Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Review: The Good Wife of Bath

Title: The Good Wife of Bath

Author: Karen Brooks 

Publisher: 7th July 2021 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 526 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


In the middle ages, a poet told a story that mocked a strong woman. It became a literary classic. But what if the woman in question had a chance to tell her own version? Who would you believe?

England, The Year of Our Lord, 1364

When married off aged 12 to an elderly farmer, Eleanor Cornfed, who's constantly told to seek redemption for her many sins, quickly realises it won't matter what she says or does, God is not on her side - or any poor woman's for that matter.

But Eleanor was born under the joint signs of Venus and Mars. Both a lover and a fighter, she will not bow meekly to fate. Even if five marriages, several pilgrimages, many lovers, violence, mayhem and wildly divergent fortunes (that swoop up and down as if spinning on Fortuna's Wheel itself) do not for a peaceful life make.

Aided and abetted by her trusty god-sibling Alyson, the counsel of one Geoffrey Chaucer, and a good head for business, Eleanor fights to protect those she loves from the vagaries of life, the character deficits of her many husbands, the brutalities of medieval England and her own fatal flaw... a lusty appreciation of mankind. All while continuing to pursue the one thing all women want - control of their own lives.

My Thoughts

‘I’m merely a wife.’ I lowered my eyes and tried to appear demure. Master Mervyn stood. 'Ha!' he said and drained his drink. You may be a wife, but there’s nothing mere about you.’

‘The Good Wife of Bath’ is the fictitious story of The Wife of Bath from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - something I am not overly familiar with. This is not a quick or light-hearted read (page numbers aside). However, what I can tell you is that Karen provides her readers with an absolutely epic tale of love and loss, heartbreak and hope from the Middle Ages and it is not to be missed. 

‘You’ve said it before. Many times. Lest you’re forgetting, I'm also an ugly little bitch. It’s not slipped my memory.’ Did he flinch? ‘I’ll have you know’, I said softly, ‘I’ve been called worse.’ (Just for the record, I hadn’t - not then.) He glanced at me. ‘They’re just words.’ (I was yet to learn the power they had to inflict injury.)’

This is a one woman’s tale and it is filled with everything life can throw at a person. It will call on strength and understanding but gosh … there will be a few laughs along the way. Karen has surely provided the perfect balance in this all engaging story. Starting off as a cheeky, young twelve year old, Eleanor ends up having five husbands and each brings with them a story within itself. Towards the end, when it would seem life and circumstance has worn her down, Eleanor still retains her staunch ambition and fierce loyalty towards her ‘family’. 

‘Philippa is accustomed to being her own woman,’ he said stiffly. 'I’m sure you of all people understand.’ Did I? I was hardly my own woman, I belonged to Turbet, and     before him, Fulk, and before him, Papa. What woman could really be called ‘her own’? What did that even mean?’

Medieval daily living leaps off the page, testament to Karen’s impressive research. You will witness everything from plague to trade, physical abuse to unbreakable friendship bonds. Each of the books Karen has written (and I have read them all) are amazing in their attention to detail and the rich historical fact and fiction provided - right down to the swearing! This makes for incredible storytelling and an unputdownable story. The authenticity of everything from dialogue to social mores of the day, is richly detailed and leaves the reader needing to know more.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ I said, before she could answer. ‘It makes me a fool, enslaved to my heart --- and my c---’   ‘It makes you a good wife,’ she interjected. ‘Prepared to give your husband the benefit of the doubt.’ ‘Good wife?’ A dry, bitter laugh escaped. ‘I should be by now. I’ve had plenty of practice.’

Life is certainly not easy for Eleanor and she is the representative for all women, strong and most certainly forthright in her views and opinions. It is crushing at times to see what she endures but her determination to do right by those she loves is beyond admirable. It’s courageous. And I believe that is what Karen wants you to recognise and be inspired by. 

‘It’s time you trusted who you are and stand up to anyone else who would try to belittle you. And that includes me. Do you hear me? Use your voice, woman, use it for yourself and for those who don’t have one. And use it well.’

