Monday, August 30, 2021

Review: Hot Desk


Title: Hot Desk

Author: Zara Stoneley

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

Pages: 300 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, contemporary 

My Rating: 4 cups


Same desk, different days. A post-it note is just the beginning…

A must read for fans of Beth O’Leary, Mhairi McFarlane and Sophie Kinsella!

Alice loves her job and wants to keep it – whatever the price. But then she’s told the company is switching to flexible working and hot desking … Alice’s desk might look a mess, but she knows exactly where everything is. Or she did. Until she found out she’s going to share it with the most annoying guy in the office.


Jamie can work from anywhere. He’s quite happy to sweep his work life into a box at the end of the working day. But can sharing a desk with Alice be as much fun as teasing her in person?


With no option but to try it and see, will their relationship turn into open warfare or will it ever progress beyond a post-it note?

My Thoughts

‘This is so unfair; this can’t be happening. Not now. All the Covid chaos and living in lockdown hell is finally supposed to be over. I need my job; I need to be back in the office. I need normal. They promised us normal!’

In a post Covid world (well … almost) Alice's office has to down-size and she has to share her desk with co-worker, Jamie. Whilst on the surface this may seem a fun-loving enemy to lovers read, there is in fact much more to this hot desk experience. Yes, there is romance in a fun unique way through post-it notes, however, this also tells the story of personal growth through experience.

‘What matters is what I’m doing with those experiences, what I’ve learned. What matters is the way I live my life today, tomorrow. What matters is who I let in, who I share with, where I draw the lines.’

First off, this is fun … just plain ol’ fun! The post-it notes had me grinning from ear to ear as it was sharp and witty, not all sloppy and sappy. Their written conversations were lively! It was also interesting to appreciate how words can be misconstrued and talking things out is always the best way forward.

‘You never really know people, do you? The hurt they carry, why they are like they are? I should be kinder, I should listen more to what people are really saying, not just the words I hear. We all should.’

Many readers were surprised by the Covid inclusion, but really it was hardly a feature at all. It seemed natural to have it in the background but it is often only referred to in passing and the global pandemic was definitely not front and centre. At times the writing could be a bit drawn out especially concerning Alice’s inner monologue and some of her issues I must confess, I was not truly on her side. The ending also came around a bit quick given all her indecision.

‘I need to start doing things differently. I’ve hung on to absolutely everything, because it has connected me to the times when I felt really happy.’

What I truly enjoyed from this read was all that the characters overcame. It really was a journey not just for Alice and Jamie (together and apart) but also for Alice’s sister for example - this all adds good depth to what could be viewed as an otherwise ‘fluffy’ novel. I was more engaged with Alice when she was learning to set boundaries in her personal life of which her desk at work was just the tip of the iceberg. Her character arc went from fear of confrontation and being a people-pleaser, to taking charge over what she truly wants in her life. 

‘I’m a work in progress,’ I say, smiling as it hits me just how much progress I have made with my line-drawing. ‘But getting better.’

I found the concept of this book to be both fun and clever. The ‘hot desk’ was the perfect entry into a possible new office life post pandemic and how we must learn to be open to new things. A funny, light, heartwarming and poignant read for our times. 

‘Those Post-it notes had been the highlight of the day for a while, reading them, and even trying to come up with a witty response had meant I’d rushed in each morning to give myself extra time before the office filled up and it all got too chaotic.’

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, August 29, 2021

Review: The Second Mrs. Astor

Title: The Second Mrs. Astor

Author: Shana Abe

Publisher: 31st August 2021 by Kensington Books

Pages: 352 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, Titanic

My Rating: 5 cups


Perfect for fans of Jennifer Chiaverini and Marie Benedict, this riveting novel takes you inside the scandalous courtship and catastrophic honeymoon aboard the Titanic of the most famous couple of their time—John Jacob Astor and Madeleine Force. Told in rich detail, this novel of sweeping historical fiction will stay with readers long after turning the last page.

Madeleine Talmage Force is just seventeen when she attracts the attention of John Jacob “Jack” Astor. Madeleine is beautiful, intelligent, and solidly upper-class, but the Astors are in a league apart. Jack’s mother was the Mrs. Astor, American royalty and New York’s most formidable socialite. Jack is dashing and industrious—a hero of the Spanish-American war, an inventor, and a canny businessman. Despite their twenty-nine-year age difference, and the scandal of Jack’s recent divorce, Madeleine falls headlong into love—and becomes the press’s favorite target.

