Sunday, February 27, 2022

Review: The Keeper of Stories

Title: The Keeper of Stories

Author: Sally Page

Publisher: 28th February 2022 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 250 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary

My Rating: 5 cups


She can’t recall what started her collection. Maybe it was in a fragment of conversation overheard as she cleaned a sink? Before long (as she dusted a sitting room or defrosted a fridge) she noticed people were telling her their stories. Perhaps they always had done, but now it is different, now the stories are reaching out to her and she gathers them to her…

Cleaner Janice knows that it is in people’s stories that you really get to know them. From recently-widowed Fiona and her son Adam; to opera-singing Geordie; and the awful Mrs ‘YeahYeahYeah’ and her fox terrier, Decius, Janice has a unique insight into the community around her.

When Janice starts cleaning for Mrs B – a shrewd and tricky woman in her nineties – she finally meets someone who wants to hear her story. But Janice is clear: she is the keeper of stories, she doesn’t have a story to tell. At least, not one she can share.

Mrs B is no fool and knows there is more to Janice than meets the eye. What is she hiding? After all, doesn’t everyone have a story to tell?

My Thoughts

‘Everyone has a story to tell. But what if you don’t have a story? What then? If you are Janice, you become a collector of other people’s stories.’

The Keeper of Stories is a superb book - brilliant in fact - one to certainly treasure. I found it to be beautifully written with such heartfelt emotion across a wide cross selection of themes and characters. I simply love the concept of collecting stories whilst unknowingly unraveling one kept so close to your own heart. Sally has penned an intelligent yet thoughtful book that is sure to endear itself to many readers. 

The lead character, Janice, is the key to this eclectic cast of characters and she is superb. Quiet and unassuming, ‘just a cleaner’, who goes about her everyday life gathering other peoples stories. I simply adored Janice - she is pivotal not only to the other sub stories sprinkled throughout but also to the great life lesson in finding your very own story. 

“In my stories, and I do collect stories…” She feels a sense of relief at saying this out loud. “I love that normal people do the unexpected, that they are courageous, funny, kind … selfless. I know these people have faults - of course, that’s life.”

This is such a character driven tale and testament to the writing, I was not confused once as to who was who. The care that Janice provides to each of her clients is special - just like she is. There are some wonderful characters but it would be remiss of me not to give a big shout out to Mrs B and Decius the swearing fox-terrier. As Janice cleans and cares, she collects the essence of conversations she hears - some are special and many are very funny - but all very believable and relatable.

‘She wants to hammer home with true conviction that she is the story collector. That she gathers stories because she doesn’t have a story. She wants to shout this loudly to drown the little voice within her.’

Then there Janice’s own story - and she does have a story - but has hidden it away. Digging deeper you can see that topics such as suicide, our treatment of the elderly and alcoholism are sensitively handled with this book offering varying degrees of depth and sentiment but all up providing such truth through its tender writing. You will be cheering loudly for Janice and dearly hope she gets her happily ever after from a past that has confined and defined her for too long. 

I absolutely loved every moment spent with Janice and in particular her time with Mrs B - “I bloody love you, Mrs B!”  This is a book I shall not soon forget for its sublime writing and storytelling from start to finish. I cannot recommend highly enough The Keeper of Stories and can't wait to see what Sally Page offers her readers next. 

“I listen to the quiet voices.” Janice stops and looks at him. “What do you mean?” “I figured out long ago that if I listen to the few people who shout at me, I am making them more important than they are. What they say will stay with me, upset me, and those loud voices will go on and on, even when the shouting has stopped. So instead I listen very carefully for the quiet voices - which is most people. The people who teach a perfect lesson with nobody knowing.”

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: Love in a Time of War

Title: Love in a Time of War

Author: Adrienne Chinn

Publisher: 25thFebruary 2022 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 490 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 4 cups


Three sisters

The Great War

The end of innocence…

In 1913, in a quiet corner of London, the three Fry sisters are coming of age, dreaming of all the possibilities the bright future offers. But when war erupts their innocence is shattered and a new era of uncertainty begins.