‘The Good Wife of Bath’ is an exploration of the treatment of women in a time so far removed from what we know today. At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, this book is sure to speak to many with Eleanor’s efforts to overcome the many adversities that arise throughout her eventful life. I highly recommend this book to not only lovers of history and literary classics, but also readers who love stories involving strong and complex women. 

‘I’ve been with this woman since she was just a wee bit older than Lowdy. She’s been through more than you can imagine and, guess what? It’s never stopped her trying, nor giving folk a chance. She never says anything she doesn’t mean and she certainly wouldn’t be making offers if they weren’t genuine.’

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, July 27, 2021

Review: Cecily

Title: Cecily

Author: Annie Garthwaite

Publisher: 29th July 2021 by Penguin General UK - Fig Tree, Hamish Hamilton, Viking, Penguin Life, Penguin Business Viking

Pages: 393 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 5 cups



The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.

She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor's son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the King who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason - death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unseen protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the blood and exhilaration of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

My Thoughts

‘Women have no swords, brother. We do our work by talking.’

There is historical fiction and then there is Cecily. WOW! This is purist historical fiction at its best. This is one of those rare and memorable tales that gives voice to someone I had barely heard of but will now forever remember. Set at the conclusion of the Hundred Years War between England and France, and moving to the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, this story focuses on the life of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of King Edward IV and Richard III and a force within her own right. 

This is powerhouse female historical fiction of an incredible woman from English history. Cecily is captivating, brilliant and on a mission. Highly intelligent she uses her ruthless bravery to further the fortunes of her loved ones and the love of country. For all this, I believe, she is portrayed as somehow authentic with her reality jumping off the pages. This is not some light version of history, oh no, here we have strategic planning, courageous confrontations, deadly battles and heart wrenching losses. A feminine view on a very much manly world of kings and courtiers. Here we are given a heroine to follow and cheer for. 

‘In her private darkness she calculates the value of all she has learned since coming into France: that the will of God, which has called all things into being, might turn a child into a king, a girl into a warrior, or a body into ash. And that any man – or woman indeed – may, according to their courage, shape His will to their purpose.’

This story with its cast of characters is rich in detail, locales and plots - in every aspect of the word. Through Cecily’s eyes you see all the outward trials of living in a cunning court to the inward matrimonial love yet sorrow of so many pregnancies and so much loss. It is consuming and fascinating as fact after fact is beautifully narrated with flowing fiction. Through it all the strength of the matriarch shines through and it is glorious to read. 

‘We depend, all, from Fortune’s wheel, and the wheel turns faster when pushed.’

Annie (author) does an amazing job in so many respects. You cannot help but be impressed with the depth and breadth of her research. To craft a story that reads so well for today’s audience is impressive. It is as if you are standing beside Cecily as she wisely considers the best course of action, or mourns and moves on. Add to that the descriptions of residences and rooms, the bitter winds of an English winter and it really becomes a complete novel. 

I thank Penguin Publishers UK for reaching out and offering a book I may otherwise have missed. If epic historical fiction is your thing, be sure not to miss Annie Garthwaite's incredible debut. As the author states herself:

‘Cecily lived through eighty years of tumultuous history, never far from the beating heart of power. She mothered kings, created a dynasty, brought her family through civil war. She met victories and defeats in equal measure and, in face of them all, lived on. Last woman standing. There had to be a story there, surely?’

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, July 26, 2021

Review: The Beach Reads Book Club

Title: The Beach Reads Book Club

Author: Kathryn Freeman

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

Pages: 400 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, contemporary, chick lit, women’s fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Welcome to the Beach Reads Book Club…where love is just a page away…

When Lottie Watt is unceremoniously booted out of her uptight book club for not following the rules, she decides to throw the rulebook out the window and start her own club – one where conversation, gin and cake take precedent over actually having read the book!

The Beach Reads Book Club soon finds a home for its meetings at Books by the Bay, a charming bookshop and café owned by gorgeous, brooding Matthew Steele, and as the book club picks heat up, so too does the attraction between Matt and Lottie.

