Monday, November 28, 2022

Review: The Boxing Baroness

Title: The Boxing Baroness
Author: Minerva Spencer

Publisher: 25th October 2022 by Kensington Books

Pages: 288 pages

Genre: historical romance 

My Rating: 3 cups


Inspired by the real-life Boxing Baroness, acclaimed author Minerva Spencer sparkles with this brilliantly imagined story of her romance with an infuriating duke in the first of a witty, Regency-set, feminist series exploring the role of women in a rigidly patriarchal society. A new generation of readers and Bridgerton fans will delight in the rapier sharp wit, sexual fireworks, and thought-provoking entertainment of The Boxing Baroness. 

Magnetic and educated, Marianne Simpson has the manner of a lady and the looks of a lover, not a fighter. Neither of which explains her occupation as a boxer in her uncle’s circus, Farnham’s Fantastical Female Fayre. Nonetheless, when St. John Powell, the exquisitely handsome Duke of Staunton, begins turning up at her shows, she finds herself dangerously distracted by the powerful peer’s mysterious presence. With her safety at stake, Marianne’s days in the ring are numbered. But how long can she fight her attraction to the man the ton calls Lord Flawless?

 St. John Powell doesn’t just want Marianne Simpson, he needs her … to rescue his brother, who is being held for ransom by a treasonous English baron—the man all of Britain knows as the Rake of Rakes. 

 No matter how little Marianne wants to see her duplicitous ex-lover, the man responsible for the humiliating nickname the Boxing Baroness, St. John must convince her. Even if it means climbing into the ring with the beautiful boxer and taking everything she’s got . . .

My Thoughts

The Boxing Baroness sounded an interesting book as it appeared to contain many unique and interesting elements involving the historical romance genre. There is an all female circus with a female athlete/boxer (Boxing Baroness because she was married to a Baron for a while). Whilst the writing was solid, the plot required a rather large leap of faith (and that was not involving the boxing element as one might first suspect).

“I know that you sent me to school hoping that I could find respectable work, but if nobody would hire me as a governess before I started boxing, they’re hardly likely to do so now that I’m the Boxing Baroness, are they?”

This book was one of those quick flick reads that gave flashbacks to the ol’ Mills & Boon bodice ripping tales. As mentioned, the plot is rather crazy even though it appeared straightforward. I ventured into the read thinking the boxing aspect would be the element ‘outside the box’. Not so. It was secret identities - both strange and surreal - of characters including Napoleon Bonaparte and the exiled King of Sweden that left me perplexed. There is no doubt that the writer is talented with a good cast of characters and whipping dialogue inclusive of many steamy romantic moments. 

“Perhaps being raised in a circus, by Barnabas, was more of a blessing than I thought.”

I commended Minerva for writing a unique historical romance. There is a large portion of the story that is factual and will have you racing to Google to learn more. This book though will not be to everyone's tastes due to its less than conventional storyline and stepping outside the usual genre. Still, sampling this author may prove entertaining and worth your while.  

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, November 19, 2022

Review: The Forgotten Bookshop in Paris

Title: The Forgotten Bookshop in Paris
Author: Daisy Wood

Publisher: 27th October 2022 by Avon Books UK

Pages: 400 pages

Genre: historical fiction, WWII

My Rating: 4.5 crowns


From an exciting new voice in WWII historical fiction—and the author of The Clockmaker’s Wife—comes a tale of love and a betrayal that echoes through generations…

Paris, 1940: War is closing in on the city of love. With his wife forced into hiding, Jacques must stand by and watch as the Nazis take away everything he holds dear. Everything except his last beacon of hope: his beloved bookshop, La Page Cachée.

But when a young woman and her child knock on his door one night and beg for refuge, he knows his only option is to risk it all once more to save a life…

Modern day: Juliette and her husband have finally made it to France on the romantic getaway of her dreams—but as the days pass, all she discovers is quite how far they’ve grown apart. She’s craving a new adventure, so when she happens across a tiny, abandoned shop with a for-sale sign in the window, it feels fated.

And she’s about to learn that the forgotten bookshop hides a lot more than meets the eye…

My Thoughts

‘He will call his shop La Page Cachée - The Hidden Page - because he knows the magic that is to be found within the covers of a book.’

The Forgotten Bookshop in Paris is the second book I have read by Daisy and I absolutely loved it! To have a combination of Paris, WWII and a bookshop in past and present timelines was wonderful. There is a love of literature woven throughout and setting up a bookstore in Paris is a dream for many. With themes of love, war and betrayals, it all comes together for a riveting read. 

‘Bookstores and libraries were her spiritual home, so quiet and calm and full of knowledge - and now here was the ghost of a bookstore on her doorstep.’

