Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: Chasing the Italian Dream

Title: Chasing the Italian Dream
Author: Jo Thomas

Publisher: 10th June 2021 by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers Corgi

Pages: 342  pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, fiction, contemporary, culture Italy

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents' house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna's mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.

But she's shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can't bear the thought of the place changing hands - especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

My Thoughts

‘Pizzas, made for sharing, with the simplest of ingredients, cooked and served with love. That’s what counts.’

Every now and again you just need that ‘breather’ of a book. You know the type ....  one that whisks you away where the sun is shining, people support each other and new ventures are undertaken. Chasing the Italian Dream is just the fresh air I was searching for.

‘Now it’s my turn to be brave. Do what I love. I need to live to work, not the other way round. I need to see that what I’m doing means something.’

If you enjoy books set in Italy, rural Italy with loads of sumptuous food, then this really is the book for you. You will find yourself seated in the piazza, eating antipasto or pizza and with a vino of course!  The range of characters are good - I particularly enjoyed the author's social commentary on the inherent patriarchal society prevalent in these older Italian communities - you know, women at home being wife and mother and not considered capable or appropriate to be a pizzaiola or restaurant owner. Credit to Jo for making one of the central themes of this book all about the role of women in conjunction with the contributions of all the ‘Nonna’s’!

‘... it made me see that life’s too short not to do the thing you love. Not to follow your heart, to feel like you belong.’

If you are after some pure escapism, especially as trips to the Italian countryside can only be via your armchair presently, then let Jo bring a little Italy to you. Visit Nonno’s Pizzeria and bask in the sun, eating and drinking to while away a few hours immersed in good Italian cuisine. 

‘Pizza-making is about tradition, the terrain and the craft,’ I say, repeating my grandfather’s words. ‘It should not be about what sex you are or where you’ve come from. It’s about you putting your story on the plate, wherever you’ve come from.’

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, May 26, 2021

Review: The Warsaw Orphan

Title: The Warsaw Orphan
Author: Kelly Rimmer

Publisher: 28th April 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 416 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, WWII, Poland

My Rating: 5 cups


In the spring of 1942, young Elzbieta Rabinek is aware of the swiftly growing discord just beyond the courtyard of her comfortable Warsaw home. She has no fondness for the Germans who patrol her streets and impose their curfews, but has never given much thought to what goes on behind the walls that contain her Jewish neighbors. She knows all too well about German brutality--and that it's the reason she must conceal her true identity. But in befriending Sara, a nurse who shares her apartment floor, Elzbieta makes a discovery that propels her into a dangerous world of deception and heroism.

Using Sara's credentials to smuggle children out of the ghetto brings Elzbieta face-to-face with the reality of the war behind its walls, and to the plight of the Gorka family, who must make the impossible decision to give up their newborn daughter or watch her starve. For Roman Gorka, this final injustice stirs him to rebellion with a zeal not even his newfound love for Elzbieta can suppress. But his recklessness brings unwanted attention to Sara's cause, unwittingly putting Elzbieta and her family in harm's way until one violent act threatens to destroy their chance at freedom forever.

From Nazi occupation to the threat of a communist regime, The Warsaw Orphan is the unforgettable story of Elzbieta and Roman's perilous attempt to reclaim the love and life they once knew.

My Thoughts

“Grieving is what you do when those you love are lost to you. They have not been lost to me,” I said in disgust, weeping. “They have been taken from me. There is a difference.”

Kelly Rimmer has done it again! The Warsaw Orphan is another spectacular historical fiction novel. Emotional, heartbreaking yet somehow she leaves us with a sense of hopefulness. It portrays the harsh life for the people of Warsaw with first the Germans and then later the Soviets during the occupation of WWII. 

‘When you have seen these things, things so horrific that you cannot become hardened to them, how can you just go back to existing again? Even if the war ended tomorrow, I feel like I would be broken for the rest of my life, and in ways that I can’t even understand, let alone explain.’

