Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review: The Prodigal Sister

Title: The Prodigal Sister

Author: Darry Fraser

Publisher: 1st December 2021 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 416 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: romance, historical fiction

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Headstrong Prudence North faces a dangerous blackmailer who threatens her family and her dreams of escaping domestic drudgery. An enthralling historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.

1900, Melbourne, Victoria 

Miss Prudence North is freshly returned from university in Scotland and determined to find her place among the male-dominated world of the new forensic sciences when a high-ranking policeman waylays her. He threatens to charge her father for illegal medical practices unless she helps him build a case against local landowner Jasper Darke by spying on him.

With her sister's illness worsening, if their income disappears, Prudence will have to take on nursing and domestic duties and she'll never have the freedom she craves. Prudence has no choice but to agree.

Immediately taken with the handsome Mr Darke, a seemingly good and honest man, Prudence can't see what nefarious activities she's meant to be reporting on. She'll have to get closer...

But when a body turns up at her father's surgery, the forensics reveal to Prudence there's more going on about all this than meets the eye. It's clear it's up to her to uncover the truth - of this murder, of whatever's going on at the surgery after hours and, especially, of the intriguing Jasper Darke. Her life, her family and her future rely on it.

My Thoughts

Darry Fraser is at the top of her game with her latest Australian historical fiction writing. The Prodigal Sister is another wonderful tale to immerse yourself in with a strong female lead in male dominated colonial Australia. I love the fact that in each of her novels, Darry takes her female lead and explores with them at a time when women were on the cusp of acquiring some form of independence. Into this Darry can always be relied upon to weave an intriguing mystery with just the right amount of romance.

When you pick up one of Darry’s books, you know you are in for something special. You not only get a rollicking good yarn but also some exceptional research embedded within the tale that takes it to the next level. This time Darry looks at Huntington’s disease, something that was not well understood in the nineteenth century and the impact on lifestyle for those who suffered from it. She also includes the early days of  women in tertiary study with a specific focus on forensic science in assisting police in solving crimes,

‘Don’t come in here, you’ll disturb evidence,’ she cried, holding out her arm.’

Throughout it all, however, Darry continues to provide you with a strong historical setting of the day to day living from a time long passed. Issues of female independence are once more put under the spotlight as Darry gives a little taste of the momentous changes that would ultimately unfold for women. In a time when Aussie authors are making their mark in historical dramas, Darry has done a fabulous job with wonderful storytelling, putting herself right up there with the best in these Australian colonial sagas.

‘It is a man’s world in which you’ve set a course, and you will learn, my dear, that it can’t end well.’

So if you like a good story, women attempting to exert independence, throw in a dashing hero to assist, then this will be the book for you. Life wasn’t easy for women who were often regarded as male property and I admired the many strengths of the lead character, Prudence North.

‘Educated at one of the finest, most respected universities in the world, she had a degree. That was so much more than many men, and yet paid employment, a position with a high level of credibility, was almost non-existent because she was a woman.’

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

Monday, November 29, 2021

Review: The Long Weekend

Title: The Long Weekend 

Author: Fiona Palmer

Publisher: 1st December 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 336 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary 

My Rating: 5 cups


Four perfect strangers. Three days. Can one weekend away change your life? The unputdownable new drama by one of Australia’s most beloved storytellers.

Coming together for a writing workshop with bestselling author Jan Goldstein, four strangers converge upon a luxury forest retreat. But along with their notepads and laptops, each of the participants has brought some emotional baggage.

Beth is a solo parent and busy career woman haunted by a tragic car accident. Simone, the youngest at 26, is a successful Instagram star but she’s hiding behind a facade. Jamie is the only man. He’s a handsome personal trainer – but he looks out of place with a pen in his hand. Finally, Alice is a wife and mum recovering from postnatal depression. She and Jamie soon realise they are not such perfect strangers after all.

Only one thing is for sure: on this creative getaway, nothing will go according to script.

My Thoughts

I am such a fan of Fiona’s books as they are gentle and easy to read, yet at the same time fun with clever undertones for consideration. On this occasion, The Long Weekend provides a wonderful tale of friendship and love where Fiona cleverly explores how we must live and learn from our mistakes and, in fact, appreciate how they have made us stronger and into the person we are today. 

‘Through the flames had come a friendship, two kindred spirits who had lost so much and needed to find their way back to happiness.’