The two past and present storylines meld together in a surprising mystery. Included are the tragedies of WWII with the Nazi occupation of Paris and Daisy does a superb job of telling not only the love story of Jacque and Mathilde but also his evolution throughout this experience. The contemporary tale, whilst a well worn trope of marriage breakdown and moving to a new country for rediscovery is well used, with the addition of setting up a bookstore and discovering family heritage, Daisy does a solid job of it. All up is a poignant tale told from many aspects with engaging characters and tribulations to overcome. 

‘All my life, I’ve been making decisions based on what other people wanted.This adventure is just for me. Is that selfish? Maybe, but I don’t want to wake up in thirty years’ time and realise I’ve wasted my life. We only get one shot–might as well make the most of it.’

My only wish would have been more focus on the unfolding of the family mystery as opposed to the setting up of the bookstore in Paris. The story came to a close quickly, whereas I wished to be immersed in the discovery for longer. The two timelines weave together well with the historical narrative being slightly stronger - I really appreciated the evolution of Jacque’s character and the risks taken as being part of the French Resistance. 

‘Books were his livelihood, his passion, his raison d’être; how could he allow them to be destroyed? He had already accepted so much humiliation from the Nazis but this was a step too far.’

The Forgotten Bookshop in Paris is a story of love and courage, sacrifice and surrender. It’s a tale of heartbreak and hope as the two lead characters from both timelines are on a journey of self discovery. I highly recommend it as I found it a moving and memorable story. 

‘Here’s to you and The Forgotten Bookshop. May she soon be remembered.’

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 Butterfly Collector

Title: The Butterfly Collector
Author: Tea Cooper

Publisher: 3rd November 2022 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 400 pages

Genre: historical fiction 

My Rating: 4.5 cups


What connects a botanical illustration of a butterfly with a missing baby and an enigma fifty years in the making? A twisty historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.

1868 Morpeth Theodora Breckenridge, still in mourning after the loss of her parents and brother at sea, is more interested in working quietly on her art at the family's country estate than she is finding a husband in Sydney society, even if her elder sister Florence has other ideas. Theodora seeks to emulate prestigious nature illustrators, the Scott sisters, who lived nearby, so she cannot believe her luck when she discovers a butterfly never before sighted in Australia. With the help of Clarrie, her maid, and her beautiful illustrations, she is poised to make a natural science discovery that will put her name on the map. Then Clarrie's new-born son goes missing and everything changes.

1922 Sydney When would-be correspondent Verity Binks is sent an anonymous parcel containing a spectacular butterfly costume and an invitation to the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball on the same day she loses her job at The Arrow, she is both baffled and determined to go. Her late grandfather Sid, an esteemed newspaperman, would expect no less of her. At the ball, she lands a juicy commission to write the history of the Treadwell Foundation - an institution that supports disgraced young women and their babies. But as she begins to dig, her investigation quickly leads her to an increasingly dark and complex mystery, a mystery fifty years in the making. Can she solve it? And will anyone believe her if she does?

My Thoughts

A new Australian historical fiction book by Tea Cooper always gives reason to celebrate as her books guarantee great escapism. I have enjoyed all of Tea’s previous works as they have proven to be consistently engaging and masterfully crafted tales of mystery and intrigue. Much like Theodora’s paintings in the novel, Tea has beautifully captured time and place in this wonderful story. 

‘She was different, she knew she was. She'd always known. Something was out there waiting for her and one day she would grasp it between her fingers and know her search had ended.’

In her latest offering, The Butterfly Collector, Tea writes a dual timeline narrative set in New South Wales 1868 and 1922. I appreciated the close proximity of the timelines with familial links as it enriched the story with aligned connections. Rich in research, Tea details two interesting events from this period in Australia. One is the fascinating story of initial sightings of the Monarch butterfly in Australia; the other, the much darker tale of what became of many babies from unwed mothers of the period. Another theme surrounded women’s independence, especially after WW1 and insights into such things as the advent of the bicycle providing more freedom - something I had never really considered before. 

Congratulations Tea on once again proving your prose is up there with the best. From strong protagonists, to family drama and mystery, to the breathtaking vistas of the bush with the magnificent flight of the butterflies - I highly recommend the tale that is, The Butterfly Collector with its tale of strength and persistence. 

‘… each individual butterfly hovered and danced above the sea of flowers, their first taste of nectar giving them strength for the moment they'd ensure their species survival.’

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, November 15, 2022

Review: Dawnlands

Title: Dawnlands
Author: Philippa Gregory

Publisher: 15th November 2022 by Simon & Schuster Australia

Pages: 520 pages

Genre: historical fiction 

My Rating: 4.5 cups


The “sweeping” (Parade) and “superb” (People) Fairmile series from #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory continues as the fiercely independent Alinor and her family find themselves entangled in palace intrigue, political upheaval, and life-changing secrets in 17th-century England.

