Thursday, December 30, 2021

Review: Heartcross Castle

Title: Heartcross Castle

Author: Christie Barlow

Publisher: 31st December 2021 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 347 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, chick lit, contemporary

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Love Heart Lane – where friends are there for you no matter what

A second chance…

When her grandfather Marley passes away Grace Power discovers she’s been left the beautiful but crumbling estate of Heartcross Castle. As a single mum of three, Grace has no idea what she’s going to do with it – but who can say no to a roof over their kids’ heads and a chance to get away from past hurts?

And a forever home

Heartcross Castle is full of secrets – especially a lost security deposit box that holds the truth to everything… But when celebrity chef Andrew Glossop sets his eyes on the castle and, to make matters worse, mistakes Grace as the new housekeeper, Grace tells him there is absolutely NO CHANCE he is getting his hands on her home.

Devastated to have got it so wrong, Andrew will do anything to make it up to her – but is she willing to listen?

My Thoughts

He was a TV superstar and she was a down-to-earth, frazzled mother of three trying to make ends meet. Even though they lived in the same castle building, they were worlds apart.

The Love Heart Lane series by Christie is a sure fire way to put a smile on your dial. Even though part of a series (I have only read one other - no.4, this is no.7) they can certainly be read as a standalone. That being said, even from my one previous experience, it was like returning home to familiar faces and places.

From the outside the Castle seemed like a stunning piece of architecture that one could only dream of living in, yet inside it was a different story, one of sadness and a love that had been extinguished a long time ago.

This book particularly pulled at my heartstrings, so it would appear Christie is just getting better and better with this particular group of characters. On this occasion it’s a tale of second chances, being given the opportunity to start over. It is also very much about community, friendship and forgiveness.

Their relationship had been over for a very long time, and the only connection between them now was when his fist pounded her body.

This instalment is all about Grace and her three boys and their need to flee an abusive relationship - the youngest Billy, is selectively mute due to trauma (I say wiping a tear away as this little fella really pulls at one's heartstrings). Although it starts in this dark place, it quickly moves on through community support and the strength of Grace in seeking out a better life. 

Taking her first steps back in Heartcross, of course Grace felt nervous. It was hard not to, knowing how people would react to her return.

Life is not easy even once arriving at the castle due to past hurts, current residents and the physical state of the castle itself. Still, it is a safe refuge for Grace and her boys as the latter start to thrive in this wonderful environment. Heartcross sounds like an idyllic place to visit, from the Scottish countryside to life in a small village. Christie develops the community spirit as they take in one of their own and help her get back on her feet.

She’d arrived a naive sixteen year old and had fallen in love with a man she thought would protect her against all odds - and hadn’t. That life was gone and the second she stepped on the train, she felt relief. After all these years, Grace Power was on her way home.

There will be surprises, fun and laughter (once the initial dark back story is complete) with an ending you know is coming but gosh the journey getting there was fun. This is a fabulous addition to the series with its heartwarming resolutions after quite a few tears. The characters in this series are people one would wish to know and to be part of such a community as a true home. This was just the book I was looking for, light and refreshing, with just the right amount of miscommunications with family and friends rallying to the cause to get me invested. A sweet book to spend a few hours escapism with - something we are all in need of.

There’s always good in any situation. You just have to look for it.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Review: No Hearts of Gold

Title: No Hearts of Gold 

Author: Jackie French

Publisher: 1st December 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Pages: 407 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, historical fiction

My Rating: 4.5 cups





Indulged and wealthy Kat Fitzhubert is sold in an arranged marriage to a colony across the world. Lady Viola Montefiore is the dark-skinned changeling of a ducal family, kept hidden and then shipped away. Titania Boot is as broad as a carthorse, and as useful.

On the long sea voyage from their homeland of England, these three women are fast bonded in an unlikely friendship. In the turmoil of 1850s Australia - which has reinvented itself from convict colony to a land of gold rushes and illusive riches - one woman forges a business empire, while another turns to illegal brewery, working alongside a bushranger as the valleys around her are destroyed. The third vanishes on her wedding day, in a scandal that will intrigue and mystify Sydney's polite society and beyond.

In this magnificent and broad-sweeping saga, award-winning author Jackie French defies the myth of colonial women as merely wives, servants, petty thieves or whores. Instead, in this masterful storyteller's hands, these three women will be arbiters of a destiny far richer than the bewitching glitter and lure of gold.