If there’s anything Lottie has learned from the romances she’s been reading, it’s that the greatest loves are the ones hardest earned.

A love letter to chicklit, romance, romcoms, whatever you want to call them!

My Thoughts

‘Five people whose lives she hoped would all be improved, just a little, by the combination of a good book, a mug of tea and the company of like-minded readers.’

Let’s make a tally of all things fun and bookish:

  • book about books - tick

  • books and tea - tick 

  • takes place in a bookshop - tick

  • centres around a fun book club - tick 

  • book club has some fun reads I have read and can relate to - tick

  • there is a fun romance with a dashing hero and strong woman - tick

I could go on …. but I think my fellow book lovers appreciate where I am going with this … MUST. READ.

‘The Beach Reads Book Club’ contains everything one looks for in this genre - it’s easy to read yet has serious undertones, it’s light and funny but has a deeper level of significance, it’s romantic and just simply what I was after. I loved it!

‘What you mean to tell me you were alone in the dark with this town’s answer to Mr Darcy, and you didn’t take advantage of it?’

This is the kind of book club I would want to join with super fun members and just the right amount of romantic escapism that had me smiling and feeling all gooey inside (#newbookcrush). There is the promise of not only book talk but real life talk washed down with cake and tea or pizza and gin! Lottie and Matt are the perfect ‘opposites attract’ - so sweet and steamy - and challenge each other to step outside their comfort zone. The members of the Beach Reads Book Club are awesome! A group of women who are both fun and funny in their love of literature and life.

‘Seeing the look on their faces, the excitement, the delight when they’d only been talking about books… it had made her wonder if she’d been missing out. Then she’d read one of their recommendations. After that, she’d been hooked, going on to devour all the books she could get her hands on.’

This leads me to two key points. One, I stand and applaud the theme of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ - literally! Beach reads, chick lit … call it what you will, however, these books, seemingly light and frivolous, often contain so much more …

‘Real guys don’t walk around with roses between their teeth,’ her brother had mocked. ‘And life isn’t full of sappy endings.’ ‘If you think that’s what romance books are all about, you’ve clearly never read one,’ her mum had countered.‘They’re about hope, about joy. About handling adversity and coming through the other side stronger. Yes, they’re also about love, the most powerful emotion you’ll ever experience.’

Secondly, I also wish to highlight the books read at the club and how these titles often reflected and coincided with the events of the story itself. A clever way to highlight a theme but also to note once more, how these ‘beach reads’ often have more substance than at first glance. 

‘… books that take us on holiday.’ Gira, the quieter of the two women, looked at them both. ‘I don’t mean they have to be about beaches, but they take you out of your head. Transport you to another world for a while.’

This was such a fun rom-com with a cast of lovable characters and a gorgeous love story! For some heartwarming escapism you really cannot pass it up. 

‘To the Beach Reads Book Club and all who join it … it’s about bringing the joy of books to all readers, no matter what their tastes.’

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, July 25, 2021

Review: Madam

Title: Madam
Author: Phoebe Wynne 

Publisher: 1th May 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 435 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: mystery, gothic, thriller

My Rating: 4 cups


For 150 years, Caldonbrae Hall has loomed high above the Scottish cliffs as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises that its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher and new head of department. Rose is overwhelmed by the institution: its arcane traditions, unrivalled prestige, and terrifyingly cool, vindictive students. Her classroom becomes her haven, where the stories of fearless women from ancient Greek and Roman history ignite the curiosity of the girls she teaches and, unknowingly, the suspicions of the powers that be.

But as Rose uncovers the darkness that beats at the very heart of Caldonbrae, the lines between myth and reality grow ever more blurred. It will be up to Rose – and the fierce young women she has come to love – to find a way to escape the fate the school has in store for them, before it is too late.

My Thoughts

If the speculative fiction of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ intrigues you, then Phoebe Wynne’s debut novel is something you may be interested in. Set in a remote Scotlish peninsula on cliff tops high above the sea, the scene is well and truly set for a gothic style mystery.

