Saturday, July 30, 2022

Review: Mercury Pictures Present

Title: Mercury Pictures Present
Author: Anthony Marra

Publisher: 26th July 2022 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 408 pages

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 3.5 cups


The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini's Italy to 1940s Los Angeles

Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father's arrest.

Fifteen years later, on the eve of America's entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won't speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese-American actor, can't escape the studio's narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria's only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy.

Over the coming months, as the bright lights go dark across Los Angeles, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father's past threatens Maria's carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father's fate--and her own.

Written with intelligence, wit, and an exhilarating sense of possibility, Mercury Pictures Presents spans many moods and tones, from the heartbreaking to the ecstatic. It is a love letter to life's bit players, a panorama of an era that casts a long shadow over our own, and a tour de force.

My Thoughts

‘Everyday the war in Europe produced melodrama to rival Hollywood's most indolent imaginations’

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra is a piece of historical fiction that takes the reader into the lives of several individuals associated with an American movie studio during the 1940s. I thought this was a clever way to approach this time period  as it was different and unique. Combined with a distinct writing style the end result is most interesting.

Looking at Mercury Pictures allows Anthony to weave a range of characters and themes throughout the story. The downside of this is that, clever as it is, it does lend itself towards readers per chance getting lost amongst the many threads. Still, if a unique read surrounding an iconic era is your thing then look no further. Anthony undertakes themes including movie studios and war propaganda, European war refugees/immigrants who look to establish their identity and find a place for themselves in America. 

Maria Lagana is the consistent character in this tale, with characters coming and going and a look at the issues that surround each of them. Her story is the common thread throughout. Anthony has a unique writing style and is able to achieve many people and plots throughout this book with his flavour of writing. This is not really a story about war, rather it’s about what it was like to live through a war and the consequences of that to both governments and individuals. 

Touching on politics, immigrants, the impact of war and many, many other stories Anthony presents a unique perspective of this time. It is an interesting take and at times you will laugh, at times you will pause but there is no doubt Mercury Pictures Presents will appeal to a cross section of readers. 

Long before she went to work in the pictures, she understood that the true temptation of fantasy wasn’t its outlandishness but its aching plausibility.’

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: The Last Hours in Paris

Title: The Last Hours in Paris
Author: Ruth Druart

Publisher: 12th July 2022 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 443 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre:  historical fiction, World War II, romance

My Rating: 4 cups


1940s: Elise is a young French woman secretly helping the resistance in German-occupied Paris. Sebastian is a young German soldier working as a translator. They meet, fall in love, and are relishing in the unforeseen happiness they have found in one another, despite being on opposite sides of the war. After liberation, however, the young couple is tragically torn apart, with Sebastian arrested by the French resistance and Elise captured and shamed as a ‘collabo’ by her own people, before being sent to Brittany for her own protection.

The lovers are parted, each believing the other to be lost forever. 

1960s: Elise and her 18-year-old daughter, Josephine, live in Brittany, France, with Brigitte, a gruff and bitter Frenchwoman who took Elise in after the war. Josephine has always been told that her father was a Frenchman who died when she was a baby—but when she discovers she is, in fact, the daughter of a German soldier, she travels to England to find out more about her real father. To her shock, she learns he is not dead, but living in the U.K. where he settled after the war and made a new life with his wife, Margaret, an Englishwoman who knows nothing of his past.

When Josephine reveals that her mother Elise is still alive, Sebastian must make the most difficult decision of his life: honor his duty to his new family, or return to his first great love?

My Thoughts

Much like her first book, While Paris Slept, this is a dual wartime historical fiction narrative with an enticing twist that poses difficult questions. Ruth has once again delivered her readers with a tale that is uniquely moving and sure to pull at your heartstrings. 

‘It's a funny thing, nationality. What does it really mean to be French? Or to be German?’

