Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Review: An A-Z of Jane Austen

Title: An A-Z of Jane Austen
Author: Michael Greaney

Publisher: 20th October 2022 by Bloomsbury Academic

Pages: 168 pages

Genre: nonfiction, Jane Austen

My Rating: 4 cups


Jane Austen's richly textured worlds have enchanted readers for centuries and this neatly organised, playful book provides Austen enthusiasts and students alike with a unique insight into the much-loved writer's way with words. 

Using a lively A-Z structure, Greaney provides fresh angles on familiar Austen themes (D is for dance; M is for matchmaking), casts light on under-examined corners of her imagination (R is for risk; S is for servant), and shows how current social and cultural concerns are re-shaping our understanding of her work (Q is for queer; W is for West Indies). Through this approach, we learn how attention to the tiniest linguistic detail in Austen's work can yield rewarding new perspectives on the achievements of one of our most celebrated authors.

Sharply focused on textual detail but broad in scope it broaches questions that, like Austen's work, will intrigue, delight and inspire: Why are children so marginal in her storylines? Who is the best exponent of matchmaking in her fiction? Why are many of her female characters – but none of her heroines – called Jane? Providing a new close-up encounter with one of our most celebrated writers, this book invites a renewed appreciation of the infinite subtlety and endless re-readability of a body of writing in which every word counts.

My Thoughts

I love all things Austen -  books, retellings, movies, spinoffs etc. Therefore this book was obviously something I would be drawn to - especially given the delightful cover and I was not disappointed being the firm Austenite that I am. 

‘Be sure to have something odd happen to you’, Austen once wrote to Cassandra, ‘see somebody that you do not expect, meet with some surprise or other.’

This is an A-Z dictionary or mini encyclopedia of matters to do with Jane Austen. The author has taken each letter of the alphabet and selected a word that is somehow connected to Jane Austen’s world. There might be places such as Bath, themes such as Kindness or activities such as Dance. These twenty six key words are the prompt for an essay on each taken from not only Jane's books but also her letters, unfinished novels and other observations. 

‘Nowhere in Austen are relations of status, hierarchy and precedence more formally paraded and stringently enforced than on the dancefloor.’

The book can be read from cover to cover, used to cross reference or simply to browse through certain themes. This fresh structure and thematic approach lends itself to new and thought provoking perspectives. It would be a wonderful addition to any lover of Jane Austen’s collection or, given its academic approach, those seeking to study deeper into her books, reflections and writing. 

‘Letter-reading is a significant social activity in Austen, one that frequently reveals as much about those reading as it does about the text under consideration.’

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, October 25, 2022

Review: Mistletoe and Mulled Wine at the Christmas Campervan

Title: Mistletoe and Mulled Wine at the Christmas Campervan
Author: Caroline Roberts

Publisher: 13th October 2022 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 400 pages

Genre: Christmas, romance  

My Rating: 3.5 cups


The gorgeously romantic new novel in the ‘Cosy Campervan series’ – next stop: Christmas markets, mince pies and kisses under the mistletoe!

Christmas feels like a real gift for Lucy this year. Her cosy coastal cottage is starting to feel like home, her new pizza business is getting the locals ‘All Fired Up’, and she can’t wait to spend it with her new flame Jack, the charismatic owner of the Cocktail Campervan.

Winding along the snow-dusted Northumberland coast for a whirlwind of Christmas markets and celebrations, Lucy and Jack can’t resist stealing a few kisses under the mistletoe. But there’s a twist in their romantic tale when Lucy’s ex turns up in the village. As her past closes in, Jack becomes increasingly distant. And Lucy worries he’s holding back a few secrets of his own . . .

Will Christmas bring a cold spell for Lucy and Jack? Or could it really be the most wonderful time of the year?

My Thoughts

This is book two in Caroline's Cosy Campervan Series. I read and loved book one so if you love a British seaside romcom, then Caroline’s rather unique tale surrounding Jack’s Cocktail van and Lucy’s Pizza van is sure to hit the spot. Reading book one is recommended as Jack and Lucy’s relationship continues in this sequel. 