Fiona always guarantees a story with strong female leads, a certain amount of camaraderie and the requisite romance that is the icing on top. She investigates through her key leading characters, contemporary issues that are sure to speak to many who read it. So you are in for a treat as there are stories within stories that both engage and entertain her readers. Fiona has a real knack for making the characters so real that you could easily make friends with them yourself, sitting down to have a coffee and a chat.

“Looks can be deceiving, Simone. We all like to put on brave faces and pretend everything is alright when inside we are a ball of twisted emotions.”

The Long Weekend sees four strangers come to a Writers Weekend and, with the author herself, all will confront a past that there is no running from. It is a real discovery of self with lessons to be learned. Issues addressed include things such as PTSD/trauma, self image and post natal depression just to name a few. This is where Fiona really shines as she is so adept at weaving both character story and personal growth into a highly engaging narrative. Some really worthy issues are put under the spotlight and handled masterfully by Fiona. 

‘How weird is it that we can end up doing stuff we don't like, but can’t seem to find our way out? And yet sometimes the solution is easy - just stop.’ Simone sighed heavily. 'Why is stopping so hard?’

I love supporting Aussie authors and Fiona’s books are always so satisfying. From moments that make you smile (yes! I’m referring to the Jamie Fraser aka Outlander reference LOL), to moments that emotionally challenge you, all beautifully blended into a tale of friendship and growth. Fiona makes her readers aware of some heartbreaking issues and peoples vulnerabilities through the range of relationship storylines. However, ultimately she gives us a feel good story that demonstrates that we all really need to make the most of each and every day.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Review: Her Secret War

Title: Her Secret War

Author: Pam Lecky

Publisher: 14th October 2021 by Avon

Pages: 384 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, world war II 

My Rating: 4 cups


A moment that ruins her life

On 31st May 1941, Germany drops bombs on neutral Dublin and Sarah Gillespie loses her family and home that fateful night. Days later, the man she loves leaves Ireland to enlist in the RAF.

A decision that changes her life

With nothing to keep her in Ireland and a burning desire to help the war effort, Sarah seeks refuge with relatives in Hampshire, England. But before long, Sarah’s family history catches up with her.

A mission that could cost her life

Sarah is asked to prove her loyalty to Britain through uncovering a spy at Vickers Supermarine, the manufacturers of the legendary Spitfire fighter plane. But to progress with her mission, she must become involved with a fifth columnist. And so the most dangerous game she’s ever played ensues…

My Thoughts

Her Secret War by Pam Lecky is WWII historical fiction that has a little of everything - mystery and suspense, spies and espionage, with a little romance to tie it all together. What is unique with this particular tale is the incorporation of the Irish/IRA aspect of the era - a most worthy and unique inclusion. 

‘Whenever she questioned the appropriateness of revenge as a motive for what she was undertaking, she would recall her sister’s last moments and how she had died, and the anger would flare up once more. It was always there in the background, bubbling away, driving her forward when the doubts threatened to overwhelm her’

The political intrigue is perhaps the key element that sets this tale apart from others of this genre. The unsettled relationship between Britain and Ireland is highlighted in an aspect of history that I was unfamiliar with - would the Irish actually favour Hitler to spite the English? An interesting aspect for the reader’s consideration. 

‘That night would always be a watershed in her life: the world before, when all Sarah Gillespie thought about was books, going to the pictures and nights on the town, and then the painful reality of life after’

Overall the main lead of Sarah is engaging as she is torn between two worlds - literally and figuratively. Her strength and determination in her quest for revenge and to prove herself but still, at times, find herself vulnerable and unsure. The twists will keep you turning the pages until the final surprise which was well played by the author. 

‘Lying was becoming far too easy. Skimming the depths of deceit, although currently necessary, shook her moral compass’

Her Secret War is quality historical fiction with the espionage and political aspect of the narrative adding another dimension to this time period. 

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

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Review: The Great Christmas Escape

Title: The Great Christmas Escape

Author: Kellie Hailes

Publisher: 18th October 2021 by Orion Dash

Pages: 252 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary romance, romcom, women’s fiction, Christmas

My Rating: 3.5 cups


It's time to swap mistletoe and mince pies for the adventure of a lifetime! 

Sara's life has been in a bit of a rut. Lately, her job as a photographer has just meant taking photos of happy couples and families all day before returning to her empty flat. And while she normally loves Christmas with her family, this year a part of her just wants to run away. So when her ex-husband Fin gets in touch with a wild idea - a joint work trip to New Zealand - she knows it's crazy... but she says yes!