My Thoughts

She was suffocating in this room and under that small sky. Surely, in a land as large as Australia, one might rid oneself of any husband who was too repressive, or even one who loved as immoderately as Papa had loved.

No Hearts of Gold, is a wonderful new story from Jackie French about three very different women who forge new lives for themselves in colonial New South Wales. Jackie is Australian royalty when it comes to writing and her historical fiction works are outstanding. 

Yet Viola had discovered that smiling at the world also came at a cost. When you smiled at people and met their eyes you noticed the most fleeting of their expressions - the shadowed eyes despite cheerful faces, envy, fear or loneliness. Smiling was one of the coins you paid for love, but it meant you paid in other ways, for when you smiled you learned to care.

The three leading protagonists -  Kat, Viola and Titania - are very different yet come together to make a new life in a new land. It is their friendship and what each of them brings from their past, that provides the support needed to survive in this new colony. What Jackie does best is give a voice to the women from Australia’s past and through her meticulous research invites her readers to walk with the women on a most compelling journey. 

No Hearts of Gold is superb reading and testimony once again just as to why Jackie French is so revered as a writer when it comes to Australian historical dramas. 

It was a way of linking the joy-filled girl that she had been with the fulfilled 

woman she was now. She smiled and lifted the teapot and filled the cups again with 

the smooth liquid which was not only tea. Some girls were not born to be good.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Women of Pearl Island

Title: The Women of Pearl Island

Author: Polly Crosby

Publisher: 29th September 2021 by HQ - Harlequin Australia

Pages: 324 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, mystery

My Rating: 4 cups


Set on a secluded island off the British coast, The Women of Pearl Island is a moving and evocative story of family secrets, natural wonders and a mystery spanning decades.

When Tartelin answers an ad for a personal assistant, she doesn't know what to expect from her new employer, Marianne, an eccentric elderly woman. Marianne lives on a remote island that her family has owned for generations, and for decades her only companions have been butterflies and tightly held memories of her family.

But there are some memories Marianne would rather forget, such as when the island was commandeered by the British government during WWII. Now, if Marianne can trust Tartelin with her family's story, she might finally be able to face the long-buried secrets of her past that have kept her isolated for far too long.

My Thoughts

The Women of Pearl Island is a dual time narrative offering a well written mystery. What is on offer here is some special writing - Polly Crosby’s prose is atmospheric as she makes the island and its inhabitants come to life. 

Looking at it on a map on my phone, it had looked so small that I imagined you 

could walk its circumference in only a few hours. I had tried to picture what kind of an island it would be: a cold, hard rock grizzled with the droppings of thousands of seabirds, or a flat stretch of white sand, waiting for my footprints? Whatever it turned out to be, the isolation of it appealed to me.

I have not read any of Polly’s writing before and was impressed by a style that draws in her readers. Her writing is such that the island itself becomes a character through vivid descriptions that allow the reader to feel present on its shores. The characters whilst engaging are, at times however, difficult to relate and fully empathise with. This may be attributed to Polly’s unique style that tends to be more sensory. As stated, the main attraction for me is the island - its setting and secrets.

Metamorphosis. I think about how the tides move in cycles, washing the sand clean, removing any trace that anything was ever there. But sometimes - after a storm, or a spring tide, or a blast - the sea can deliver unexpected surprises, reveal things that everyone believed to be gone forever. "

The plot is not this tale's strong point as this is more a setting and character driven tale. At times, the progress is slow. As a reader you must allow yourself to be immersed in the writing and visualisation. You must allow yourself to be swept away through words to the island amongst the flora and fauna, or, caught up in the mystery of the island and its inhabitants. 

I am wilting, everything I have seen today running and re-running across my eyes, and I wonder, just before sleep finds me, how long I will last on this strange and complicated isle.

This is an emotional tale - things said and the things that remain silent and unspoken. It’s unique, it’s different and it's a definite experience. The Women of Pearl Island is about life and death, secrets and the sea. Closure may not be complete with Polly alluding to intrigue to the very end. 