Inspired by family history, I loved the character of Sebastian - an ordinary man with unbearable choices. Forced to become part of the German army as a translator and in so doing, partake in an ethos he did not believe in. Elise became his reason for living. The Last Hours of Paris is about love, loss, sorrow and hope. Much like her first novel, Ruth takes you on a journey through Parisian war torn streets where near impossible decisions will need to be made. It will be difficult to have an ending that can avoid heartbreak. 

‘… he hardly knows himself. He's never been free to make his own choices. He

was an obedient son who became an obedient soldier. But there's more to him than that. He's a troubled soul.’

This is a story about all the victims of war and the ultimate cost of following your heart. Like I said, it raises difficult questions for which there are never any easy answers - but I love that it makes you think. Emotional turmoil involving family, lovers and in time, their children. This is a well written story ranging from the days of occupation, to liberation to the ramification of collaboration. Historical fiction fans are sure to find The Last Hours in Paris an appealing book. 

‘Not excuses, Élise. Reasons. When you get to my age, you see the world differently, you realise there's the story and then there's the story behind it … don't be so quick to judge.'

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, July 28, 2022

Review: Escape to Lilacwell

Title: Escape to Lilacwell
Author: Sasha Morgan

Publisher: 28th July 2022 by Canelo

Pages: 275 pages

Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary, romance 

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Adira Summers has spontaneously quit her high-flying career as a barrister in London. She needs to escape from the rat race and, encouraged by her bohemian gran, has bought a campervan to do so.

Taking off for a tour around Britain, disaster strikes early on when her van breaks down outside the quaint village of Lilacwell. But things look up after she meets handsome Jasper, who is visiting to check on his ailing uncle and his crumbling estate, The Laurels.

As Adira falls for Lilacwell, she is torn between forgoing her travel plans to stay, or continuing with her adventure. Jasper must also choose between returning to his job in Dubai or moving back for his uncle – and Adira.

My Thoughts

‘I think you were meant to find Lilacwell, don’t you?’

The answer to that question is a resounding yes! This book was perfection - an in between read that really ticked all the boxes. Putting it simply, it tells a story of when you have had enough of your job and the rat race and decide to leave, buy a campervan and embark on an adventure - now that is something we have all felt at some stage in our lives. The sweet aspect of this book is that Adira (main character) doesn’t get that far as she falls in love with the most wonderful village and its occupants. 

‘… she realised what she didn’t want. To be here, stuck in this car park, stuck in this city and stuck in this job.’

I was attracted to this book because the questions Adira was asking herself about her path in life and needing time to reassess her priorities was totally relatable. Add in ‘Sheila’ (the campervan) with the most charming Lancashire village and the tale is just so enchanting. Another aspect I appreciated about Sasha’s book is that it was multidimensional - this is not just a romantic chick lit - far from it. Sasha’s inclusion of topics such as the cost of maintaining an English manor, setting up a new business, working abroad, the problems of aging and caring for the aged, workplace issues - truly, it is an impressively written book that touches on some highly relevant issues. I love it when a book such as this offers the reader that little bit extra. 

‘He’d come to realise just how much his memories had played a part in his life, and not always in a positive way.’

The only issue I had was the changing in voice at times - it would suddenly flip to an alternate speaker and I had to backtrack to check who was actually speaking/thinking. However, this was a minor transgression to what is essentially a fabulous piece of escapism. Full to overflowing with a quaint village, charming characters that effuse such sincerity and friendship in the quest to find happiness. 

‘Destination reached,’ she whispered in his ear, ‘I’ve found what I’ve been searching for.’

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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Review: The Bellbird River Country Choir

Title: The Bellbird River Country Choir

Author: Sophie Green

Publisher: 27th July 2022 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 425 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: women’s fiction

My Rating: 4 cups


A warm-hearted story of fresh beginnings, unexpected friendships and the sustaining power of love and community, from the Top Ten bestselling author of The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle and Thursdays at Orange Blossom House.