There is much to enjoy about these tales with everything from starting a new business, to the actual venues that these catering vans attend. For each event Caroline includes an invitation which sets the scene by giving the location, time and actual event eg. wedding. It is a wonderful way to travel the English countryside. The characters and storylines are relatable.

‘Don’t know where the time is going, November is whizzing by … Christmas’ll be here before we know it.’

As a run up to Christmas Lucy and Jack are attending events of the more festive variety and it is a joy to witness. Many magical moments from the snow and carols, to the mulled wine from one of Jack’s cocktails or a slice of Lucy’s festive pizza.

‘I love doing the Christmas markets, there’s such a wonderful feel about them.’

It was enticing to have the story not in the usual Cornwall locale where most of these tales tend to be set. Instead, it is in north east England in the beautiful Northumberland! Traveling that fabulous countryside in a classic campervan to a Castle for a Christmas market was such a treat!

‘Ooh, you can’t beat a bit of festive fizz,’

For pure escapism and a tale of friendships, broken hearts, loss, and finding courage - look no further! With wintry weather readers will relish browsing the Christmas markets sipping one of Jack’s cocktails whilst biting into one of Lucy’s yummy pizza slices. What’s not to love when crafts, carols and cocktails are on offer in an ancient castle? 

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, October 23, 2022

Review: The Empress of Time

Title: The Empress of Time
Book #2 The Keeper of Night duology

Author: Kylie Lee Baker

Publisher: 19th October 2022 by HQ Fiction Young Adult AU

Pages: 405 pages

Genre: fantasy, young adult, historical fiction

My Rating: 3.5 cups


Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami Ren Scarborough is no longer the girl who was chased out of England—she is the Goddess of Death ruling Japan’s underworld. But her problems have never been greater. Her Shinigami see her as a foreigner on the throne. Her brother, Neven, is gone, lost in the deep darkness. And her fiancĂ©, Hiro, has been killed by her own hand.

Then Ren receives the most troubling news yet—Reapers have been spotted in Japan, and it’s only a matter of time before Ivy, now Britain’s Death Goddess, comes to claim her revenge.

Ren’s last hope is to appeal to the god of storms and seas, who can turn the tides to send Ivy’s ship away from Japan’s shores. But he’ll help Ren only if she finds a sword lost thousands of years ago—an impossible demand.

Together with the moon god Tsukuyomi, who shares an uncanny resemblance to his brother Hiro, Ren ventures across the country in a race against time. As her journey thrusts her into the middle of scheming gods and dangerous Yokai demons, Ren will have to learn who she can truly trust—and the fate of Japan hangs in the balance.

My Thoughts

The Empress of Time is the conclusion to Kylie Lee Baker's The Keeper of the Night duology. The story follows Ren Scarborough, who is half-British Reaper, half-Japanese Shinigami.

‘Deep down below the land of the living, in a place where light could not reach, I lived in a castle of shadows.’

I enjoyed the first book and was interested to see how Ren’s story would conclude. Readers were eager for this second book as book one had finished on such a cliffhanger. Most, including myself, were surprised that rather than picking up where it left off there was a huge time jump of many years. This was disconcerting. Although a little slow to start, the action picked up and ultimately bought the same feels as book one.

‘The night stole the parts of you that no one wanted- all your lies and broken promises and disappointments.’

The strong themes from book one continue - race, identity, neglect and acceptance - and it was satisfying that the author continued with Ren’s struggles in finding her place. The resolutions and conclusions were complete, so if you enjoyed book one it is worth your while finishing this duology.  On a personal note, I do feel that this second instalment did not have the same impact as the first. 

‘This is what love is …. love only became real when it was no longer easy. Like Death and time and darkness, it demanded payment, and I would give everything I had.’

If a weaving of Japanese folklore, mythology and dark fantasy appeals to you, be sure to check out this series. With concepts of the struggles of finding one’s place, especially for someone of mixed heritage, this is sure to speak to a wide YA audience. 

‘She had tried to live in the land where she was raised, and then the land where she was born, and finally the land that she had stolen. But every time, the soil dried up, the stars dimmed, and the tides retreated as if to say, This will never be yours. You are the queen of nowhere, and you deserve nothing.’