Everything is just … metamorphosis,” she says croakily. I try to make sense of what she means. Is she talking about the island, about what has happened here since that fateful day? Or is it bigger than that? I put my hand briefly on hers, and we look out to sea together, marveling at its calm beauty.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Review: Burnt Out

Title: Burnt Out

Author: Victoria Brookman

Publisher: 5th January 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Pages: 352 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary

My Rating: 4.5 crowns


How do you start again when your life is a smoking ruin?

She lost everything in a bushfire and became the celebrity face of climate change. But is fame and living with a billionaire all it's cracked up to be? A warm and witty story for our times.

'Here's to rising from the ashes ...'

Calida Lyons is having a very bad week. She's long past deadline for her still unwritten second novel; her husband has just left her; and her Blue Mountains community is being threatened by bushfires. Just as she hits rock bottom, she's forced to shelter with neighbours while a fire incinerates everything she owns.

Devastated and emotional in front of news cameras, Cali delivers a blistering, unfiltered rebuke to the nation's rich to do something.

Her rant goes viral, and she quickly becomes the latest celebrity face of the climate movement. Soon she's offered a harbourside refuge by handsome tech billionaire Arlo Richard, her publisher is delighted with the new novel she's writing, and she's the darling of high society.

But things aren't as they seem. It's all built on lies, and Cali's pretty sure that the precarious house of cards she's built is about to come tumbling down.

My Thoughts

" … things have been quite hectic. I’m actually just evacuating. Right now.’ 

‘’Evacuating? Oh pet, you poor thing. Are you all right?’ 

‘Well, this is the third time in the past six weeks, so I don't really know what to think anymore ...’ 

'Of course, of course. I don’t know how you put up with the trauma of it all.’

From the turn of the first page, Burnt Out captures your attention and keeps a tight grip. Anyone who has lived through bushfires (particularly Australia’s catastrophic Black Summer fires of 2019-2020) cannot help but become immersed in the opening chapters of Victoria’s book. As the sky alights and smoke makes breathing near impossible, Victoria takes you to that moment in time when fire erupts all around. Scary, confronting and unforgettable.

The fallout from these catastrophic fires is felt across many levels. Burnt Out is multidimensional and cleverly crafted as Victoria breaks down for readers how Australian’s are confronting a number of issues. First up, and a logical follow on from the opening chapters, is climate change and global warming. Victoria offers viewpoints from social media, to government, to the rich and powerful and it's all done so engagingly without the reader drowning in the politics of it all. 

‘Once upon a time, it felt like having political opinions had been her entire identity. 

But at some point, she’d taken that identity off, like a coat carefully hung on a hook by the door and never worn again. It had never been her plan. It had just happened like that.’

However, there is much more to this tale than meets the eye. Yes, it’s about the environment and exploitation, truth versus fallacy in what the public is told. Yet, running parallel to this overarching story, is that of a woman who lost everything - literally and figuratively - on that eventful day. Victoria gives her readers a contemporary tale about a woman who is facing a crisis on many fronts (pardon the fire pun) from her relationship to her career. 

‘I don’t know ... I feel like I get up there and say all the stuff people want to hear, and then I go home to the same old me: scared, anxious, alone and fully expecting my star to wane, for it all to be over soon.’

At its heart, this is a story of a young woman who, having lost everything, didn’t know where to turn or who to trust. Yet through her passion she begins to remove the untruths to discover her own truth and make her own way in life. It’s about how people can make decisions that can have a positive impact by just being themselves. At times Cali is hard to like and cheer for but that just demonstrates her humanness I guess. 

Congratulations Victoria on a splendid debut that is sure to generate much discussion. It’s contemporary, it's current and it offers readers much food for thought on issues, both broad and personal, that affect us all. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Review: The Collector’s Daughter

Title: The Collector’s Daughter

Author: Gill Paul

Publisher: 30th September 2021 by Avon Books UK

Pages: 384 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 4.5 cups


A Novel of the Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb

Bestselling author Gill Paul returns with a brilliant novel about Lady Evelyn Herbert, the woman who took the very first step into the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and who lived in the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, and the long after-effects of the Curse of Pharaohs. 

Lady Evelyn Herbert was the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon, brought up in stunning Highclere Castle. Popular and pretty, she seemed destined for a prestigious marriage, but she had other ideas. Instead, she left behind the world of society balls and chaperones to travel to the Egyptian desert, where she hoped to become a lady archaeologist, working alongside her father and Howard Carter in the hunt for an undisturbed tomb.