A celebrated travel blogger, Fin has made a career out of following his bliss. As much as he loves Sara, the steady family life she's always wanted is not one he can give her. This trip together is his one chance to win her back. But can he convert her to his impulsive lifestyle? There's only one way to find out.

As the two explore the stunning sights and thrills of New Zealand, they're about to discover there's so much more to each other than they ever realised...

My Thoughts

‘Her family had no idea she was travelling with him. That her great Christmas escape, as her father had laughingly called it, was being undertaken with the husband who’d left her high and dry.’

If you are on the lookout for something different, how about a Christmas book set in New Zealand! No white Christmas here but plenty of other aspects to enjoy and entertain.

The positives of this book are of course the location. New Zealand features (not as strongly as I would have liked) but still enough to highlight the many enticing things this great country has to offer. I also enjoyed how the main characters were a photographer and travel blogger - another excellent way to shine the spotlight on a country’s features. It is of course a Christmas tale and this brings smiles for those that love this time of year with an added summery festive vibe.

‘New Zealand. Sara shook her head, unable to comprehend how she found herself so far away from her family, from her home, at Christmas, in a country where there would be no scarves, no woolly hats, no thick, cheesy Christmas jumpers.’

The main focus of this book, however,  are the two characters, previously married and now coming back together to give it another go. Therefore this book is all about miscommunications which can be frustrating at times. I was not completely empathetic to either Sara or Fin for the confusing messages they sent out. This particular trope is not one I gravitate to, however, it most certainly dominated this story which readers need to be aware of.

‘Her great escape was feeling like a great mistake.’

If you wish to escape this Christmas try a trip to New Zealand and if you are a fan of second chance romances then what’s not to love when a picturesque locale and festive cheer are weaved into the mix. 

‘I’ve realised that facing my fears is better than fighting them. That sharing my problems is better than hiding them. That running from my issues only leads to more running, and that just leads you in circles.’

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

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Review: Midnight in Everwood

Title: Midnight in Everwood
Author: M.A. Kuzniar

Publisher: 27th October 2021 by HQ Fiction - HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 339 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: magical realism, fantasy, retelling 

My Rating: 5 cups


In the darkness of night, magic awaits…

The Nutcracker for adults, perfect for fans of Robert Dinsdale’s The Toymakers, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Stephanie Garber’s Caraval

It was a rainy day that the magic came, and once magic has entered your life, you stay in its glittering clutch forever’

Nottingham, 1906

Marietta Stelle longs to be a ballerina but as Christmas draws nearer, her dancing days are numbered. At the wishes of her family, she will be obligated to marry and take up her place in society in the New Year. But when a mysterious toymaker, Dr Drosselmeier, purchases a neighbouring townhouse, it heralds the arrival of magic and wonder in her life. Although Drosselmeier’s magic is darker than Marietta could have imagined…

When he constructs an elaborate theatrical set for her final ballet performance, Marietta discovers it carries a magic all of its own. As the clock chimes midnight, Marietta finds herself walking through a land of snow-topped fir trees leading to a frozen sugar palace silent with secrets and must find a way to return home.

In the darkness of night, magic awaits and you will never forget what you find here…

My Thoughts

‘Might I inquire as to where I am?' 'Why, you have discovered the delights of Everwood, of course. A land of ice and sugar, enchanted beyond measure.’

I had high expectations for this book … and I am thrilled to report it was everything I wished for and then some. This is a story that you immerse yourself in, lose yourself in as it is deliciously full of magical descriptions and imagery - literally and figuratively. From sugar coated villages one could only dream of, to aspirations of fulfilling your dreams.

‘She could not sleepwalk through a life of luncheons and dinners and a marriage that would pin her in place, a butterfly with steel pins puncturing its wings, preserved and beautiful in its glass cage though its heart beat no longer. She needed to set herself free.’

Midnight in Everwood follows Marietta with her passion for ballet yet her family will force her to give it up in favour of marriage. That is until something magical and unforeseen happens and she ends up in Everwood. Inspired by ‘The Nutcracker’, this one's for adults who are open to magical realism. Acknowledgements to the original are subtle but recognisable with no prerequisite to be fully au fait with the original. 

‘It’s an empowering act, stepping into your own identity, forging a deeper empathy with yourself.’

M.A. Kuzniar’s writing is sublime. Her creative and imaginative retelling is exquisite. Her prose is extraordinary at times. Her world building everything one could imagine and more with descriptions and imagery sweeping across all your senses.

‘It is beautiful here. I can feel my pulse slowing, my worries waning.'

