Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: The Last Tiara

Title: The Last Tiara
Author: M.J. Rose

Publisher: 2nd February 2021 by Blue Box Press

Pages: 437 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: Historical Fiction | Mystery & Thrillers

My Rating: 4.5 cups


From New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller M.J. Rose comes a provocative and moving story of a young female architect in post-World War II Manhattan, who stumbles upon a hidden treasure and begins a journey to discovering her mother’s life during the fall of the Romanovs.

Sophia Moon had always been reticent about her life in Russia and when she dies, suspiciously, on a wintry New York evening, Isobelle despairs that her mother’s secrets have died with her. But while renovating the apartment they shared, Isobelle discovers something among her mother’s effects—a stunning silver tiara, stripped of its jewels.

Isobelle’s research into the tiara’s provenance draws her closer to her mother’s past—including the story of what became of her father back in Russia, a man she has never known. The facts elude her until she meets a young jeweler, who wants to help her but is conflicted by his loyalty to the Midas Society, a covert international organization whose mission is to return lost and stolen antiques, jewels, and artwork to their original owners.

Told in alternating points of view, the stories of the two young women unfurl as each struggles to find their way during two separate wars. In 1915, young Sofiya Petrovitch, favorite of the royal household and best friend of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, tends to wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital within the grounds of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and finds the love of her life. In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon works to break through the rampant sexism of the age as one of very few women working in a male-dominated profession and discovers far more about love and family than she ever hoped for.

In M.J. Rose’s deftly constructed narrative, the secrets of Sofiya’s early life are revealed incrementally, even as Isobelle herself works to solve the mystery of the historic Romanov tiara (which is based on an actual Romanov artifact that is, to this day, still missing)—and how it is that her mother came to possess it. The two strands play off each other in finely-tuned counterpoint, building to a series of surprising and deeply satisfying revelations.

My Thoughts

M.J Rose delves into historical fiction once more in her latest, The Last Tiara. I am never sure what I will find in opening one of Rose’s books - some hit the mark and some miss. I am happy to say that on this occasion, it was a definite ‘hit’ for me. She has undertaken and written a fabulous historical tale which invokes a real sense of place combined with romance and intrigue. 

‘She was fascinated with how lives can change after one tiny moment that didn’t even seem consequential at the time, but in retrospect altered the trajectory of life.’

Always a sucker for anything concerning Russia and the loss of its monarchy, this is a story told in alternating chapters between Sofiya's life in Russia from 1915 through 1922, and her daughter, Isobelle in 1948. When Isobelle discovers a hidden tiara after her mother’s death, she embarks on a journey of discovery as her mother failed to disclose so much of her Russian youth to her. So much credible detail is provided on a range of themes from Russia and the time of revolution to Isobelle trying to cement her female self into the working life of New York just after the Second World War. 

‘My mother’s life before she came to America - well, she kept that from me. She was secretive about almost every part of it. When I found the tiara, I suppose I thought it would lead me to … answers about her past. And about mine.’

There is some romance for Isobelle as she takes steps to uncover the secrets her mother seemingly hid so well. Yet it is the story of the tiara that captivated me; I love a good historical mystery and believe Rose has done a fabulous job on this occasion as I was so easily transported to the various locations and time periods. The ending is intense and that just topped off a winning read. 

M.J. Rose has done her research and brought to life a possible scenario surrounding the last tiara from the House of FabergĂ© made for the Russian Imperial family. Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and intrigue, especially surrounding fine art and jewellery you won’t be disappointed.