On their extended honeymoon in Egypt, the newlyweds finally find a measure of peace from photographers and journalists. Madeleine feels truly alive for the first time—and is happily pregnant. The couple plans to return home in the spring of 1912, aboard an opulent new ocean liner. When the ship hits an iceberg close to midnight on April 14th, there is no immediate panic. The swift, state-of-the-art RMS Titanic seems unsinkable. As Jack helps Madeleine into a lifeboat, he assures her that he’ll see her soon in New York…

Four months later, at the Astors’ Fifth Avenue mansion, a widowed Madeleine gives birth to their son. In the wake of the disaster, the press has elevated her to the status of virtuous, tragic heroine. But Madeleine’s most important decision still lies ahead: whether to accept the role assigned to her, or carve out her own remarkable path…

My Thoughts

‘Marriage especially is more than just hope and luck and a handshake. Marriage is work, enormous work, because it’s a living entity that needs everlasting attention. It will push you and bend you and test you, and if you’re not prepared for any of that, it will shatter you.’

This book was such an incredibly surprising read. It was fabulous! I am a fan of historical fiction as you well know but such tales become even richer when it revolves around true stories tied to unforgettable moments in history. Yes, the events surrounding the Titanic are here but it is not the focus of this story. This is the story of Madeline Astor (the second Mrs Astor) who married the famous John Astor, 29 years her senior. This is a story of their whirlwind romance and marriage, a story of the Gilded Age and the prejudices she was subjected to and we all know how the story ends aboard that fateful trip. Yet, my heart was weeping for Madeline and credit to Shana for writing such a heartfelt tale. 

‘It came at them as a fortress, as a castle, as a painted feverscape towering above the ocean. It was the tallest, scariest thing Madeleine had ever seen, bearing down on them in a crest of freshly slaughtered salt water. Titanic arrived eating up the flat horizon.’

Shana’s writing and research is such that it gave what I felt to be a true insight into this love story of the early 1900s. She shone a light on all the established families and expectations, on the socialites and their hurtful gossip and those last frantic moments before the ship went down. I loved this book so much and felt that it was both an accurate and tasteful account of the times. I knew of the famous American Astor family but not of this infamous and controversial second marriage. Madeline was just a teenager and writing in the first person through a letter to her son, Shana sheds light on not only her personality but also the tale of her time spent with Jack Astor - brief as it was.

“They’ll come around,” he said. “They must.” But I didn’t see why they should. They were his set, not my own. I had nothing to offer them beyond myself, and they had already made their feelings about that resoundingly clear.’

Shana is also to be commended on bringing to life the sheer opulence of everything from the majestic New York homes, to the rugged beauty along the Nile, to all the glitter and glamour of those fateful few days aboard the remarkable Titanic. I became a part of Madeline’s world and I was mesmerised and ultimately heartbroken by all that occurred. I found the Reading Guide questions wonderfully reflective at the conclusion. Google was my friend as I looked up key figures such as Vincent from Jack’s first marriage, or Madeline’s sister Katherine, the homes they frequented and of course how their lives played out after I had turned the final page. 

“You left him behind to die.” “I didn’t leave him behind! They wouldn’t let him on the lifeboat! They were only letting on women and children ...” “There are men everywhere out there,” he roared. “Men from Titanic all over this ship!”

The Titanic, as I stated, is not the sole focus here. It was, however, a striking way to conclude the book and to think it was all based on fact. I was aboard that lifeboat with Madeline that fateful night and wondered how anyone - especially someone so young, pregnant and alone - would ever truly recover. Shana has written this in such a way that I invested in the magic that was the love Madeline and Jack shared and how it was tragically cut so short. I highly recommend this story, remarkable in its truth and strength to the story of Madeline Astor. 

‘The nature of hope is curious to me. It can sustain us through the darkest of times. It can buoy us above every reasonable expectation of despair. Yet hope can shatter us just as readily as the darkness can. People refer to it as false hope, but I think that’s misleading, because the feeling itself is painfully true. It is a treacherous hope, more precisely. A dangerous 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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Review: The Riviera House

Title: The Riviera House

Author: Natasha Lester 

Publisher: 1st September 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 434 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, women’s fiction, World War II, romance

My Rating: 5 cups


Paris, 1939: The Nazis think Éliane can't understand German. They’re wrong. They think she’s merely cataloging art in a Louvre museum and unaware they’re stealing national treasures for their private collections. They have no idea she’s carefully decoding their notes and smuggling information to the Resistance. But Éliane is playing a dangerous game. Does she dare trust the man she once loved with her secrets, or will he only betray her once again? She has no way to know for certain . . . until a trip to a stunning home on the French Riviera brings a whole new level of peril.


