interest for me. The two main leads - Ceri, a young Welsh woman taken prisoner by Haukr (the raiding Viking) and taken back to Sweden - were both likable characters. At times she was too sweet and he was too considerate (although the author did claim in her notes she wished to highlight the gentler side of Vikings). The present day Mia and Haakon worked well on their archaeological dig site (where Ceri and Haurkr had once lived) and the plot revolving around the il/legal search for relics was interesting. However the link between the two couples I found to be rather tenuous and not fleshed out enough to ring true. Were they supposed reincarnates or just picking up the energy of the site and rings is not made clear and I could have done without that component of the story. 

The research is good regarding both history and culture of the Vikings and present day museums acquisitions. The writing was simple with basic dialogue and some modern concepts applied to the historical aspect which did not sit well. Both relationships (love triangles included) are predictable but there is a good twist at the end - but once again the author tried too hard to draw parallels between both storylines. 

Overall this is an easy romantic escapist read that I enjoyed proving informative, interesting and light entertainment. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review: The Little Bookshop of Love Stories

Title:The Little Bookshop of Love Stories
Author: Jaimie Admans
Publisher: 8th May 2020 by HQ Digital
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary women’s fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups


Today is the Mondayest Monday ever. Hallie Winstone has been fired – and it wasn’t even her fault!

Having lost her job and humiliated herself in front of a whole restaurant full of diners, this is absolutely, one hundred percent, the worst day of her life.

That is until she receives an email announcing that she is the lucky winner of the Once Upon a Page Bookshop!

Owning a bookshop has always been Hallie’s dream, and when she starts to find secret love letters on the first pages of every book, she knows she's stumbled across something special.

Things get even better when she meets gorgeous, bookish Dimitri and between them, they post a few of the hidden messages online, reuniting people who thought they were lost forever.

But maybe it’s time for Hallie to find her own happy-ever-after, too?

My Thoughts

‘How amazing would it be to own a bookshop? To get to live and breathe books every day? To get paid for stroking books, arranging books, talking about books, recommending books, and thrusting books into the hands of unsuspecting strangers?’

This book was exactly the escapism I was looking for, having everything a booklover could ask for: the main lead being a bookworm who wins ownership of a bookshop in the Cotswolds - what’s not to love? This is a book all about ... well, books and how they capture and represent everything from our greatest loves to our greatest sorrows. Add in the sweetest romantic interest and this book is sure to transport you away from your self isolation. 

‘Books are magical in that they can transport you to another time and place, introduce you to people you come to know as friends, in both characters, authors, and now in real people who, at some point in their lives, have chosen each book as carefully selected gifts for someone they cared about.’

There are many things to entice the reader here. Hallie, who ‘wins’ the bookshop is an obvious introvert preferring the company of books. Being a booklover, is easy to relate to as reading guarantees pure escapism providing a place to lose yourself in. The bookshop itself would be a treasure trove to sort through inclusive of the small living flat above. The love interest, Dimitri, proves a friend as Hallie adjusts to her new life. Together they come up with some great ideas to entice customers in. Their relationship, predictable as ever, was a still worthy journey that I enjoyed going on with them. 

‘...he won’t judge me for being clumsy and awkward, and getting excited about stupid things that other people don’t care about, like book release dates, pre-orders popping onto my Kindle at midnight, notebooks that are too pretty to write in, and tote bags with handles long enough to slip over your shoulder and fit a decent amount of books in.’

The unique aspect in this tale was finding the inscriptions in second hand books and their efforts to unite and recreate the relationship that was responsible for the original purchase of the book. It just adds an extra layer and brings a touch of magic to this story. I also appreciated the references to many well loved book titles. There are an array of fun secondary characters and the compulsory lovers tiff, but this is everything I signed up for. 

‘Do you really come in here every day?’ ‘Depends. Will you think I live a sad and lonely existence if I say yes?’ Once again, it makes me smile. ‘No, I’d think you were a sensible and sane person who enjoys being surrounded by lovely books with characters who are much nicer than real people.’

