Monday, February 6, 2023

Review: The Heroines

Title: The Heroines
Author: Laura Shepperson

Publisher: 31st January 2023 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 338 pages

Genre: Greek mythology, historical fiction, retellings

My Rating: 3 cups


Synopsis:


In Athens, crowds flock to witness the most shocking trial of the ancient world. The royal family is mired in scandal. Phaedra, young bride of King Theseus, has accused her stepson, Hippolytus of rape.


He's a prince, a talented horseman, a promising noble with his whole life ahead of him. She's a young and neglected wife, the youngest in a long line of Cretan women with less than savoury reputations.


The men of Athens must determine the truth. Who is guilty, and who is innocent?


But the women know truth is a slippery thing. After all, this is the age of heroes and the age of monsters. There are two sides to every story, and theirs has gone unheard.


Until now.

My Thoughts


‘I was to learn the truth: that any man can throw words up into the air, and it is women who must pay when those words land.’


The Heroines joins a strong group of Greek mythologies currently on offer for readers. Set out like a Greek tragedy with three acts and a Chorus (giving voice to the women of Greece - very clever!) it is presented as a powerful feminist retelling of Theseus's wife, Phaedra. This is a tale of women's rights and how they fought during this period against the often cruel ways of men and alas, their also often sad demise. 


The story is presented through a range of characters in individual chapters and reads like a letter in many ways rather than a direct retelling. This makes the reader somewhat removed from the story and problems further arise with a large cast of characters. These are all in first person (with frequent switches) and do not allow for full development. I do enjoy these Greek retellings regaling the lost voice of women, however, this book does not reach the standard of others currently on offer. 

The reader is left wanting something more in both character development and world building. The author does, however, clearly highlight the plight of women and their lack of power at this time. 


The Heroines is a fresh and contemporary retelling of this Greek myth, especially through the eyes of Phaedra who is often overshadowed by stronger characters from the period. Whilst I was excited to read her story and the book held potential, it needed more depth for me to make those necessary, deep connections. 


‘If they are the heroes, does that make us the heroines?

We keep going, we persevere, we ask for nothing and we get even less.

Where are our stories?’





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 5, 2023

Review: The Last First Date

Title: The Last First Date 
Author: Hayley Quinn

Publisher: 1st February 2023 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 272 pages

Genre: romance, contemporary

My Rating: 4.5 cups


Synopsis:


One date. One missed chance. One mission to find love.


At 31-years-old, Helen Pines is far from where she thought she would be. Whilst her ex-boyfriend is now engaged, Helen’s still eating ready meals for one, wistfully dreaming of her last first date.


Determined to give online dating a go, she matches with drop-dead-gorgeous Brody, and they hit it off immediately.


One date later, Helen’s heart is still singing. Brody’s everything she’s looking for in a man – sexy, charismatic, and the perfect gentleman. But then she receives an error message on the app… all her contacts have been deleted.


With nothing but Brody’s name and job title to go on, Helen is determined to track him down.


But despite the initial chemistry, Helen realises she knows surprisingly little about her mystery man… Was it really love-at-first like, or will she find a new love along the way?


An utterly hilarious laugh-out-loud romance that will have you grinning from ear to ear from the first page to the last! Fans of Our Stop and Mhairi McFarlane will love this book.


My Thoughts


The Last First Date is certainly a book to be read by rom-com lovers, however, what I truly appreciated was it delved a little deeper than the usual chick lit offerings. If you scratch the surface you will find there is more to this tale and it leaves the reader reflective and with a hopeful heart. 


‘Brody, 37

Entrepreneur, surfer, and committed Dachshund fan.

Taller than you in your tallest heels.

Looking to go on my last first date ;-)


The best part about this book is its honesty. Many women will be able to relate to the lead character, Helen and her dating experiences. Many pressures and anxieties (real or not, self induced or not) exist in wishing/hoping to find that someone special and settle down. From friends and family and most definitely personal doubts, many women dream/fear that their happily ever after may never come in today’s dating world. Helen’s journey there is fun yet infuriating but ultimately satisfying. 


‘As my mother once told me, far better to be left on the shelf than locked in the wrong cupboard.’


The story is more than Helen’s quest for finding the right man. Part way through the book it becomes clear that she is on a far more important journey. This is about her personal transformation, the growth in self confidence and how to recognise the wins in daily life - many thanks to Ish and Nanny G for that! I applaud the author for highlighting the fantasy many hold in their hearts and minds, finding themselves disappointed with reality, when in fact there is often a greater force that leads us to what will actually make us happy. 


‘No matter what her friends said about it being totally normal to be single in your thirties, Helen felt herself oscillating between feeling flat and sheer panic. Rather than being an up and coming … she now felt unquestionable pressure that she

should have 'up and come' by now.’


This is a fun, fast read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The character is real and flawed but her development brings hope. Who doesn’t desire sincere human connections! You know the drill, you know you will get your HEA but the ride there takes the scenic route! Persevere and you shall be rewarded - who knows many of you might be inspired when looking for your Last First Date


‘A secret part of Helen, untouched by the cynicism that modern dating had ruined everything, also wanted to prove that love could still conquer all. That when someone truly loved you, that they could always find a way of coming back.’





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, February 2, 2023

Review: Queen Bee

Title: Queen Bee
Author: Ciara Geraghty

Publisher: 2nd February 2022 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Pages: 432 pages

Genre: contemporary, menopause

My Rating: 4 cups


Synopsis:


She’s earned her stripes. But the hive’s misbehaving . . .