‘I move my head, and the tiara seems to wink at me. I don’t like the sight. It’s not a beautiful object, not anymore. Now, it’s just a remnant of another era, another 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.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review: The Real J.R.R. Tolkien - The Man Who Created Middle-Earth

Title: The Real J.R.R. Tolkien - The Man Who Created Middle-Earth
Author: Jesse Xander

Publisher: 28th February 2021 by Pen & Sword White Owl

Pages: 136 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: nonfiction, biography

My Rating: 3 cups


The Real JRR Tolkien: The Man Who Created Middle Earth is a comprehensive biography of the linguist and writer; taking the reader from his formative years of home-schooling, through the spires of Oxford, to his romance with his wife-to-be on the brink of war, and onwards into his phenomenal academic success and his creation of the seminal high fantasy world of Middle Earth. "The Real JRR Tolkien" delves into his influences, places, friendships, triumphs and tragedies, with particular emphasis on how his remarkable life and loves forged the worlds of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Using contemporary sources and comprehensive research, "The Real JRR Tolkien" offers a unique insight into the life and times of one of Britain's greatest authors, from cradle to grave to legacy.

My Thoughts

‘Over the twelve years Tolkien dedicated to writing The Lord of the Rings, so many influences came and went, and although revisions were made, the whole remained largely intact.’

Being a huge fan of Tolkien’s work, I had never really delved into much about the man himself. For a short book, it sure packed a punch in terms of detail and research. It was so enlightening to learn about the man who created such iconic works as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

‘There is much about The Lord of the Rings which speaks to the truly gargantuan task Tolkien imposed on himself in discovering this part of his world’s history. Not only the sweeping explorations of danger, grief and hope, but also in the minutiae. At one point he did a series of rewrites to make sure he had accurately charted the phases of the moon for the whole journey.’

This book covers from his birth until his death with some of the key influences in his life and ultimately his writing. The author is obviously a fan of Tolkien and that was evident through the passionate prose. At times, however, it read more like an academic essay as opposed to a biography and this made some sections rather heavy going.  Still, I learnt a great deal about his life and I acknowledge the author’s unbiased approach in delivering details that would appear unseemly eg. Tolkien’s probable racist views. 

‘Tolkien not only wrote imperfect characters, but he wrote from their imperfect perspective, reflecting the complexities of both our world and theirs.’

If you are a fan of Middle Earth and wish to learn more about the man behind the words, then you cannot go past Jesse Xander’s book. It is sure to provide fresh insights into the places, people and events that shaped the man that made the legend. 

‘Middle-Earth … what a spectacular legacy to leave. Not just a book, or a series of books, but a whole world, which has delighted people in the decades.’

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.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: The Iron Raven

Title: The Iron Raven
Author: Julie Kagawa

Publisher: 24th February 2021 by Harlequin Australia & MIRA

Pages: 416 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA

My Rating: 4 cups


You may have heard of me...

Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool… King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known as never before, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat to the lands of Faery and the human world unlike any before.

With the Iron Queen Meghan Chase and her prince consort, Puck’s longtime rival Ash, and allies old and new by his side, Puck begins a fantastical and dangerous adventure not to be missed or forgotten.

My Thoughts

‘You are Robin Goodfellow,” the Tinkerer said. “The Puck. The infamous trickster, and one of the most well-known faeries in existence.’

The Iron Raven is book #1 of the Iron Fey: Evenfall series by Julie Kagawa. This book is a spin-off of the Iron Fey series and is told from Puck’s point of view. Julie does provide some recaps and flashbacks, therefore if you have not read the previous series you won’t be so lost. However, that being said, the reading experience is always much richer if you have previous encounters with particular characters. 

This is a fun YA book to read! It has all the right ingredients: action-packed fight scenes with fantastical beasts; a love story that adds rather than distracts from that action; and, loads of humorous moments with witty dialogue that one would expect from Court Jester, Puck. Julie’s writing builds not only on relationship and conflict between characters, but presents great world building - love the steampunk of the Iron Realm. 

‘I’ve always known who I am, princeling. I’m the guy no one takes seriously. The guy everyone laughs at, who has a joke for everything, because the world is screwed up and the only way to deal with it is to look it in the eyes and smile. I smile, because it’s either that or get vindictive. And no one likes me when I’m vindictive.’