Present Day: Wanting to forget the tragedy that has left her life in shambles, Remy Lang heads to a home she’s mysteriously inherited on the Riviera. While working on her vintage fashion business, she discovers a catalog of the artworks stolen during World War II and is shocked to see a painting that hung on her childhood bedroom wall. Who is her family, really? And does the Riviera house hold more secrets than Remy is ready to face?

My Thoughts

‘Without art, we’re not truly alive. Take away all the musical instruments and the songs and the sculptures and the books and the sketches and the paintings and it's like taking away food. Nobody would survive.’  

Natasha Lester continues to produce spellbinding tale after spellbinding tale. Here again she delivers with another historical showstopper - a dual time narrative that will have you on the edge of your seat until you finally, and regrettably, turn the last page. If you have never read a Natasha Lester book (historical fiction fan or not) then I am here to tell you, you are missing out. I have loved everything she has written and her latest, ‘The Riviera House’ is no exception.

For her latest lavish escapade, Natasha transports her readers back to when the Nazis were categorically undertaking major art theft during WWII and where brave Resistance fighters risked much to try and preserve and keep safe remarkable works of art. I cannot even begin to imagine the ENORMOUS amount of research that Natasha so obviously undertook in the writing of this book. The details are incredible as once again her artistic weaving of both facts curated around a fictional tale is sublime and leaves the reader in no doubt … no doubt whatsoever … that Natasha is a phenomenal writer of historical fiction. 

To be treated to a dual time narrative is exciting and with each of her novels I continue to be gobsmacked at how cleverly Natasha lays the foundation for both tales knowing that, eventually, they will intertwine and leave her readers in awe. Her storytelling ability is next level, whether you are in war-torn Paris or basking in the sun on the French Riviera, you get all the ‘feels’ through Natasha’s writing. To open a page of Natasha’s book is to be transported back in time or stepping into the shoes of the internal struggles Remy faces in the present day. There are moments where Natasha has you feeling the depths of hunger or the pain from chilblains, where characters are cutting up clothes for repurposing or laying in front of the fireplace in a vintage gown, Natasha takes you there. 

If it were at all possible I would give this book more than five stars as it is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I have to hold myself back from rushing to consume it all in one sit, devouring prose as one would refreshment on a hot day. Natasha will always spoil her readers through her love of fashion and vintage clothing which is once again on display. This time, of course, there is focus on some incredible works of art and any story that has you rushing to visually see for yourself through Google is well done. I am not referring here to not only the likes of the Mona Lisa,  but also The Astronomer by Vermeer or the enchanting village of Eze on the French Riviera.  

‘Art is the daughter of freedom … When we stood together watching the Winged Victory we were all connected by something beyond ourselves. Art is all we have when words fail us, when mankind fails us and when we each fail each other. If we don’t save these works, we can’t save ourselves.’

This novel is so powerful and beautifully written, each and every character brings something to the story. Through pain and loss, sacrifice and sorrow Natasha takes you on a journey where seemingly impossible decisions will have to be made with the ramifications transcending through the years to come. 

Do yourself a favour, walk the streets of Paris with Eliane in war torn France, then start putting all the pieces together with Remy in the present day. I challenge you not to be shocked as secrets are revealed at just the right points throughout the story, or feel triumphant when your heartfelt hopes are realised. This is historical fiction, indeed storytelling, at its finest. I simply cannot wait to see what Natasha will come up with next as she is now an author one buys without even turning to read the book blurb - she is that good. 

‘Love is watching me go and saying nothing, doing nothing.’

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, August 19, 2021

Review: The Sultan's Wife


Title: The Sultan's Wife

Author: Jane Johnson

Publisher: 5th August 2021 by Head of Zeus

Pages: 390 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, romance, cultural Morocco 

My Rating: 4 cups


1677. In Europe, the Enlightenment is dawning after a century of wars. On the seas and in coastal villages, pirates and corsairs are the scourge of the waves. And in Morocco, Sultan Moulay Ismail is concentrating his power, building an elaborate palace complex with captive labor. 

Alys Swann is also a captive, but hers is a different lot: convert to Islam, marry the sultan and give him sons. Or die. Nus-Nus, the sultan’s scribe and keeper of the royal couching book, is charged with convincing Alys to accept her fate. Or they both die. Two powerless prisoners in a world of brutal intrigue, each discovers that they can take strength in the other, to endure that which must be endured in the hope of a better tomorrow. 

Rich in detail with compelling characters and an ambitious scope, The Sultan’s Wife is a remarkable tale of adventure, romance, history, and friendship.