In November 1922, their dreams came true when they discovered the burial place of Tutankhamun, packed full of gold and unimaginable riches, and she was the first person to crawl inside for three thousand years. She called it the “greatest moment” of her life—but soon afterwards everything changed, with a string of tragedies that left her world a darker, sadder place.

Newspapers claimed it was “the curse of Tutankhamun,” but Howard Carter said no rational person would entertain such nonsense. Yet fifty years later, when an Egyptian academic came asking questions about what really happened in the tomb, it unleashed a new chain of events that seemed to threaten the happiness Eve had finally found.

My Thoughts

‘Eve worked her patch with great diligence, daydreaming about the Ancient Egyptians who chose this spot as their burial ground.’

Gill always pens wonderful historical fiction stories and this is no exception. The Collector’s Daughter has everything I love and look for in such a book and she has certainly done her research with Tutankhamen and Highclere Castle taking centre stage in her latest offering. 

If you are a lover of all things Egyptian with some glamour of Downton Abbey fame - Highclere Castle - added into the mix, then you are in for a treat. From the Castle to Cairo, from London to Luxor … this is a story that has it all. A dual time narrative that is overflowing with mystery, intrigue and suspense. Told through flashbacks, this is the story of Eve and her involvement in both the discovery and curse of King Tut’s tomb. 

The strength of this story is in Gill’s ability to give voice to a female historical figure who was present but had not been heard until now. What it must have been like to have witnessed the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb! In this story, you have front row seats as Gill takes what little is known of Eve from history and combines this with her fictionalised account. 

This is a fabulously crafted work of biographical fiction which I highly recommend to lovers of all things Ancient Egypt with the discoveries of the 1920s.

“And there’s Howard Carter.” Eve remembered Howard. “He found Tutankhamun,” she said. “And then there was a curse.” “No.” Brograve smiled and shook his head. “There was no curse. That was just a fairy story.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Review: The Unworthy Duke

Title: The Unworthy Duke

Author: Charlotte Anne

Publisher: 29th September 2021 by MIRA - Harlequin Australia

Pages: 336 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, romance, regency

My Rating: 4 cups


Witty, passionate and fast-paced, this sparkling debut Regency romance is a must-read for any fan of Georgette Heyer.

She's running from her past; he's hiding from his.

Miss Ellen Burney doesn't have a penny to her name. Determined to escape scandal, she flees to London and becomes Miss Smith: spinster and lady's companion. London offers security in anonymity. So long as Ellen can rein in her overactive imagination and become the perfect picture of propriety.

Calum Callaghan spent ten years in the Royal Navy fighting Napoleon and has the scars to prove it. Now he's a duke, but all of London thinks he murdered his brother. Heartbroken and battle weary, he's locked himself away for four long years, a prisoner in his own townhouse.

That is, until Cal's grandmother comes to stay with him for the London Season, her new lady's companion in tow. A lady's companion with a passion for life and love that can hardly be contained by even the most spinsterish of lace caps. She's fooling nobody, especially not this grumpy duke.

My Thoughts

‘From this moment on she was going to start making her own choices. And they would be choices based purely on her own thoughts and feelings and conscience, regardless of what anyone else thought.’

Charlotte Anne’s debut,  The Unworthy Duke is an absolute romp from start to finish. What fun! Who doesn’t love a great Beauty and the Beast adaptation! Sign me up but purists beware - this is fun, more contemporary and not your classic regency tale. 

Charlotte so cleverly brings together humour and emotion in this wonderfully written historical romance. It is such a fun story with lots of laughs along the way to their expected HEA. The lead characters are great with a supporting cast that will keep you turning the pages right to the very end. They are all so delightful. Ellen makes for such a brilliant feisty heroine, whilst Calum brings the brooding, reluctant and somewhat grumpy Duke. What’s not to love?

Regency fans rejoice! This was a fantastic read - perfect for those in between, lighter literary needs - filled with humour, steam and requisite angst to come together in creating a real page-turner. I loved it and highly recommend allocating some downtime to escape to another time and place.

‘There was a smudge of dirt on her cheek as though she’d wiped her hand across her face. She’d also abandoned her bonnet; it hung hostage in a rather determined but frazzled honeysuckle, as though the lady's companion and climbing plant had been waging war. He pitied the honeysuckle. It didn’t stand a chance.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.