‘This place is all about traditions, honour, rules .... which means what? Turning a blind eye when things go wrong?'

Caldonbrae Hall, a prestigious girls boarding school with a long history of tradition, has just hired a new teacher which had not happened for a decade. Whilst excited to be honoured with such a position as the new Head of Classics, it does not take long for Rose to realise all is not what it seems. Phoebe provides puzzle pieces, slowly revealing and inviting her readers to start putting them together to reveal the truth behind the closed doors of Caldonbrae Hall.

The setting is, of course, perfect for the unfolding thriller - the Scottish wilds - with tumultuous storms and even the historic Hall itself lending to the vibe with secret passageways and winding hallways. I found the inclusion of Greek mythology through Rose’s position as Classics teacher to be clever. It enriches the story with excerpts from the Classics - strong women such as Medusa and Boudicca - and how they cleverly can reflect and inspire the present day events.

‘Classics is more than language - more than history, literature and society. It's an entire culture and philosophy, a civilisation that we still continue to imitate today, without even realising it.' She faced him properly. 'It's the study of people. And sometimes, I understand the Greek and Roman civilisations more than I do our own.’

Although the story takes place in the 1990s, due to the remote location and way the school is run, it feels like it should be from a different era. Yet, I guess that is what the author was after - a place that possibly stopped in time? Although I wished for some characters to be developed further, it really is an impressive debut that will keep you guessing as to how events will ultimately unfold. Embrace both the gothic and thrilling premise of what could possibly be going on behind elitist closed doors. 

‘Sometimes as women, we have to rescue ourselves, instead of expecting someone else to.' Rose sat forward. She realised she felt bolder with the storm still in her skin. That's the best thing a woman can do - learn how to rescue herself, without the need of a man; without the need of anyone.’               


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, July 18, 2021

Review: The Woman with the Blue Star

Title: The Woman with the Blue Star

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: 5th May 2021 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 336 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, World War II, cultural Poland

My Rating: 4 cups


1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents amid the horrors of the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous sewers beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. Scorned by her friends and longing for her fiancé, who has gone off to war, Ella wanders Kraków restlessly. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by harrowing true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an emotional testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

My Thoughts

‘Find the things that give you hope and cling to them. That is the only way we will make it through this war.’

‘The Woman with the Blue Star’ is inspired by a true story of a group of Jewish people who, in an effort to escape and survive Nazi persecution, lived in the sewers in Poland. For all my WWII reading I had not come across this and therefore, found it interesting to learn and try to appreciate the lengths people went to survive during these horrific times.

With a more YA vibe, I could see the benefit of a younger audience reading this realistic fiction from this time period. Two young girls who become friends through a grate above the sewer. This bond that they form (whilst difficult to realistically imagine) is the basis of the story. Herein lies the key to investing in this tale, suspend your thinking mind and just allow the fictional possibilities to unfold. I chose to focus on what life in a sewer must have been like or, for Ella, how living with a German collaborator must have felt. 

‘The whole city had carried on without us, not  seeming to notice that we were gone. The people above passed by me heedlessly. They could not possibly imagine that beneath their feet, we breathed and ate and slept. I couldn’t blame them; I certainly hadn’t given the world below a second thought when I lived above.’

The romance for both girls is more YA and tries to bring light to the darker side of events (the sewer romance has a real Anne Frank feel to it). The possibility of love in the face of such tragedy, is an effort to bring balance and a sense of purpose and meaning to the struggles that they faced. I would have felt more comfortable had the title of the book been, ‘The Girl with the Blue Star’ as their age and interactions are definitely on the younger side and I don’t believe it to be an adult tale. I also disappointingly found the ending to be convenient on a number of issues, all neatly (and somewhat unrealistically) tied up. 

If I appreciate that it is a tale for a younger audience, then I am more understanding of particular aspects of the tale. All up, it was fascinating to gain a fresh perspective on this well documented era with Polish Jews hiding in the sewer system, the extreme difficulties associated with that, in their fight for survival. 

‘Each day is a gift down here, tomorrow promised to no one.’

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.