My Thoughts

I have previously read and enjoyed Jane’s books (HERE) and once again, she has outdone herself in rich prose that through quality research, brings to life a period not as well frequented from history. Morocco 1677, where one of one of the most tyrannical rulers in history, Sultan Moulay Ishmael, was in power. Ruthless and at times gory it proved a fascinating time in history. 

… in these past hours I have discovered there is a strength in me I had not expected, a hard seam that lies beneath the surface. Some might call it obstinacy. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t seem to be in control of it: I fear it may drive me to behave in a way that will threaten my own life.’

This story is told from the point of view of the eunuch Nus-Nus and an English woman Alys who has been captured, enslaved and is now a concubine in the sultan's court. While both of these characters are fictional, many others, and indeed a string of events, are in fact true and through meticulous research brought to life. This is an epic tale that takes its readers from Meknes to Tangier to London and back. 

‘… most of all, I am angry with myself. Night after night I lie in the darkness questioning who I am, what I have become; what I may be.’

The best thing is of course Jane’s writing - so realistic and vividly portrayed - everything from the setting, scenery and court intrigue to the more confronting death, rape and plague.You cannot help but be drawn along on this epic journey. I would have liked a bit more from Alys' perspective and felt the brief times when she encountered Nus-Nus to really need more depth in order to feel more about their relationship. There is also a lot of detail in this tale - a lot! Some events seem really drawn out whereas others - especially the ending - came really quickly and I would have loved more detail. 

‘… the doctor went into an apothecary’s shop and bought a pair of the curious bird-beaked masks that Venetian doctors had worn to go about the city in safety … he showed me how they had stuffed the beaks with herbs to cleanse the air they breathed, and then tutted. ‘I am sure, however, that the pestilence is not airborne. We’ll have to hope for another outbreak so that I can test my theories.’

Without doubt now, after my third Jane Johnson book, I can state that she is an amazing storyteller and if being transported to dark and sinister yet gripping Arabian nights of the 17th century appeals to you then I very highly recommend that you give it a go!

‘When your heart and your conscience are in chains, what freedom is there? I just shake my head. ‘I cannot go.’

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, August 15, 2021

Review: The Last of the Apple Blossom

Title: The Last of the Apple Blossom
Author: Mary-Lou Stephens

Publisher: 28th July 2021 by Harlequin Enterprises (Australia)

Pages: 464 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 4.5 cups


The fire took everything - except two women's fighting spirits. A sweeping, big-hearted Australian family saga for readers of Judy Nunn and Victoria Purman. 7 February, 1967. Walls of flame reduce much of Tasmania to ash.

Young schoolteacher Catherine Turner rushes to the Huon Valley to find her family's apple orchard destroyed, her childhood home in ruins and her brother dead. Despite her father's declaration that a woman will never run the orchard, Catherine resolves to rebuild the family business.

After five sons, Catherine's friend and neighbour, Annie Pearson, is overjoyed by the birth of a much longed for daughter. As Annie and her husband Dave work to repair the damage to their orchard, Dave's friend Mark pitches in, despite the fact that Annie wants him gone. Mark has moved his family to the valley to escape his life in Melbourne, but his wife has disappeared leaving chaos in her wake and their young son Charlie in Mark's care.

Catherine becomes fond of Charlie, whose strange upbringing has left him shy and withdrawn. However, the growing friendship between Mark and Catherine not only scandalises the small community but threatens a secret Annie is desperate to keep hidden.

Through natural disasters, personal calamities and the devastating collapse of the apple industry, Catherine, Annie and those they love battle to save their livelihoods, their families and their secrets.

My Thoughts

The Last of the Apple Blossom is the debut novel by Australian author Mary-Lou Stephens and it regales a wonderful family saga. Here is a sweeping tale that begins dramatically with the 1967 southern Tasmanian bushfires and concludes many years later with a tearful, tissue worthy ending.

There are many interesting components to this tale - it really does cleverly encapsulate so much. At its heart is lead character Catherine and the struggles she experiences as a woman trying to cement her place in the world of the 1960s and 1970s. The way Mary-Lou weaves historical fact and fiction throughout all the threads of her engaging tale is seamless.

What makes this feminine journey unique is how it all takes place within the Tasmanian apple industry. I grew up knowing that ‘Tassie’ was the Apple Isle and it was fascinating to learn more about the history of this humble fruit. Mary-Lou has certainly done her homework with everything from the vivid descriptions - whether they be of the fruit orchard, Huon Valley or the terror that was the 1967 fire - it all comes to life through impeccable writing. She not only accurately captured the operations of the apple industry and politics of the day but also seemingly simple social things from attitudes to drinks such as ‘Tang’. The reader will have to take care and refer to chapter heading dates to recognise the time periods and the intervals between chapters. 