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, October 20, 2022

Review: Cradles of the Reich

Title: Cradles of the Reich
Author: Jennifer Coburn

Publisher: 11th October 2022 by SOURCEBOOKS Landmark

Pages: 320 pages

Genre: historical fiction, World War II 

My Rating: 4 cups


Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.

At Heim Hochland, a Nazi breeding home in Bavaria, three women's fates are irrevocably intertwined. Gundi is a pregnant university student from Berlin. An Aryan beauty, she's secretly a member of a resistance group. Hilde, only eighteen, is a true believer in the cause and is thrilled to carry a Nazi official's child. And Irma, a 44-year-old nurse, is desperate to build a new life for herself after personal devastation. All three have everything to lose.

Based on untold historical events, this novel brings us intimately inside the Lebensborn Society maternity homes that actually existed in several countries during World War II, where thousands of "racially fit" babies were bred and taken from their mothers to be raised as part of the new Germany. But it proves that in a dark period of history, the connections women forge can carry us through, even driving us to heroism we didn't know we had within us.

My Thoughts

You, my dear, are perfection,” he said. “I have been waiting for a girl with your features since we started the program four years ago.”

Jennifer Coburn’s, ‘Cradles of the Reich’ is a well written and memorable novel depicting a disturbing aspect from the Nazi Regime. As the author states: ‘The Lebensborn Society, which translates to “Spring of Life” in English, existed in the same world as Nazi death camps. In its ten years, approximately thirty homes were in operation by the end of the war and had produced nearly twenty thousand children.’

This is an informative WWII historical fiction novel based on actual events. Through three distinct narratives, a complex tale is told about this Nazi breeding program. These contrasting viewpoints bring a unique and not well documented occurrence to light that some readers may not be familiar with. Jennifer has undertaken in-depth research to provide solid historical details told through both inspiring and unlikeable fictional characters. Through these viewpoints readers can witness how seemingly ordinary Germans justified events happening around them. 

‘When she left Heim Hochland, she could tell the world about this secret breeding program. Surely, they would be disgusted and would intervene on behalf of these sexually exploited young women.’

The author's notes and personal insights at the conclusion are equally enlightening. This would make for a wonderful book club selection as it would be sure to generate much discussion. Recommended for readers of historical, WWII and even women’s fiction, as the author states: ‘Cradles of the Reich covers a dark period of history, but I hope readers will be heartened by how the connections women forge can carry us through the most harrowing of times and sometimes even drive us to act with heroism we hadn’t realized we were capable of.’

“I don’t think …” Gundi began. “No, you don’t.” Dr. Ebner chuckled. “Which is exactly how you got yourself into this situation.”

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, October 19, 2022

Review: The Echoes of Love

Title: The Echoes of Love

Author: Jenny Ashcroft

Publisher: 5th October 2022 by HarperCollins Australia

Pages: 469 pages

Genre: historical fiction, World War II, Crete

My Rating: 5 cups


Under the Cretan sun, in the summer of 1936, two young people fall in love…

Eleni has been coming to Crete her entire life, swapping her English home for cherished sun-baked summers with her grandfather in his idyllic shoreside villa. When she arrives in 1936, she believes the long, hot weeks ahead will be no different to so many that have gone before.

But someone else is visiting the island that year too: a young German man called Otto. And so begins a summer of innocence lost, and love discovered; one that is finite, but not the end.

When, in 1941, the island falls to a Nazi invasion, Eleni and Otto meet there once more. But this time Eleni has returned to fight for her home, and Otto to occupy it. They are enemies, and their love is not only treacherous, but also dangerous. But will it destroy them, or prove strong enough to overcome the ravages of war?

An epic tale of secrets, love, loyalty, family and how far you’d go to keep those you love safe, The Echoes of Love is an exquisite and deeply moving love letter to Crete – one that will move every reader to tears.

My Thoughts

You know how it goes. There are certain authors whose writing speaks to you, touches you, leaving its indelible mark. Jenny Ashcroft, for me, is one such author. I have read every book she has written and, without fail, each one has been five stars. Jenny has written tales that have not only taken me to such far off places as Egypt, Singapore and India but writes with such heartfelt, pure emotion that it stays with the reader long after turning the final page. 

‘You make me feel, not alone.’