This is Puck's story and he is such a lively and entertaining character. The plot is fun as they band together to fend off doomsday and whilst there is an ending of sorts, it is clearly part of a series with future battles ahead. Julie does like her battles, a few drawn out ones, so make sure fight scenes are your thing.  A little slow at times, however, by the end it was fast paced and it was here that Julie’s writing really won me over. This is a book about personal struggles and often, fighting the demon within. I appreciated the message (no spoilers) that I hope YA will read and respond to on how to overcome ‘evil’.

Fans of Julie Kagawa are in for a treat. A return to the Iron Fey world with an epic journey on the horizon as friendships and loyalties are tested under the shadow of jealousy and revenge. Can old hurts and inner demons be overcome? A captivating tale for YA readers into a magical fae world. 

"If he happened to disappear, then those responsible would know the same pain I was feeling. Why should they get their happily-ever-after? When would it be my turn to come out on top?"

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.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Review: Hormone Repair Manual

Title: Hormone Repair Manual - Every woman's guide to healthy hormones after 40
Author: Lara Briden

Publisher: 23rd February 2021 by Pan Macmillan Australia

Pages: 368 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: nonfiction, health, mind, body

My Rating: 3 cups


The Hormone Repair Manual is a must-have guide to understanding and overcoming the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.

Naturopath Lara Briden, author of the international bestseller Period Repair Manual, has more than 20 years' experience in women's health. Her fresh approach aims to overturn the stigma of perimenopause and menopause and show women that:

- many symptoms are temporary and manageable

- emotional challenges can present an opportunity to thrive

- a focus on health during this period can bring benefits for years to come.

Addressing common symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia, mood changes, migraines, weight gain, low libido and heavy periods, Lara offers practical solutions of diet, lifestyle, nutritional supplements and tips for how to speak to your doctor about hormone therapy.

The Hormone Repair Manual is backed by evidence-based research and case studies and is a reassuring guide to soothing, nourishing and strengthening your body, mind and spirit during this time of change.

My Thoughts

‘This book is your guide to navigating that process of change, with the aim of delivering you safe and happy into the stable final third of your life.’

Well how did I find myself here and staring down the barrel of menopause? Not the kind of book that you necessarily are drawn to or care to rave about, however, if you are female then I highly recommend this book. I learnt so much! Menopause still sadly has that stigma surrounding it and women need to be knowledgeable about what is happening to their bodies. This book was extremely helpful, informative and indeed empowering, that all women should read it as they approach perimenopause and beyond. It is full of evidence based ideas and solutions to assist in optimising female health and wellbeing at this crucial phase. 

‘... know that perimenopause and the early years of menopause are a critical window for health, and that’s true even if you don’t have symptoms. By critical window, I mean a sensitive period or inflection point, during which time small health problems could, if not addressed, amplify into larger and more permanent health problems later in life.’

The first four chapters are all about understanding the process of perimenopause, both emotionally and biologically, the final six chapters of the book are all about treatment. Women spend one third of their lives in menopause, which is why it makes sense to support your health through this phase. Being so rich in research and factual detail, the writing is at times heavy going and somewhat repetitive. It would therefore make sense to approach this book by reading the introductory chapters and then  jumping to the sections most pertinent to oneself. 

Now, so much more au fait with this whole topic, I for one certainly feel more confident in how to approach and work with this phase in my life. Thank you Lara for being that medically trained physician who spoke ‘woman to woman’ about everything, even on how to talk/what questions to ask your doctor. 

‘I just don’t care to engage in an all-out battle with ageing because, at the end of the day, I have better things to do. It’s a refreshing departure from the constant need to be pretty that many of us feel as young women.’

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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Review: Everything is Beautiful

Title: Everything is Beautiful
Author: Eleanor Ray

Publisher: 9th February 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 308 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary fiction

My Rating: 4 cups


Sometimes it's impossible to part with the things we love the most...

When Amy Ashton's world came crashing down eleven years ago, she started a collection. Just a little collection, just a few keepsakes of happier times: some honeysuckle to remind herself of the boy she loved, a chipped china bird, an old terracotta pot . . . Things that others might throw away, but to Amy, represent a life that could have been.