At its heart ‘The Little Bookshop of Love Stories’ is about forging new paths, throwing off the shackles as you stay true to yourself and embrace who and what you love. It’s a great little story with sweet romance and loads and loads of books!

“I’ve always tried to play down how many books I have and how much time I spend reading and living vicariously through book characters’ lives instead of going out and actually living my own, but meeting you has . . . I don’t know, it’s like you’ve given me permission to be myself. You’ve shown me that there are people like me out there, people who will “get” me, and I’ve been looking in the wrong places and trying to be someone else until 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, May 16, 2020

Review: The Book of Longings

Title: The Book of Longings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: 28th April 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 407 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups


“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.”

Raised in a wealthy family in Sepphoris with ties to the ruler of Galilee, Ana is rebellious and ambitious, a relentless seeker with a brilliant, curious mind and a daring spirit. She yearns for a pursuit worthy of her life, but finds no outlet for her considerable talents. Defying the expectations placed on women, she engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes secret narratives about neglected and silenced women. When she meets the eighteen-year-old Jesus, each is drawn to and enriched by the other’s spiritual and philosophical ideas. He becomes a floodgate for her intellect, but also the awakener of her heart.

Their marriage unfolds with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, James and Simon, and their mother, Mary. Here, Ana’s pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to the Roman occupation of Israel, partially led by her charismatic adopted brother, Judas. She is sustained by her indomitable aunt Yaltha, who is searching for her long-lost daughter, as well as by other women, including her friend Tabitha, who is sold into slavery after she was raped, and Phasaelis, the shrewd wife of Herod Antipas. Ana’s impetuous streak occasionally invites danger. When one such foray forces her to flee Nazareth for her safety shortly before Jesus’s public ministry begins, she makes her way with Yaltha to Alexandria, where she eventually finds refuge and purpose in unexpected surroundings.

Grounded in meticulous historical research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus’s life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring account of one woman’s bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place, and culture devised to silence her.

My Thoughts

“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.” Wow! Who would not be intrigued by the opening line of this book. I thought to myself, I’ll give it a go! So glad I did ... sensationally good and that takes into account we all know how it ends! Just put aside everything you think and feel about this topic because this fictional storytelling is incredible. This is about Ana and her journey and you really don’t want to miss it.

“I'm unsuited for you,” I said. “Certainly you know this.” I couldn’t think why I would try to discourage him, except to test his resolve. “I don’t just refer to my family’s wealth and ties to Herod Antipas, but to myself. You said you’re not like other men. Well, I’m not like other women - you’ve said so yourself. I have ambitions as men do. I’m racked with longings. I’m selfish and willful and sometimes deceitful. I rebel. I’m easy to anger. I doubt the ways of God. I’m an outsider everywhere I go. People look on me with derision.”   “I know all of this,” he said. ‘‘And you would still have me?” 
“The question is whether you will have me”

The first thing that strikes you is just how well written this book is - Sue writes beautifully. The use of figurative language is vivid with near to every sentence she writes, transporting you to far off lands of times long ago. I was swept up in the magic of her writing, swallowing up each and every literary prose. The research is incredible and clever! Really, really clever use of famous biblical moments that, when presented this way, make sense. Does she change the timelines? Yes. Does she mould/amend certain events to suit her story? Yes. Does Sue acknowledge all this? Yes. But it’s clever and I love it!

"I knelt beside Jesus, possessed now by an eerie calm, by a self barely known to me. Everything receded into the distance - the street, the soldiers, the noise, the city walls, the people craning to watch - the whole pageant of horrors abating until there was nothing there but Jesus and me. His eyes were closed. He didn’t move or seem to breathe, and I wondered if he was already dead. He would never know I was here, but I was relieved for him. Crucifixion was barbarous. I rolled him gently onto his side and a breath floated up. “Beloved,” I said, bending close. He blinked and his gaze found me. “Ana? ”  “I’m here ... I’ve come back. I’m here.” 