The Echoes of Love is another such novel. This one is especially poignant as it regales a tale very close to Jenny’s own heart and family. With such strong emotional connections (Jenny visited Crete each summer as a child) it is clearly evident throughout her tale. It’s a story written from her heart which ensured it touched mine. It is so cleverly written that not until the final few chapters does Jenny place down the final puzzle piece that ensures the tears will flow. With timelines before, during and after the war, each section is interconnected by an extract from a research interview conducted in 1974, between an interviewer and someone known only as “subject seventeen”. The reader is left guessing who ‘seventeen’ might be.

‘She didn't think about much at all.

She simply breathed.

It was her favourite breath of the year,

The breath that truly started summer for her.

The breath when her monochrome world shifted fully into colour, and her loneliness gave way to belonging.’

Jenny’s research on the historical aspects of life on Crete during Nazi occupation is incredible. As she does so well, period, place and people are accurately presented. There is a cast of characters that each bring something special that provides an overwhelming depth to this tale. It is, however, the two leads of Eleni and Otto, that are so moving. This is such a beautiful love story that I found myself at odds with my zeal to consume this book being in direct conflict with my desire to savour each word, thought and emotion.

‘In the space of a night, the summer ahead, so predictable, had .... pixelated, into unknowns: the endless possibilities.’

This truly complex story will immerse you to the life in Crete - the sun lavished fun days by the beach before the war and the terrible haunting days of the Nazi occupation during WWII. Herein lies you will read of atrocities from truly evil individuals, to the heroism of the resistance, to the final act of brutal betrayal. For an author to consistently provide five star ratings is something special - there most certainly is magic within each line with words floating off each page. 

‘He hated what he'd become, what he did, but he wanted his life; the chance at a future that held none of this in it, where he built houses rather than threw grenades at them.’

Every read of Jenny’s has been for me such an evocative and sensory experience, filled with characters that speak to me on many levels; stories that draw you in and leave you sitting in reverie long after the final page has been turned. Once more I am in awe of how Jenny masterfully weaves a sense of time and place, heart and soul into her characters concerning the circumstances they find themselves in. The Echoes of Love will take you on such an unforgettable journey, you simply would not want to miss it.

‘We need to get to the other side’.

‘You think there'll be one?'

‘I do,’ she said. ‘I have to. And I want you there, with me…’

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, October 17, 2022

Review: Daughter of the Home Front

Title: Daughter of the Home Front
Author: Jennie Jones

Publisher: 5th October 2022 by HQ Fiction AU

Pages: 399 pages

Genre: historical fiction, romance

My Rating: 4 cups


A war. The girl she'd been. And the woman she was forced to become. A dazzling, heartbreaking story of friendship and redemption from bestselling author Jennie Jones.

Townsville, 1942. Young women aged sixteen and over are obliged by law to join the war effort, and Emma Hatton's world is at last about to change. Longing to escape the humdrum poverty of oceanside Blueholm Bay and the demands of her domineering mother, Emma reaches the bustling wartime mayhem of Townsville where the city streets are filled with glamorous GIs and red lipstick is the colour of the day. Befriending charismatic Cassie O'Byrne, Emma believes her adult life has finally begun.

Private Frank Kendrick's kisses make her heart beat faster and with all the talk of his family in California, surely a proposal is imminent. But after a hasty seduction, Frank disappears and Emma finds herself in trouble.

Her family's solution is the Holy Refuge of Saint Philomena in Brisbane, a prison-like 'home' where unmarried, pregnant young women are sent to repent and wait out their term before their babies are forcibly adopted. Longing to keep her child, Emma befriends other girls struggling in this cruel environment while her dearest friend of all seeks a way to help.

The courageous choices Emma must make will lead her to true adulthood, forever friendships ... and a home and family she could never have anticipated.

My Thoughts

Jennie Jones latest book, Daughter of the Home Front, sees her move away from romance novels into historical fiction with the result being something special. At its heart is a story of the struggles for unmarried mothers during the 1940s. Jennie does a fabulous job of providing a very moving story told through a strong main character. 