This is the story of two teenagers and their unique perspective on this well documented time period. It’s a tale of their growing up in extenuating circumstances of trying to survive in a city blanketed by hardship, suffering and incredible injustices under Nazi and then Soviet occupation. 

‘To face the inhuman, one must become superhuman.’

From the outset to its finale, Kelly offers an amazing story of survival and friendship. It really is quite the tale. Well researched and beautifully written, having been inspired by true events in Poland during WWII. From the resistance within the Jewish Warsaw ghetto, to the Soviet occupied streets or running through the sewers, you are there witnessing the hunger and fear, the despair yet determination. Sitting in the comfort of one’s home, it will shake you to your core to read what these people endured and sacrificed. 

‘Maybe I could force myself to return to the ghetto, but I would have to learn how to stop bringing the ghetto home with me or I’d never survive.’

The story of Elzbieta and Roman, and indeed many of the other characters gives you perspective on what kept them strong, how their beliefs and actions may not align, but always .... always .... how they loved and supported each other.  

“I’m jealous of you. I miss believing that there is some purpose and some sense to life,” Sara sighed. “Maybe, tonight when you pray, you could send up a little prayer for me, too.”

The Warsaw Orphan is undoubtedly an emotional ride with its true power in how it will make you think and what it will make you feel. To be confronted with both the failings and strengths of humanity yet through it all, the power of ‘family’ to hold true through the worst imaginable circumstances. Whilst not an easy book to read at times, it most definitely is a must read as it has a powerful story to tell - a tale that you will reflect upon long after the final page is turned. 

‘At the end of the day, that was my worst nightmare—not the trials of the ghetto. I would endure torture and starvation and even death if it meant I could stay with my family. There was nothing more important to me in the world.’

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 23, 2021

Review: Ariadne

Title: Ariadne 
Author: Jennifer Saint

Publisher: 29th April 2021 by Hachette Australia 

Pages: 400  pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, Greek mythology, retelling

My Rating: 4 cups


A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCE, A SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos's greatest shame and Ariadne's brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne's decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover's ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

My Thoughts

‘In those crucial moments when fateful decisions were made, did they feel the air brighten with the zing of destiny? Or did they blunder on, not realising the pivotal moment in which destiny swung and fates were forged?’

Ariadne follows a similar retelling of the Classical Greek myths but with the perspective of the women who were traditionally left in the shadows. So, if you are at all familiar with Greek mythology, some of what you will read will surely be familiar. However, it is enlightening to see events from little known characters, in this instance, Ariadne.

Although the title focuses on Ariadne, the book in fact alternates between Ariadne and her younger sister Phaedra. The author develops the story of these two sisters whilst incorporating the well known myths - a perfect melding on a range of variations but with a female-focused retelling of the Greek myth.

 ‘Where was the bold Ariadne who had stepped aboard Theseus’ boat, her old life in flames behind her and the future unknown?’

Interestingly, it was Phaedra’s story that held just as much appeal for me as Ariadne’s. With the latter located on an island for most of the book, it was her sister Phaedra who interacted more and therefore had a less introspective story to tell. I had read much on Theseus' tale before, so it was Dionysus' tale that was new to me and engaging - a worthy Greek God inclusion.

If you have read and enjoyed the novels Circe or The Silence of the Girls then you are bound to enjoy Ariadne. It is a most engaging read, a sort of female modern insight and perspective into an infamous Greek tale of tragedy. 

‘My family was gone; they would never acknowledge me again. I knew it to be so, but I could not feel it to be true except in these sudden bursts of realisation. The light of that strange, unthinkable truth would dazzle me for a moment and then it would be gone again, a fleeting sense of terrible loss.’

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 21, 2021

Review: Lost Property

Title: Lost Property
Author: Helen Paris

Publisher: 13th May 2021 by Random House UK,Transworld Publishers, Doubleday

Pages: 384 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, fiction

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Dot Watson has lost her way.