Now her house is overflowing with the objects she loves - soon there'll be no room for Amy at all. But when a family move in next door, a chance discovery unearths a mystery long buried, and Amy's carefully curated life begins to unravel. If she can find the courage to face her past, might the future she thought she'd lost still be hers for the taking?

Perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things, this exquisitely told, uplifting novel shows us that however hopeless things might feel, beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places.

My Thoughts

‘He gave her a sympathetic smile and handed the bag back. ‘It’s good that you have this,’ he said, his voice gentle. ‘You need memories.’

How do people deal with a huge loss, something that really changes one irrevocably? In this moving tale, Amy shuts her home life away so that she will never be hurt again. In fact, years go by and she may go to work every other day, yet Amy’s house gets full to bursting. This is how she has learnt to cope - reminders of what once was. Heartbreaking when you stop to think about it. Will a young family that moves in next door, be the inspiration she needs to make a change?

Congratulations to Eleanor on this emotional debut in sharing her kind hearted, yet quirky protagonist. One cannot help but feel for Amy and her coping mechanism for all she has seemingly lost. The story seamlessly moves from past to present allowing the reader to learn about how Amy arrived at this point and the meaning behind some of her collectables.  There is a cast of characters that both assist and promote Amy’s behaviour. Some you will love, some you will not. The two little boys who move in next door, so filled with innocence and nonjudgement, are treasures. Some connections work better than others in my opinion, but overall there are many wonderful supporting characters. The mystery of the disappearance that leads to the onset of Amy’s behaviour runs throughout the story. The reader will make some sensible guesses, and yet ... the way it unravels at the end is well written. 

Everything is Beautiful is funny yet sad, heartbreaking yet hopeful - testament surely to well written prose. At its heart it gives the message that it is never too late, that hearts can be broken yet mend (much like the pots in Amy’s garden where pieces can be put together to make art). If Amy can learn to let go of the figurative and literal baggage that weighs her down, she may yet find a reason for living. 

‘Real life needed space to grow .... she had to let go of the broken things in her 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, February 15, 2021

Review: Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace

Title: Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace
Author: Kate Forster

Publisher: 4th February 2021 by Aria & Aries

Pages: 263 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: Romance, Women's Fiction

My Rating: 3 cups


Love comes when you least expect it...

Tressa Buckland likes her quiet life in Port Lowdy, with its cobbled streets and colourful terraced houses overlooking the sea. Her job at the local paper allows her to pursue her art in her free time, with no one but her tabby cat Ginger Pickles to mind her in Mermaid Terrace. But then the owner of the paper is called away on an emergency, and it's up to Tressa to run the paper for six months. Her first task: find a new part-time journalist.

Dan Byrne is the angriest man in Ireland – or so the readers of his very successful column, 'Dan takes on the world', think. But after a story goes south and he loses his job in Dublin, Dan has no choice but to start afresh. When an opportunity comes up in sleepy Cornwall, Dan and his Golden Retriever Ritchie set off for a new adventure.

For Tressa, Dan's arrival to Port Lowdy changes everything. Tressa tries not to look too deeply at her own life, but Dan sees a story to uncover in absolutely everyone – even her. The two of them couldn't be more different... yet, if they can find a way to work together, they may just breathe new life and joy into this sleepy seaside village.

Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace is a heartwarming new village romance about the power of love and kindness, from the bestselling author of Starting Over at Acorn Cottage.

My Thoughts

‘I can see why you love it here,’ he said as they walked. ‘It’s like a made-up place. You said your cat was named after a Beatrix Potter animal, well this village feels like a Beatrix Potter sort of a place.’

Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace is a heartwarming story about love, loss and misunderstandings. The story is told from several characters' points of view, each having their unique contribution to make to this sweet tale.

‘Dan looked out at the view of the village below. ‘I don’t know, it’s pretty special. I think I get why you stay here. It’s almost made up in some ways. Magical as though it’s been bypassed by the rest of the world.’