‘Being in this place was so disempowering. It broke a person's confidence. It hammered self-belief and cracked trust, leaving a girl's soul wide open for others to perforate with their unkindness. Emma didn't want to be left in the dark ever again. She needed stars to light her path and at the moment the only star she could envisage following was that of her own self-worth.’

This is the tale of life on the ‘homefront’ during WWII, where women stepped up and worked tirelessly to keep society going whilst the men were away fighting. The role of caretaker extended beyond family to include the running of everything from factories to farms. Sadly, however, society's expectations were still narrow and transgressions were not tolerated. 

Emma is fifteen when she moves to Townsville to stay with an aunt in an effort to help support her mother and younger siblings. Her life forever changes when she falls pregnant but on the positive side meets and forges friendships with other inspiring women. Emma’s journey from teenager to mother - though common to many - will see her discover inner resolve and fortitude with strength and determination at the forefront. 

‘Tears blurred her vision and she didn't bother blinking them away. Her world was crowded with troubles and even though Cassie would tell her to dry her eyes, perhaps sometimes it was best to let the tears fall. Maybe they would help wash away the injustice that ached in her heart and burned in her soul.’

All up a tale of courage as Emma must face family, friends and society to live the life she hoped for. At times sad, Daughter of the Home Front is a story of hope and strength in friendship, to push on and not allow expectations or society hold you down. 

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.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Review: A Curse of Queens

Title: A Curse of Queens (Kingmaker Chronicles #4)
Author: Amanda Bouchet

Publisher: 4th October 2022 by SOURCEBOOKS Casablanca

Pages: 496 pages

Genre: fantasy, romance, mythology 

My Rating: 4 cups


Discover an all-new adventure in USA Today Bestselling author Amanda Bouchet’s thrilling, white-hot fantasy series, The Kingmaker Chronicles!

The queen has been cursed, and no one knows who’s behind the plot to threaten the realm’s fragile peace. Desperate to help, Jocasta hatches a plan to find Circe’s Garden, a fabled island where she hopes to discover an antidote. But she can’t do it alone. She needs the strong arm and unflinching bravery of the warrior she’s loved since childhood—her brother’s right-hand-man and captain of the guard, Flynn of Sinta.

Together they can do the impossible. Yet with treachery brewing on Mount Olympus, one thing is clear: Thalyria and its new royals are still pawns in an epic game of power—one that might end in a War of Gods.

My Thoughts

“You’ve been cursed.” There. She’d said it. She looked at Cat. Queen Catalia Thalyria now - and the closest thing Persephone had to a human daughter. “There’s powerful magic all over you. Not yours.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the series Kingmaker Chronicles (reviews HERE) and had hoped that Amanda would in time, venture back into this amazing world she created. She has! If you are a lover of fantasy and magic, romance and Greek mythology - then this is the series for you. Amanda has created an amazing world with super strong characters and action aplenty.

This book excitingly focuses on Jocasta and Flynn.  There is next to no time with the original Cat and Griffin from the original trilogy, but I was also thrilled to have a whole book dedicated to Jo and Flynn’s story. The cutest couple. The romance (and sex) was off the charts (as expected); the plot with its mythological elements was so good; the friendships and action scenes were strong and impactful. If you enjoyed the first books from the original trilogy, you are sure to love this one for sure.

“The woman who stepped in to save the day, despite the danger to herself. The woman who called everyone together and proposed a solution to a problem that could tear a kingdom and a family apart. The woman who made a plan when not even the gods had one.” Her sharp inhalation shuddered in her throat. She wiped a tear from her eye. “Let’s just hope my plan works.” “I’m done hoping.” Carver’s flat tone made her look up at him, hurt. “I believe instead.”

This has all the feels of the beginning of the continuation of Kingmaker Chronicles (thus this being #4) as there were some things unresolved. This book veered more towards being character driven with the plot taking second place. As I love Jo and Flynn I had no issue with this. I did love the inclusion of Circe’s Garden, the magic certainly was palpable.

I eagerly await the next book as I have strong suspicions it will be about a couple that will definitely burn up the pages! A Curse of Queens was the perfect addition to the Kingmaker Chronicles.

“That sounds like the right ending to this quest.” Flynn kissed her back, his brown eyes hopeful and warm. “And the perfect beginning to so much more.”

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.