Cecelia loves Max but his soldier’s uniform is German, not British, and suddenly the one man she loves is the one man she can’t have.

Jessie enlists in the army as a nurse and finally finds the adventure she’s craved when she’s sent to Gallipoli and Egypt, but it comes with an unimaginable cost.

Etta elopes to Capri with her Italian love, Carlo, but though her growing bump is real, her marriage certificate is a lie.

As the three sisters embark on journeys they never could have imagined, their mother Christina worries about the harsh new realities they face, and what their exposure to the wider world means for the secrets she’s been keeping…

My Thoughts

Love In A Time Of War is the first in an expected trilogy which follows the lives of the three Fry sisters. Book one begins just prior to the commencement of World War I when women’s lives were on the brink of incredible change. Adrienne does a fabulous job of portraying, through these three very different sisters, the spirit of all women who went on to forge new lives for themselves during and after this time of war. 

‘I’m recommending you for immediate advancement into the surgical specialty. I suspect we may need trained surgical nurses sooner rather than later. The world is not a peaceful place, Fry. I believe war is inevitable.’

Interestingly, it is also a dual time narrative with flashbacks to the sisters mother, Christina, at the same age but in Italy where she grew up. This is probably an aspect I found questionable as with there being three sisters, it added to the number of characters, bringing a lot of dialogue and plot lines to follow. So it does jump around a bit, skipping back to the mother’s timeline which at times upsets the flow of the story. It also makes for a very long book that took some time to establish itself but worked out well towards the end, despite not being a standalone and therefore a future instalment is required. 

‘The problem is the past is still alive inside her. She carries it with her every second of every minute of every hour. She will never be free of her past. It stares her in the face every day.’

This book follows these very different sisters through a time of great change - women were now able to leave home alone, travel overseas without a chaperone or take on roles and positions traditionally held by men. Adrienne has strong focuses on the British suffragettes and the role of nursing in the war years. There is, of course, romantic relationships - one Italian and one German - which makes for next level problems given the world situation of the time. 

I enjoyed being in different locales - England, Egypt, Italy - and how family secrets were to become exposed. So if this time period appeals to you and you enjoy epic family dramas and are prepared to invest in a trilogy, then Love in a Time of War should definitely be on your reading list. 

‘No matter where we are in this world, we’ll always be together, Jessie. You, me and Etta. The three Fry Sisters.’

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, February 21, 2022

Review: The Trivia Night

Title: The Trivia Night

Author: Ali Lowe

Publisher: 22nd February 2022 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 352 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: mystery, contemporary, adult

My Rating: 4 cups


Question: How long does it take to tear someone's life apart?

Answer: Sometimes just one night.

From the outside the parents of the kindergarten class at Darley Heights primary school seem to have it all. Living in the wealthy Sydney suburbs, it's a community where everyone knows each other - and secrets don't stay secret for long.

The big date in the calendar is the school's annual fundraising trivia night, but when the evening gets raucously out of hand, talk turns to partner-swapping. Initially scandalised, it's not long before a group of parents make a reckless one-night-only pact.

But in the harsh light of day, those involved must face the fallout of their behaviour. As they begin to navigate the shady aftermath of their wild night, the truth threatens to rip their perfect lives apart - and revenge turns fatal.

THE TRIVIA NIGHT is agripping, domestic page-turner full of shocking reveals, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Sally Hepworth.

My Thoughts

The Trivia Night is the debut novel by Australian, Ali Lowe. She cleverly mixes together the fallout from a fancy-dress trivia night at a primary school fundraiser. When a table of four couples - bringing grudges, angst, flirtations, rumours and ‘swingers’ to the table - a little too much alcohol loosens lips (in more ways than one!)

‘Honestly, guys, trivia night is quite literally the best night of the school year. I promise you: it’s going to be a night to remember! ’

Ali takes the dramas of primary school parents from a rich beachside town and brings them to life. Classic set up so far …. everyone knowing everyone else’s business and how the actions from this one night will change lives forever. From playground politics to a pact that will witness friendships, marriages and indeed lives pushed to the brink. 