Twelve years ago her life veered off course, and the guilt over what happened still haunts her. Before then she was living in Paris, forging an exciting career; now her time is spent visiting her mother's care home, fielding interfering calls from her sister and working at the London Transport Lost Property office, diligently cataloguing items as misplaced as herself.

But when elderly Mr Appleby arrives in search of his late wife's purse, his grief stirs something in Dot. Determined to help, she sets off on a mission - one that could start to heal Dot's own loss and let her find where she belongs once more...

My Thoughts

‘All the things I could have done, people I could have met, places I could have gone. I gaze around and see - nobody. No one. Just me and a pile of lost things. All abandoned, left, forgotten.’

Lost Property follows Dot who’s life hasn’t quite gone as planned and she is working through some very distressing feelings of loss. The structure and routine from her work in lost property provide the order and comfort she seeks. That is ... until one particular incident forces her to reevaluate everything she thought to be true. 

‘Nothing matters nowadays, does it? It’s all disposable, meaningless. Lost something you care about? Just get another! Get two! Replace it and move on!’ 

I have to state from the outset, this was not the book I was expecting. At some point it lost me a little but then came home strongly in the end. The thing is, this book deals with some really dark and heart wrenching topics that I had not been prepared for. This is no light, fun read regarding lost items with a little romance thrown in. At times, I found it difficult to read faced with topics of grief, suicide, dementia, sibling rivlay, depression, loss, regret - that is a lot to take in. You have to sign on to take the journey with Dot as she tries to come to terms and reclaim her life. At times it is slow going, at times it is downright dark and depressing, but ultimately you crave to see Dot come out the other side. 

‘I guess I don’t think it’s about right and wrong - just that we need to be a bit more fluid. Sometimes it can help to step into the world they are in, rather than always forcing them into ours.’

This book is like being on a rollercoaster with its peaks and troughs. Yet with a great cast of secondary characters it offers a story of the importance of the people in our lives, those that shape us and the shared memories that come to mean so much. In that loss we hold on - sometimes too tightly - to an object that provides a portal to the past, so that they and all we shared are never lost and nor should we become so. 

‘Life gives us so much,’ Mr Appleby says, ‘chance, excitement and hope. But woven through it all is loss. If you try to pull out that thread, the whole thing unravels. Loss is the price we pay for love.’ 

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, May 15, 2021

Review: How to Mend a Broken Heart

Title: How to Mend a Broken Heart
Author: Rachael Johns

Publisher: 5th May 2021 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 448 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction romance, contemporary

My Rating: 4 cups


Summer in New Orleans means hot days, long nights, spooky stories and surprising new beginnings.

Felicity Bell has struggled to move on after her marriage broke down. Her ex has found love again, her children have their own lives, and it’s beginning to feel like her only comfort comes from her dog and her job as a taxidermist. So when Flick gets an offer to work in New Orleans for a few months, she’s drawn to the chance to make a fresh start.

Zoe is ready to start a family with her husband, but when he betrays her, she’s left shattered and desperate for a change of scenery. Joining her mother on the other side of the world to drown her sorrows seems the perfect solution.

Although both mother and daughter are wary of risking their hearts to love again, Theo, a jazz bar owner, and Jack, a local ghost hunter, offer fun, friendship and distraction. But all is not as it seems in New Orleans…

A chance meeting with Aurelia, a reclusive artist who surprises them with lessons from her life, prompts Flick and Zoe to reassess what they want too. Can all three women learn from the past in order to embrace their future?

An uplifting novel about three women joyously learning to move on after heartbreak by the bestselling author of The Patterson Girls and Flying The Nest.

My Thoughts

‘She’s spent her whole life being bitter about her past, never allowing herself to open up to the possibility of a future. I know you’re scared of getting hurt again, but do you really want to end up like that?’

Rachael’s latest offering, How to Mend a Broken Heart is a heartfelt stand-alone novel which follows recently divorced taxidermist Felicity Bell (Flick), a character who readers will be familiar with from a previous novel, The Art of Keeping Secrets. This is a poignant  mother-daughter story of self-discovery and finding love and friendship in the most unlikely of places, which just happens to be New Orleans!