Bellbird River, 1998: Teacher and single mum Alex is newly arrived in the small NSW country town of Bellbird River after escaping the city in search of a change of pace and the chance to reconnect with her young daughter. Across town, well-known matriarch Victoria and her globe-trotting, opera-singing cousin Gabrielle find themselves at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives, while local baker Janine and newcomer to the district Debbie are each secretly dealing with the consequences of painful pasts. With its dusty streets, lone pub and iron-lace verandahs, Bellbird River could just be a pit stop on the road to somewhere else. But their town holds some secrets and surprises - and it has a heart: the Bellbird River choir.

Amid the melodies and camaraderie of the choir, each of the women will find the courage to leave the past behind. And together, they'll discover that friends are much closer to home than they'd ever realised.

My Thoughts

I have read all of Sophie’s books and loved them. In The Bellbird River Country Choir she  has produced another delightful tale with writing that is immersive, confirming and heartwarming. In this hectic world we live in, who does not wish for escapism that provides an uplifting story about family and friends. 

‘Gabrielle has been an habitué of big cities for so long that she's forgotten the grace of the Bellbird River kind of living, in which everyone is important yet also knows they are part of the whole, existing in concert for the benefit of all.’

The Bellbird River Country Choir brings together a diverse group of people meeting one night a week for choir practice. As a result of this, new friendships form, a sense of place and belonging is achieved so that together life and its many challenges can be faced. The reader appreciates how Sophie, through a choir, brings together completely different, yet strangely similar characters - their problems could easily be your problems. The secret attached to this is how Sophie then goes on  to resolve these issues in the most organic and realistic way. 

‘Life is hard enough to navigate when people tell the truth; trying to circumnavigate lies makes it almost impossible.’

For me, Sophie’s writing style is so gentle, moving at a pace that allows her readers to lose themselves in the story. Through each of the narratives readers are sure to find a little of themselves, such is the genuine nature of these lead characters. My personal feeling is that on this occasion there were too many characters and I would have preferred a firmer focus on fewer for a richer reward. 

Congratulations Sophie for another beautifully written story. A story that is affirming of how family and friendships enable you to make changes to your life  that may help unlock an even better you.

‘That's all anyone can really ask of another person, isn’t it? If we all do the best we can, every day of our lives, we are that much further ahead in making life better for everyone.’

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, July 24, 2022

Review: The Love Experiment

Title: The Love Experiment

Author: Kitty Wilson

Publisher: 15th July 2022 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 337 pages

Genre: romance, contemporary, women’s fiction

My Rating: 3 cups


He can’t date, she doesn’t date…but what happens when they fall in love?

A gorgeous, laugh out loud romcom for fans of Ali Hazelwood, Emily Henry and all the best ‘Tiktok made me buy it books’!

Dr Lily Galbraith solves her city’s love problems with wisdom and wit every week on her widely popular Love Doctor podcast, but her own approach to romance centres on one goal: staying single. So when a meet-cute in the sauna brings gorgeous Jay Hooper into her life she knows she needs to run the other way.

Having just agreed to a bet with his sister that he’ll stop dating and searching for ‘Mrs Right’ for at least six months, Jay tries to ignore the attraction he feels for Lily, which is only intensified when they find themselves working together.

He can’t date, and she doesn’t date…but then again, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?

My Thoughts

I went into The Love Experiment thinking it to be a fun rom-com. Marketed as a romance, I found it to be more contemporary with some heavy issues being addressed - issues such as infertility, loss and foster care, abusive relationships, drag culture and coming out  - all worthy topics but not what the blurb alluded to or I had been made aware of.

‘You’re right about how society shapes our attitudes and prescribes our behaviour by gender.’

Despite this book including tales of the importance of friendships, family and some great LGBTQ characters, it did not totally work for me. The writing was troublesome - sudden switches in viewpoint led to confusion and also the way some of the topics were handled, specifically regarding a person’s weight. Given this - and all the serious and complex issues placed under the microscope - it became in  many ways drawn out at times and more like a therapy session rather than a romantic comedy. There was a lot going on. I am usually onboard when a book is inclusive of more than just the romance but the in-depth analysis and serious mental issues addressed became too heavy.