The novel is told through the recollections of three of the women involved. First person narrative from Amanda who is new to the school; her friend Alice the events coordinator presented through the recorded notes from meetings with her psychologist; and Zoe in letters/emails penned to her sister. This provides the reader with a well rounded insight into each of the couple's lives - some you will like, some you definitely will not. This is what keeps it interesting throughout with highly engaging writing. 

One of the outcomes I was not expecting was the humour. It was truly funny in parts. From the overall big picture of competitive parenting, down to the nitty gritty of interactions and associations. Ali has her dialogue right on point in places. In complete contrast to this, are the varied serious subjects touched on throughout, particularly towards the end -  alcoholism, infertility, domestic abuse and suicide. Testament, I believe, to Ali’s craft in expertly combining the two. 

‘I looked behind me at the group of aghast faces in a cluster on the bottom step. Heard a stifled giggle and then saw Victoria emerge from the middle of the group like Roald Dahl’s Grand Witch, her face white and her eyes like fire.’

My only issue surrounds the ending - it just didn't quite make the mark for me. I don’t want to spoil it but it fell into the underwhelming, easy out, predictable box that took away one star. All up, however, The Trivia Night goes from a start of frivolous fun, to a darker and far more poignant journey each of the women follow. All up a perfect balance of humour, intrigue and drama. 

‘He was right, and we both knew it. Somewhere along the line we had become unstuck, I had become unstuck. But I wasn’t ready to talk to him about it. I wasn’t ready to own it.’

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, February 20, 2022

Review: Beyond the Lavender Fields

Title: Beyond the Lavender Fields

Author: Arlem Hawks

Publisher: 1st February 2022 by Shadow Mountain Publishing

Pages: 368 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, culture France, romance

My Rating: 4 cups


1792, France

Rumors of revolution in Paris swirl in Marseille, a bustling port city in southern France. Gilles √Čtienne, a clerk at the local soap factory, thrives on the news. Committed to the cause of equality, liberty, and brotherhood, he and his friends plan to march to Paris to dethrone the monarchy. His plans are halted when he meets Marie-Caroline Daubin, the beautiful daughter of the owner of the factory.

A bourgeoise and royalist, Marie-Caroline has been called home to Marseille to escape the unrest in Paris. She rebuffs Gilles’s efforts to charm her and boldly expresses her view that violently imposed freedom is not really freedom for all. As Marie-Caroline takes risks to follow her beliefs, Gilles catches her in a dangerous secret that could cost her and her family their lives. As Gilles and Marie-Caroline spend more time together, she questions her initial assumptions about Gilles and realizes that perhaps they have more in common than she thought.

As the spirit of revolution descends on Marseille, people are killed and buildings are ransacked and burned to the ground. Gilles must choose between supporting the political change he believes in and protecting those he loves. And Marie-Caroline must battle between standing up for what she feels is right and risking her family’s safety. With their lives and their nation in turmoil, both Gilles and Marie-Caroline wonder if a r√©volutionnaire and a royaliste can really be together or if they must live in a world that forces people to choose sides.

My Thoughts

Beyond the Lavender Fields by Arlem Hawks is fantastic French historical fiction. It is set in Marseille in the year 1792, three years on from the initial Revolution. The violence is ongoing with the two factions becoming more and more polarised in word and deed. I find this period of history to be infinitely fascinating with not nearly enough fictional writing offered, especially when compared to WWII as an example. 

‘France is in tatters. Your glorious revolution has left us no closer to stability than we were before.’

I am happy to report that there are no major information dumps but rather facts fictionally weaved throughout the narrative all testament to Arlem’s research. She does an excellent job of highlighting the political factions, the fallout and the complications in their attempt to reform France. 

“If France falls, it is because her so-called friends have turned into the very despots they claim to despise. If the upholders of liberty only protect liberty for those who think as they do, can they really call themselves champions of freedom? Or are they no better than the tyrants who reigned before?”