Readers will sincerely empathise with Flick who is still coming to terms with life after her husband transitioned into a woman named Sofia four years ago. They may still be friends but Flick is finding it hard to move on. An opportunity to escape to the other side of the world and fill in for a fellow taxidermist (an interesting insight into that profession) is exactly what she needed. I was not, however, a fan of Zoe (Flick’s daughter) especially when she turned up unannounced. Her behaviour was just so selfish and although she had some redeeming qualities towards the end, I still struggled with her role. The character of Miss H truly takes the story to another level and adds real depth and contrast to this convincing tale. Also, New Orleans is a character within itself in this read. Rachael has done a super job of vividly capturing the life and soul of this iconic location - the good, the bad and the ugly! It provided some wonderful armchair travel. 

‘Ever since you broke up with Sofia, you’ve kinda checked out of life. Neve and Emma keep trying to get you to see other people, but even after all these years you’re intent on staying in your own little bubble, feeling all depressed and sorry for yourself. Well, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to waste my life pining for what was clearly never meant to be.’

All up Rachael has delivered another realistic and relatable tale with everything from spooky old mansions with ghosts, to cultural culinary delights, to life lessons and the opportunities to start anew all in the iconic New Orleans.

‘Life is full of maybes,’ Theo said softly as he stroked her hair off her face. ‘But sometimes things work out just the way they’re supposed to.’

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 11, 2021

Review: The Road Trip

Title: The Road Trip 
Author: Beth O'Leary

Publisher: 21st April 2021 by Hachette Australia and Quercus Books

Pages: 400  pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary, women’s fiction, romance

My Rating: 4 cups


Addie and her sister are about to embark on an epic road trip to a friend's wedding in the north of Scotland. The playlist is all planned and the snacks are packed.

But, not long after setting off, a car slams into the back of theirs. The driver is none other than Addie's ex, Dylan, who she's avoided since their traumatic break-up two years earlier.

Dylan and his best mate are heading to the wedding too, and they've totalled their car, so Addie has no choice but to offer them a ride. The car is soon jam-packed full of luggage and secrets, and with three hundred miles ahead of them, Dylan and Addie can't avoid confronting the very messy history of their relationship...

Will they make it to the wedding on time? And, more importantly... is this really the end of the road for Addie and Dylan?

My Thoughts

 “I don’t care about almost. I care about what really happened. Everyone’s got the potential to do the wrong thing - if we were measured that way, we’d all come up short. It’s about what you do.”

The Road Trip is Beth’s third book. Her first book, Flat Share was met with great acclaim and I thoroughly enjoyed The Switch her second tale (HERE). So I went in expecting loads of laughter and light, fun moments. Somewhat surprisingly, this was quite a different tale, not what I was expecting, but by the end a good story. 

This book definitely has more depth and substance to it, there are strong emotions adrift here and quite a lot of baggage to wade through. Split into two timelines, Beth weaved it together quite well to provide a slow unraveling of past events in explaining how the two main leads came to part ways initially.

‘I don’t even know what the real world is. The dread is tugging at me again, and in its way the fear of it is almost as bad as the dread itself.’

There are some great secondary characters here - love Addie’s sister Deb and big shout out to Rodney for the light relief. It was good to revisit how Addie and Dylan came together and I waited to see if the thing that drove them apart would hit the mark - it did for me. At times the journey was moving a little slow (much like the traffic they were stuck in!) but by the second half they were well and truly in the fast lane and it all gelled well together. 

Despite not being the book I had originally predicted, it ended up being solid and enjoyable and would appeal to many. I look forward to seeing where Beth will go on her next adventure. 

‘The countless times I almost changed my mind. But that’s the thing about almost: you can be ninety-nine per cent there, you can be an inch away from doing it, but if you stop yourself from stepping over that line, nobody will ever know how close you were.’

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.