You will admire the strength of character of Marietta with her determination to stay true to her dreams. I also fully appreciated that the romance was most definitely not the main focus. It is beautiful but Kuzniar stays true to her conviction to allow Marietta to be all she can and achieve her heart's desire. I would even go so far as to say it is, in fact, the female friendships that hold the spotlight being truly heartwarming and inspiring. On the flip side the villain is truly villainous and terribly vindictive - this can be a harsh and cruel world. All up, the cast of characters demonstrate a real depth and are highly engaging for the reader. 

‘Only the most magical things happen at midnight. When mortal folk are dreaming, safe in their beds, it is then that the sprites and goblins creep out and the air crackles with wild magic.’

How to sum this up? This version - an adult Nut Cracker - is exquisite, enthralling and totally worth your while if this is something that appeals to you. I loved this book and highly recommend you take a trip to the magical land of Everwood. 

‘Everwood might be spun from sugar and enchantments but it was rotten to the core.’

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

Review: Living the Château Dream

Title: Living the Château Dream
Author: Dick and Angel Strawbridge

Publisher: 26th October 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 318 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: autobiography

My Rating: 4 cups


Dick and Angel Strawbridge share more charming stories from their life at the Chateau-de-la-Motte Husson. The follow-up to the massive Sunday Times bestseller, A Year at the Chateau. The follow-up to the massive Sunday Times bestseller, A Year at the Chateau.

In January 2015 Dick and Angel Strawbridge embarked on the journey of a lifetime when they swapped their cosy two-bedroom flat in East London for a derelict chateau in the Loire Valley.

Where Sunday Times bestseller A Year at the Chateau told the entertaining and heart-warming beginning of the family's French adventure, Living the Chateau Dream is about the years of hard graft that followed as Dick and Angel leapt into action transforming Chateau-de-la-Motte Husson into both a thriving family home and a sustainable business.

From throwing open the shutters to new suites, to exploring the walled garden, launching their wedding business and hosting guests, no stone was left unturned. With enormous tasks, like installing a lift, plus the beginnings of lifelong traditions, this much-anticipated follow-up includes many firsts for the Strawbridge family. As Dick and Angel recount stories of the next two years at the chateau, we start to understand the true extent of the work and skill that it has taken to make this incredible house into a much-loved home.

With never-before-told stories of remarkable discoveries, amazing transformations and once-in-a-lifetime celebrations, this book is sure to delight and inspire in equal measure!

My Thoughts

‘We are, however, realists - optimistic definitely, but we are grounded. There was so much more to do and we understood that we had only actually set the foundations for our dream life.’

Following on from the success of A Year at The Chateau and their TV show, Living the Château Dream sees Dick and Angel sharing the next part of the journey from their 19th-century French chateau. Who would not want a window into life in a 45 room chateau with a walled gardens and your very own moat! This new book regales stories covering their amazing efforts to transform the chateau - both inside and out - into a successful place to both live and work. 

‘The château was becoming more and more comfortable week by week and it was working as our home and our place of work. It seems a bit silly to say it but the château has a nice intimate feeling. It has never felt big and we definitely don’t rattle around in it. However, no matter how you look at it, there are a lot of stairs. To get up to our guest bedroom suites is four flights of stairs and it can be testing even for the young.’

For those of you unfamiliar with Dick and Angel, they left their London residence for the journey of a lifetime to renovate a derelict chateau in the Loire Valley. This second book continues their story detailing all their hard work and efforts to restore and renovate this dream residence. A place that would be not only their home but also host a sustainable business.

Here you will read of the launch of their business venture - hosting weddings, Food Lovers Weekends and much more. Their truthful and honest approach helps readers to understand the mammoth undertaking and incredible skill set required to succeed - and succeed they have! This is a book that will both entertain and inspire you. 

‘There are times in life when you are completely in a moment and are overcome with happiness. That was one of those very special times. We were creating a magical place for our family and for a business and that was always our masterplan. Everything was looking stunning and we were ready to welcome our guests.’

Living the Château Dream is a wonderful read providing bonus content for those who have been following their TV show. If you liked the first book you will undoubtedly be thrilled with this gorgeous illustrated edition. I loved to hear the voices of both Dick and Angel as their love of both people and place pours off the pages. Slip away to a French Chateau and learn of their heartwarming tale. 

‘Moments like this made me realise that even though we were busy and hadn’t yet managed to achieve the two-hour French-style lunches, we were living our dream.’

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