It is 1685, England is on the brink of a renewed civil war against the Stuart kings and many families are bitterly divided. Ned Ferryman cannot persuade his sister, Alinor, that he is right to return from America with his Pokanoket servant, Rowan, to join the rebel army. Instead, Alinor has been coaxed by the manipulative Livia to save the queen from the coming siege. The rewards are life-changing: the family could return to their beloved Tidelands, and Alinor could rule where she was once lower than a servant.

Alinor’s son, Rob, is determined to stay clear of the war, but when he and his nephew set out to free Ned from execution for treason and Rowan from a convict deportation to Barbados, they find themselves enmeshed in the creation of an imposter Prince of Wales—a surrogate baby to the queen.

From the last battle in the desolate Somerset Levels to the hidden caves on the slave island of Barbados, this third volume of an epic story follows a family from one end of the empire to another, to find a new dawn in a world which is opening up before them with greater rewards and dangers than ever before.

My Thoughts

‘There's no safe haven for us Stuarts!' he said bitterly. 'Don't you hear me? The west is all for Monmouth, and the north. The Scots are all for Argyll! If we're not safe in our own capital city, where we can fall back into the Tower if we come under siege,

then we're not safe anywhere!’

A new historical novel from Philippa Gregory is always cause for celebration. Few authors make historical dramas more inviting, whether it be through her Tudor Tales or life at the court of James II.  Dawnlands is the third installment in her The Fairmile Series where Philippa continues the story of independent Alinor and her family in 17th-century England. Readers who have read the first two in the series - Tidelands and Dark Tides - are sure to be delighted to return to this world. New readers fear not! This book can work as a stand-alone especially for those who appreciate strong female characters from such a recognised authority of women’s history. 

The Fairmile Series is the first by Philippa that features primarily fictional characters woven in amongst the more notable ones from history. Her tale has all the action, romance and drama that readers have come to expect from her writing. There are varying storylines told from a range POVs - royalty, tradespeople and slaves as examples. Readers are given insight into not only the history of England during this period but also the hidden caves on the slave island of Barbados and time in America as well. 

I have been a fan of Phillippa’s writing from the beginning and although I was somewhat apprehensive leaving the Tudor era, I have to say I am impressed with how this series has evolved. Some readers may find sections to be slow, however, experience will definitely be enriched if you have read the first two books of the series. There are many characters to follow and the ending indicates more to come in the series. As always Philippa brings history alive with compelling characters, whether they be real historical figures or fictional characters. 

Historical fiction is simply marvelous when you get to learn whilst reading a great story and these stories are so fresh from Philippa - simple people caught up in the momentous historical events of their time. I loved being immersed in everyday life as this epic story follows a family from one end of the empire to another searching for a new dawn in a world which is opening up revealing both new rewards and hidden dangers. 

‘There will be a dawn’, he told her. 'You're a child of the Dawnlands. It seems like a very dark night now for you, but you're young, you'll see a lot of dawns - and they'll be happier than this one, I promise you.'

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, November 12, 2022

Review: The Secret Book Club

 The Secret Book Club (previously: The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks)
Author: Shauna Robinson

Publisher: 18th January 2024 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 336 pages

Genre: contemporary, books about books, women’s fiction

My Rating: 4.5 cups


I, Maggie Banks, solemnly swear to uphold the rules of Cobblestone Books.

If only, I, Maggie Banks, believed in following the rules.

When Maggie Banks arrives in Bell River to run her best friend's struggling bookstore, she expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. But running a bookstore in a town with a famously bookish history isn't easy. Bell River's literary society insists on keeping the bookstore stuck in the past, and Maggie is banned from selling anything written this century. So, when a series of mishaps suddenly tip the bookstore toward ruin, Maggie will have to get creative to keep the shop afloat.

And in Maggie's world, book rules are made to be broken.

To help save the store, Maggie starts an underground book club, running a series of events celebrating the books readers actually love. But keeping the club quiet, selling forbidden books, and dodging the literary society is nearly impossible. Especially when Maggie unearths a town secret that could upend everything. 

Maggie will have to decide what's more important: the books that formed a small town's history, or the stories poised to change it all.

My Thoughts

“I want us to have open minds and come away feeling excited about books we might never have appreciated. How does that sound?”

There are some author books that catch you completely by surprise. The ones you were not expecting to love but upon completion come to realise just how refreshing it was. Shauna Robinson (take note of this author’s name - I think we will be hearing a lot more from her) is reportedly a young introverted woman with a charming writing style mostly concerned with … books! I read and loved her,  Must Love Books (HERE) and eagerly anticipated her latest offering, The Secret Book Club. It was great! The more I read, the more I fell in love with it - especially the lead character, Maggie. 