A definite highlight of the book would be the town of Port Lowdy - both its location and residents. The setting was idyllic and really lent itself to the poignant theme of mermaids referenced throughout the book. With the central couple being at times perplexing and wanting through their obvious lack of communication, it was good to have multiple storylines to engage the reader. Yes, Tressa and Dan both had personal obstacles to overcome but at times it was a tad slow. A surprise character would in fact be Tressa’s mum, Wendy, who really had a terrific story arc. Perhaps the strongest and most engaging storyline would in fact belong to Remi as it had real depth.

‘I feel like a different person now but I don’t know who I am. People think I should be something or they have expectations of who I am based on who I was but why can’t people change? I know I have but I don’t know who I am now.’

All up this multilayered romantic story provided both escapism and a reprieve from heavier reads. Predictable HEA maybe, however, the setting and range of characters allow this book to provide a gentle pause in the life of its readers.

‘Take as long as you need, George; I’m just going to just sit here and be with you if that’s okay?’ ‘I couldn’t think of anyone I would rather sit with at this moment,’ he said and they finished their tea and the biscuits in silence.’

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.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Review: The Little Swiss Ski Chalet

Title: The Little Swiss Ski Chalet
Author:  Julie Caplin

Publisher: 30th January 2021 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 368 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, contemporary

My Rating: 3.5 cups


It’s time to pack your bags and head to the breathtaking, snow-covered peaks of the Swiss Alps for velvety hot chocolates, delicious cheeses and a gorgeous love story…

Food technician Mina has always believed that chocolate will solve everything – and it’s just what she needs when her latest relationship mishap goes viral!

So with her bags packed and a new determination to sort her life out, Minna decides to drown her sorrows with the best hot chocolate in the world at her godmother’s cosy Swiss chalet. Chocolate: yes. Romance: no. Until she has a run in on an Alpine train with a mysterious but oh-so-gorgeous stranger…

My Thoughts

I read and enjoyed Julie’s ‘The Little Teashop in Tokyo’ (HERE), great escapism in this time of armchair travel. So I was quick to partake in an adventure to the Swiss Alps with her latest offering. Although this is part of a series called ‘Romantic Escapes’, each of these novels are stand-alones. This is a story about Mina and her chance for a fresh start in an idyllic location with the added bonus of loads of culinary delights.

‘She would never tire of this view. It still held the same magic for her, the mighty guardianship of the mountains, the clear, brilliant sky, and the pretty village with its sturdy buildings, nestling in the valley. It spoke of longevity, tradition, and steadiness, which she found reassuring. All this would be here long after she was gone.’

If skiing in the Alps and coming back to the chalet for warm drinks with lots of chocolate involved takes your fancy, then you are sure to appreciate this escapist read. I truly admire Julie’s skill (and remotely done so during these pandemic days) to capture and transport her readers to wonderful locations one might literally never traverse. It was wonderful to adventure throughout the serenity of Switzerland ... the home to chocolate! For me, the most enjoyable aspect of this book (as with The Little Teashop in Tokyo) is the window into different cultures, traditions and cuisine it provides. Julie always includes loads of information.

‘For the first time, it occurred to her that she’d been settling for a long time, just existing without really giving things much thought. What had happened to the high hopes and aspirations she’d had?’

Of course this book is also about finding yourself, what is important in life and trying to remain true to that. Sprinkle in some fun romance and it is the perfect recipe for light escapism. I like how Julie’s heroines tend to be at the crossroads of both career and love life (giving that added dimension), attempting to be bold enough to take strong steps to live their best. Personally, on this occasion, I found the ‘serendipitous’ connection too easy and the ending ... hmmm .... sweet but sensible? I’m not sure. 

So, wait no more ... grab a hot drink and snuggle up in your favourite reading spot to spend a few hours up in the Swiss Alps with this comfort read. If you are pining to escape to somewhere ... anywhere ... be sure to grab one of Julie’s romantic escape books. 

‘Isn’t it simple? You do the things that make you happy. That make you feel glad to be alive. And avoid the things that don’t. If you’re not happy, you change things. Only you can do that.’

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.