As to the story - bravo Sue! Put aside all you think you know or believe and think for a moment ... imagine Jesus had a wife in those lost years from adolescence to his early 30s. Could he have been like many other Jewish men with the expectations of wife and family? But this story is not about Jesus ... this is about Ana and what a female lead she proved to be. What an incredibly strong woman in times such as this: times of arranged marriages, fear of birthing and losing one or two lives, scorned with no rights and lots of responsibilities. Ana is strong and her voice and words carry the story to credence. 

I’m not going to go into the storylines and biblical parallels, you need to read this story with an open mind, looking for incredible literature to lose yourself in. You know how it all ends, which is what makes this book all the more remarkable for achieving that level of satisfaction. It’s because Sue has done her research and, where possible, beautifully interwoven time and place into her reimaginings. With strong themes of women's rights in unison with a great love for this humble man makes for riveting reading. 

I encourage you to read The Book of Longings for its surprising beauty, something that I was not expecting but so grateful to have experienced. Read about this strong woman of her time, aspiring scribe, full of her own longings. 

"That would be my parting gift to him. I would go with him to the end of his longings. " 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Review: Where Fortune Lies

Title: Where Fortune Lies
Author: Mary-Anne O'Connor
Publisher: 23rd March 2020 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

An epic and lyrical tale of love, adventure and gambled fortunes that ranges from the wild cloaked woodlands of Ireland to the Victorian Alps of colonial Australia from a bestselling Australian author. For fans of Nicole Alexander, Colleen McCullough, and Fiona McIntosh.
1879: 'Invisible' Anne Brown fears she'll never escape the harshness and poverty of her life in County Donegal, Ireland. Until, one heartbreaking Beltane night, her life is changed forever and she leaves to seek her fortune in far-flung Australia.
Upon the death of their father, charismatic Will Worthington and his beloved sister Mari are stunned to find he has left all their money and a ticket to the far shores of Australia to an enigmatic painted woman. It seems their only hope for a brighter future also lies in Australia, where together with Will's best friend, the artist Charlie Turner, they seek their fortunes.
Charlie finds love with a mysterious exotic dancer, yet there is trouble on the horizon. His new friends up in the Victorian Alps might be teaching him to run with the wild horses and find his talent with a brush at last, but life in a bushranger gang is a dangerous game.
As Charlie struggles to break free from his fate, all four are left with impossible choices as fortunes waver between life and death, loyalty and the heart.

My Thoughts

‘Will had disclosed his ambitions to Charlie over many ocean-watching pipe sessions such as this. It really came down to needing one thing and one thing only: a change in fortune.’

Mary-Ann O’Connor has again woven an amazing story about life in early colonial Australia. I thoroughly enjoyed her book, ‘In a Great Southern Land’ (review HERE) and looked forward to being whisked away to bygone days once more in her most recent tale. Filled with many colourful characters, great adventures and locations to lose yourself in, Mary-Ann is to be commended. 

Firstly, this is a great tale with lots of fun characters. If you ever wanted a window into the classic Aussie colonial, this is your book. Mary-Ann creates characters that work together well, there is real depth to their traits. I liked these characters and enjoyed their various journeys. Mary-Ann also does an excellent job of capturing the divide in the wealth status and represents the whole bushranger episode from an interesting perspective. The incorporation of political themes of the day, especially the courtroom drama was likewise engaging and thought provoking. 

‘... there was an abundance of green on that horizon, and flashes of gold on her shores too. Plenty of scope for manifesting good fortune in this land where their futures now lay.’

The imagery is rich as the Victorian High Country comes to life on these pages. The scenic descriptions are superb.  The story, whilst good, gets just a little far fetched for me at times - a few too many coincidences, convenient encounters and tidying up of tricky situations. I l did, however, love the feature of Australian art, particularly ‘Tom’ from the Heidelberg School of painters. That combined with the scenic imagery is well done. 

If an escape to the High Country of last century sounds inviting then take a trip in this action packed drama that is vibrant, fun and full of engaging characters. This is an enjoyable read with good research as once again Mary-Ann presents another quality Australia colonial story. 

‘ was time to play a part once more, the performance of a lifetime, and find out whether this would all end in love or tragedy. Whether she’d reclaim her fortune, or end up fortune’s fool.’

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.