“I’m not a big people person, I guess you could say.” ... “Why?” “I prefer to be left to my own devices.” “You mean books?” “Books are my primary devices, yes.”

All up this is a quick and fun read. It was just delightful to watch Maggie turn into a reader and pursue what she felt deep down to be her calling in life. If you love small-town dynamics with quirky characters, laughter and a sweet romance then this is the book for you. I loved all the friendships that were formed in the book, especially Maggie's friendship with Vernon - their interactions brought a smile to my face. I loved Maggie and Malcolm’s relationship - a romance that did not dominate the story and the challenges they set each other were terrific. There is just loads more to love about this book - the discussions about the romance genre; culturally relevant and silenced voices in literature; the secret book club meetings and, not feeling bad about no set plan for life. You don’t have to have it all together from the start. 

‘No wistful nostalgia for century-old books. No assumption that one type of book mattered more than another. Only excitement about new stories waiting to be discovered.’

There is just so much to love about The Secret Book Club! If you love books about books, small town dynamics, the plight of small town communities (I especially loved Maggie’s book events where famed authors presented a twist of a classic tale) and a cast of relatable and lovable characters (yes! That’s you Vernon!) then I recommend to all lovers of romantic comedy Shauna’s latest offering. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. 

‘I’d just been supposed to work quietly at the bookstore for a few months, enjoy a reprieve from living with my parents, and use the time to figure out my next steps. Instead, I’d founded a secret community, incited a rebellion, and gotten people fired.’

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, November 8, 2022

Review: The Book Haters' Book Club

Title: The Book Haters' Book Club
Author: Gretchen Anthony

Publisher: 13th September 2022 by HarperCollins Australia - Park Row

Pages: 328 pages

Genre: contemporary 

My Rating: 3 cups


All it takes is the right book to turn a Book Hater into a Book Lover…

That was Elliott’s belief and the reason why he started The Book Haters’ Book Club - a newsletter of reading recommendations for the self-proclaimed “nonreader.” As the beloved co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookstore, Elliott’s passion and gift was recommending books to customers. Now, after his sudden death, his grief-ridden business partner, Irma, has agreed to sell Over the Rainbow to a developer who will turn the cozy bookstore into high-rise condos.

But others won’t give up the bookstore without a fight. When Irma breaks the news to her daughters, Bree and Laney, and Elliott’s romantic partner, Thom, they are aghast. Over the Rainbow has been Bree and Laney’s sanctuary since childhood, and Thom would do anything to preserve Elliott’s legacy. Together, Thom, Bree and Laney conspire to save the bookstore, even if it takes some snooping, gossip and minor sabotage.

Filled with humor, family hijinks and actual reading recommendations, The Book Haters' Book Club is the ideal feel-good read. It’s a celebration of found family and a love letter to the everyday heroes who run bookstores.

My Thoughts

The Book Haters' Book Club had me at the title as books about books always lure me in. This particular story involves not just books but also a bookshop and the family drama that surrounds it. A quirky tale with a love of the written word woven throughout bringing it altogether. The title comes from Elliott's newsletter which provides book suggestions for people who are looking for inspiration or recommendations. 

‘The Book Haters' Book Club Newsletter

Issue #1

June 1989

Hello readers,

This is Elliot Gregory, daredevil bookseller at the Over the Rainbow Bookshop, here to announce a grand new endeavor: a monthly newsletter full of book recommendations for non-bookish people.’

There are many enjoyable aspects to this tale although it does take some time to lure you in. The ‘commercial breaks’ and ‘newsletters’ (I enjoyed Elliot’s narratives here) were amusing but the main focus is on the family and how our choices and decisions can change the direction of our lives. The story is told from a number of POV allowing a variety of alternatives as to how people deal with grief in their own unique way. I didn't love it as much as I had hoped. I feel the biggest issue surrounding this novel is pacing - just too slow, especially at the beginning. 

‘We book people can be awful, prickish snobs. Why is a yummy romance any less worthy of a reader's love than the latest New York literary sweetheart? I say if a certain type of book isn't your preferred cocktail, darling, simply put down the glass and order something new. You don't have to act as if you've been poisoned.’

The Book Haters' Book Club is a drama with some mystery. There are laughs (some slightly cheesy) with some rather quirky characters. All up it is lighthearted and of course, so very bookish! Elliot’s newsletters and the book recommendations are a definite highlight. This is the tale of a family, warts and all, and the different ways we handle grief, all wrapped up in the power of books to see you through the many ups and downs of life. 

‘That's the magic of being a bookseller: every day, you have the potential to change someone's life. It's true. It's why I spent my career trying to place brave characters into the hands of a person in need of courage; searched for stories that might bring light to those whose hearts were shared in darkness.’

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.