Whilst this is a wonderful historical tale it is also equally a historical romance. Arlem takes her two protagonists and places them on opposing political sides (which again lends itself to not only providing balanced viewpoints but also educates readers regarding all aspects of this revolution). I would also venture to suggest this read is YA given the leads' age, dialogue, their feelings and actions - not a problem but something to bear in mind with the romance being very light. As an aside, for this most violent period of history the details are alluded to and not elaborated upon. Arlem does a superb job of portraying the people from all sides with their fears and determination for their ideals and beliefs. This is yet another positive as our two sparring protagonists take the time to learn from each other and soften their views towards reconciliation. 

“Doing what is right is more important than who is right, I think.”

The tale is told from Gilles' point of view, however, readers get to know Caroline's feelings through her letters. This latter aspect I was not a fan of and saw it only as a means to share Caroline’s viewpoint which took away from the smooth storytelling. The book also starts off somewhat slow but by the end it comes together most satisfactorily. I really appreciated how, even as young as they were, Gilles and Caroline worked through mutual respect, starting out as friends, to find new ground to work on together. 

‘A Jacobin and a Royaliste make for a dangerous friendship. And I think we have reached the breaking point.’

Beyond the Lavender Fields was a refreshing take on the French Revolution with its strength being to highlight, through the range of characters and their varying perspectives, the impact of the Revolution on all people - socially, emotionally, financially and politically. If a balance of history and young romance of this period appeals to you then I would definitely recommend this book. 

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: A Sunrise Over Bali

Title: A Sunrise Over Bali

Author: Sandy Barker

Publisher: 17th February 2022 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 384 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary, romance

My Rating: 3 cups


Home is where the heart is...

When Jaelee Tan leaves her high-flying PR job in Miami for a sabbatical in Bali, the last thing she expects is for it to become permanent. But when her boss demands the trip be cut short, Jae does the only thing she can think of and quits on the spot.

With two months in Bali, a new group of friends and the gorgeous scenery and beaches, Jae is determined to make the most of her new-found freedom. And when she locks eyes with hunky Scot, Alistair, Jae wonders if she’ll lose her heart to more than just a Balinese sunrise.

Escape to Bali in this uplifting novel full of friendship, laughter and romance, perfect for fans of Mandy Baggot, Julie Caplin and Holly Martin.

My Thoughts

‘So, is this some kind of Eat, Pray, Love thing?’

Does Bali appeal right about now? Do you need to feed your wanderlust and escape on a sabbatical? Sounds good. I am, however, torn as I just don’t know how to reconcile my polar response to,  A Sunrise Over Bali. I have read some of Sandy’s other books such as, The Christmas Swap which I very much enjoyed but this one I am undecided about. 

The defining attribute of this book is definitely the location - Bali. Whether you have ever been or just wish for some armchair travel, then Sandy has you covered. From stunning locale to the digital nomad lifestyle, you become immersed in expat living. Sandy delves much deeper than all the touristy spots and, as the title indicates, sunrises will never quite be the same again. 

‘The sky is lighter now, the pink having dissolved into the distinct blue of the Balinese sky. My gaze shifts to the dense jungle, picking out palm trees, their fronds swaying slightly in the morning breeze.’

There are some good characters and plot stories that evolve with everything from friendships to romance. It was, however,  the soul searching that drew me in and what better place to contemplate your future direction in life than Bali. Sadly, however, I just did not like Jaelee - brash and rude and her insta love did not ring true for me. I just could not connect with her. She does have a solid character arc but too little too late for my liking. Therein lies my dilemma with this book.

‘Now, apparently, I have a resting bitch face. I’ve been accused of being moody, angry, annoyed, and just plain bitchy, when all I’ve been doing is nothing, simply because my default - i.e. resting - expression is ‘bitch face’.

A Sunrise over Bali definitely provides the perfect getaway where you can literally feel the sand between your toes. The camaraderie and friendships are enticing you to throw in a towel and book and catch the next plane there. I only wish I had more empathy with Jaelee but she was just too selfish for me.