‘You have allowed me to stop, recalibrate and adjust myself so I’m back on the course I wanted to be on.’

If you intend reading this book be sure to flick through it first rather than just basing your decision off the blurb. It leans towards the more psychoanalytical rather than light and fluffy read. It’s a shame as the chemistry between the two leading characters was good and some of their problems relatable. Unfortunately the writing style and execution did not lend any favours to the final story. 

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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Review: The Lost Sister of Fifth Avenue

Title: The Lost Sister of Fifth Avenue (Daughters of New York Book 4)

Author: Ella Carey

Publisher: 7th July 2022 by Bookouture

Pages: 327 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre:  historical fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Martha pulled the front door of her Fifth Avenue apartment closed and stood stock still, clutching the telegram, her heart thumping. Her beloved sister Charlotte was in France and the news told daily of the growing threat of the Nazis. Fearing what the telegram might contain, Martha hardly dared open it. But she knew she must.

New York, 1938: As Martha looks out of her bedroom window at the blossom-covered trees in Central Park, she is a world away from the threat of the Second World War. Working as a children’s librarian, she is happy with her quiet life in contrast to her adventurous sister Charlotte who moved to Paris and works at a gallery owned by close family friend Anita.

When a telegram from France arrives, Martha is shocked to discover that Anita has died and in that moment she has to make the bravest decision of her life. With the Nazi threat growing, she must travel to France to find Charlotte and Anita’s Jewish parents and bring them home to safety.

Arriving in Paris, Martha finds a city preparing for war. At Anita’s home, clutching her sister tightly, Martha knows that Charlotte has already decided to stay. As an American in Paris she believes she will be safe and will work for the Resistance carrying messages and hiding precious works of art. Through tears, Martha promises to get Anita’s parents to safety and join the war effort back in New York.

But as war rages across Europe, Martha and Charlotte’s determination will be tested like never before. And when Charlotte uncovers a shocking secret about her family, which threatens her own life, can she find the strength to protect those she loves the most?

From top ten bestselling author Ella Carey comes an utterly heartbreaking novel about the strength of sisterly love and the courage and strength of the women of the Resistance perfect for fans of The Nightingale, All The Light We Cannot See

My Thoughts

Ella Carey is always on my automatic read list. I love her books and the Daughters of New York series is pure gold. The Lost Sister of Fifth Avenue, the fifth in the series,  can be read as standalone but the experience is enhanced  if you have read them all -  especially when previous characters make cameo appearances. 

“We must all dance to the beat of our own drums. It is the only way to truly capture your fate in your own hands.”

Ella is a phenomenal author. On this occasion she alternates the story between Charlotte and Martha during the war and  their mother Chloe who died in Paris in the early 1920’s. This background helps provide context to the family friends and the current life of the girls and their father. The writing is sublime with plot lines of secrets, danger, family and love. Having three character viewpoints truly enriches this tale as all three are so very different - courageous Charlotte, steadfast Martha and kind Chloe.

“I shall stay and ensure everything is taken care of properly, until you return.” Charlotte grasped Élise’s hand. “I swear it. The Nazis will not touch your precious home.”

Having read all the books in this series I appreciated the minimal but significant inclusion of characters from previous books. It helped tie things together so beautifully. I was in awe once again learning of the lengths people went to in order to protect French art from the Nazis. The reference to Chloe working in Adrienne Monnier’s bookstore tied in beautifully with Kerri Maher’s, The Paris Bookseller and I love it when information from other books complement so well, like puzzle pieces coming together. 

‘Martha had adopted her usual routine: do what was necessary in the real world, and spend the rest of her time escaping from it.’

With strong and inspiring characters and a plot that is so gripping, Ella has completed another stunning addition to the Daughters of New York series. I could have kept reading about Martha and Charlotte (and was ever so grateful for the Epilogue) as their story really was heartbreaking. I can’t wait to see what Ella will offer her readers next as this one gave me all the feels. 

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.