Ending in the present but mainly focused on recent history, Mary-Lou cleverly details small town life of the late 1960s early 70s. There are many poignant and heart-wrenching events that, in time, would come to be viewed as social/economic watershed moments outlined in this intricately woven tale. This is such an engaging story set against a well researched factual background that will sit with you long after you have turned the last tearful page. 

‘At the end of the driveway she turned towards the ever-flowing river, beyond to the purple peaks of the Hartz Mountains and the arcing vault of cold blue sky. So much space. So much emptiness. And her, so small in the midst of it. So small and so utterly alone.’

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, August 11, 2021

Review: Thursdays at Orange Blossom House

Title: Thursdays at Orange Blossom House
Author: Sophie Green

Publisher: 28th July 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 432 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction 

My Rating: 5 cups


From the author of beloved Top Ten bestsellers The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club and The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle comes a delightful new novel about friendship, love and finding yourself.

Far North Queensland, 1993: At 74, former cane farmer Grace Maud is feeling her age, and her isolation, and thinks the best of life may be behind her. Elsewhere in town, high school teacher Patricia has given up on her dreams of travel and adventure and has moved back home to look after her ageing parents, while cafe owner Dorothy is struggling to accept that she may never have the baby she and her husband so desperately want. Each woman has an unspoken need: reconnection. And that's how they find themselves at Orange Blossom House, surrounded by perfumed rainforest, being cajoled and encouraged by their yoga teacher, the lively Sandrine. Together, they will find courage and strength - and discover that life has much more to offer than they ever expected.

Set amid the lush beauty of tropical Queensland, Thursdays at Orange Blossom House is a heartwarming story of friendship and family, of chances missed and taken, and the eternal power of love.

My Thoughts

I first came across Sophie’s writing in, The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, which I adored. I therefore had high expectations coming into her latest offering and I was not disappointed. It was absolutely delightful with writing that is immersive, confirming and heartwarming. In this current crazy world we live in, who does not wish for an uplifting read about family, friends, mindfulness and yoga! A truly winning combination. 

‘That day Dorothy first wandered away from this café and towards that yoga class, she could not have known what Orange Blossom House would bring her. Now she does, and it gives her the strength to walk back inside, sniff back her tears and get on with her day.’

Over the course of the story three women of different ages and backgrounds form a friendship in a yoga class and what they all learn sees them become the strongest of friends. Even though they are all so very different, Sophie illustrates (yet again!) how at any stage of your life, you can leave the past behind and face a future full of joyful anticipation. That it is indeed possible to both find and fulfill your heart's desire on a journey of self discovery. This book is rich and rewarding on so many levels that I was furiously highlighting so as to always be reminded of the absolute gems Sophie drops for her readers along the way. 

‘… though Grace Maud knows … that control is an illusion, always. The only thing that can be controlled is the time we wake up each day; after that, every minute is at the whim of the fates. We just tell ourselves stories about how that’s not the case so that life seems vaguely manageable.’

I love how Sophie divided the book up with a list of either songs, movies or current affairs from the period 1993-1995 - it brought back some fond memories. The locale of far North Queensland was vividly portrayed and added yet another dimension to an already amazing tale. 

‘A wistfulness settles on Patricia’s face and Grace Maud recognises it: the mixture of regret and relief that arises when you know you’ve become the person you want to be only because some of the things you thought you wanted never happened.’   

For me, Sophie’s writing style is sublime - gentle and graceful - allowing her readers to lose themselves in the story. Through each of the three narratives you will find a little of your past, present or future self - such is the genuine nature of these lead characters. You will reflect on your own dreams or aspirations and come to the realisation that, in whatever form, it is always possible to unlock and pursue what makes your heart sing. This book is both comforting and confirming. 

‘Her body has bent and folded and stretched and hauled and pushed for most of her life. Just because it has wrinkles on it now doesn’t mean it’s forgotten how to do all those things simply because she’s withered a little since she moved into town. Somewhere inside this crepey-skinned shell is the warrior she used to be.’

Thank you Sophie for yet another beautifully written story. A story about making changes in an effort to affirm and pursue your unique life journey. How through friendships or the mindfulness of something such as yoga, you are able to realise subtle changes that may help to unlock an even better you. 

‘She held onto something that wasn’t serving her for too long simply because she was unsure of what was on the other side, even though it had a very good chance of being better.’

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.