‘Maybe I’m finding a way to cope with my avalanche of fuckups. If I focus on the beauty around me, on the simple pleasures of a run, or a decent coffee, or a visit from Lu - if I stop obsessing about everything that’s wrong in my life, stop complaining - I can find my way out of the mire of my own making. I can find peace. This is why, Jae - this is why Bali and not the Bahamas.’

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, February 16, 2022

Review: The Paris Bookseller

Title: The Paris Bookseller

Author: Kerri Maher

Publisher: 25th January 2022 by Hachette Australia 

Pages: 306 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, culture France

My Rating: 5 cups


Discover the dramatic story of how a humble bookseller fought against incredible odds to bring one of the most important books of the 20th century to the world in this new novel from the author of The Girl in the White Gloves.

When bookish young American Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company on a quiet street in Paris in 1919, she has no idea that she and her new bookstore will change the course of literature itself.

Shakespeare and Company is more than a bookstore and lending library: Many of the most prominent writers of the Lost Generation, like Ernest Hemingway, consider it a second home. It's where some of the most important literary friendships of the twentieth century are forged--none more so than the one between Irish writer James Joyce and Sylvia herself. When Joyce's controversial novel Ulysses is banned, Beach takes a massive risk and publishes it under the auspices of Shakespeare and Company.

But the success and notoriety of publishing the most infamous and influential book of the century comes with steep costs. The future of her beloved store itself is threatened when Ulysses' success brings other publishers to woo Joyce away. Her most cherished relationships are put to the test as Paris is plunged deeper into the Depression and many expatriate friends return to America. As she faces painful personal and financial crises, Sylvia--a woman who has made it her mission to honor the life-changing impact of books--must decide what Shakespeare and Company truly means to her.

My Thoughts

‘… a life for and among books was not just possible but worthy.’

What an incredible read! This is everything I love about historical fiction - while fictionalised, it contains so many facts and details and when it involves Paris and a bookstore it becomes a sure-fire winner. The Paris Bookseller grew and grew on me until the Author’s Note at the very end had me completely enraptured. 

This fictionalised biographical tale is of Sylvia Beach, of whom I knew nothing about (historical fiction for the win again!) She set up an English bookstore in Paris, ‘Shakespeare and Company’ at the end of WWI.  This would go on to become a gathering place for famous literary heroes of the twenty-first century! Let yourself be transported back to Paris of the 1920s and sit around discussing the world with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.

There is such depth and stunning detail on a variety of issues and themes all handled so deftly by the pen of Kerri. At its heart is the story of Sylvia and her decision to publish James Joyce's controversial, Ulysses. The strength of character Sylvia demonstrated not only in managing her store and personal life but the heartache and anguish, the financial turmoil to support this writer and the precedent it set comes to life thanks to Kerri’s masterful writing. I have heartfelt admiration for Sylvia's sacrifices and the commitment she demonstrated in her resolve to support writers of the era. 

‘Your Ulysses is home at last.” He let out a labored sigh, and she could hear all the wet, raw emotions he was trying to contain. “Thank you, Sylvia.” “It is my absolute honor and pleasure,” she said, meaning every word. She’d taken a gamble, and it had been the right one. It had all been worth it. This moment, this book, this writer, this city.’

Be sure to read Kerri’s Author’s Note at the end as she explains her research with the differentiation and liberties taken between fact and fiction. What convinced me of Kerri’s finesse and style was her commentary on providing a summary of the years that followed right up to the present day. I was captured by the sentiments she expressed regarding a writer and readers journey together and how ‘reading promotes empathy, helps us relax, shows us the world, educates us.’

So … calling all book lovers who appreciate sensational historical fiction that transports you back to the Roaring 1920s and allows you to walk the streets of Paris with such a wonderful sense of time and place. If you love all things literature you simply must read The Paris Bookseller.

‘ … a place of exchange between English and French thinking, we get to enjoy the spoils of peace: literature, friendship, conversation, debate. Long may we enjoy them and may they - instead of guns and grenades - become the weapons of new rebellions.’

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.