Insomnia 

How do I have three extra adult males – and a small yappy dog – living in my house when I need to grow into a graceful and sexual midlife woman?


Rage 

Am furious.


Anxiety 

What’s going to happen to my career if I can’t get out of this rut? 

Feel invisible.


What is happening to me?


Fifty-year-old Agatha Doyle loves her empty nest – until hot flushes, a pair of killer heels and an overbearing man who won’t stop talking conspire to change her life. In one moment of madness, she unwittingly becomes a heroine to women everywhere.


But can she become the heroine of her own life?


Sometimes you just have to wing it.



My Thoughts


‘I hate the word ‘menopause’. Something battered and forlorn about it, like a pulpy, dog-eared paperback in a charity shop.’


Queen Bee is a hilarious yet perceptive read as Ciara takes her readers on a wonderful menopausal journey. If that ‘m’ word resonates with you then you are sure to completely identify with the lead character, Agatha. This is the book to read, not only for the humour, but for the absolute truths provided as Ciara rips away all the myths surrounding this time of life for women. 


‘I am a menopausal woman, standing here before you all in a lather of sweat, terrified that I might forget a word in the middle of a sentence with the threat of brain fog that looms over me on a daily basis … I have insomnia, none of my clothes fit me, and there’s a chance I’m more irritable than I used to be. Although my husband may have a different view on that.’


This is a story that speaks to women and it is sure to capture attention as it makes women feel no longer alone on this often silent journey. Yes, on the surface it's about a woman coming to terms with the changes taking place in her body, however, it is that and so much more. Always open to reads about menopause, this was the book I needed to read as it provided a healthy tonic to this condition many of us experience at varying levels of discomfort. It’s full of laughter and sarcasm but there are real moments that hit home and will cause readers to pause and ponder. Ultimately, the message is that you are not alone in this life changing period. 


‘ME: What is happening?

AIDAN: I think you’ve touched a collective nerve? 

ME: I didn’t mean to.

AIDAN: It’s a good thing.

ME: How is it a good thing?

AIDAN: From the comments, it looks like there’s a lot of

people out there who are glad you’ve come out as

menopausal.’


Agatha is a wonderful character who captures all the many and varying aspects of experiencing menopause - not only on a personal level but also to those nearest and dearest. I loved the style of writing and the way the narrative was laid out, my only complaint being that it might be a tad too long in places. 


‘… there must be a reason it contains the word ‘pause’. Normal service will resume presently. I thought I could just wait it out. Wait for normal service to resume.

But no.’


If the main theme of this book speaks to you or women you may know, then I cannot but highly recommend you read it. I am so very happy to see more and more books being written about this topic in both non/fiction. It is well overdue to deliver credence for these women and debunking any myths or misconceptions about this critical time in a woman’s life. 


‘Just because you’re middle-aged and menopausal, it doesn’t mean that it’s all over.

There are still things to learn. Relationships to tend.

Dances to perfect.

So that’s what we did.

We danced.

We kept on dancing.’





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, January 31, 2023

Review: The Garnett Girls

Title: The Garnett Girls 
Author: Georgina Moore

Publisher: 1st February 2023 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA

Pages: 322 pages

Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary

My Rating: 4 cups


Synopsis:


In this brilliant debut novel full of heart and warmth, three very different sisters--and their free-spirited mother--must grapple with life, responsibilities, and family secrets.


Forbidden, passionate and all-encompassing, Margo and Richard's love affair was the stuff of legend--but, ultimately, doomed. When Richard walked out, Margo locked herself away, leaving her three daughters, Rachel, Imogen, and Sasha, to run wild.


Years later, charismatic Margo entertains lovers and friends in her cottage on the Isle of Wight, refusing to ever speak of Richard and her painful past. But her silence is keeping each of the Garnett girls from finding true happiness.


Rachel is desperate to return to London but is held hostage by responsibility for Sandcove, their beloved but crumbling family home. Dreamy Imogen feels the pressure to marry her kind, considerate fiancé, even when life is taking an unexpected turn. Wild, passionate Sasha, trapped between her fractured family and controlling husband, is weighed down by a secret that could shake the family to its core.


The Garnett Girls, the captivating debut novel from Georgina Moore, asks whether children can ever be free of the mistakes of their parents.


My Thoughts


"Those Garnet girls. Lookers all of them - brains too. Hard to decide which one I fancy most."


The Garnett Girls is a wonderful debut narrative that explores the dynamics between a mother and her three daughters. Theirs is no ordinary relationship due to a dysfunctional upbringing but there is never any doubt about the love they hold for each other. The story traces how their childhood affected them in the choices and actions as their lives evolve over the years. 


This is such a well written tale that is highly character driven. But gosh! How well are these characters portrayed as real life and personal shortcomings come into play. Margo the matriarch is a force to reckon with and her parties would have been an eye opener. The interactions between the mother and each of the daughters is reflective of the ups and downs in life. Add into this their partners and the wider community from the Isle of Wight and it makes for engaging reading. It just goes to show how much of an impact the loss of their father had on each of them individually and as a family unit.


‘The only place she found certainty and conviction was in her writing. The rest of the time she quaked in the face of the Garnetts passionately held opinions.’


The setting of the Isle of Wight is wonderful and adds another rich dimension to this tale, as does their home. Here is an old house (needing some repair) that holds so many memories - both good and bad - for them all. In many ways, it's what calls them back time and again. The house has stood witness to so much and has a story to tell. I am not sure whether I found necessary some of the passages that went back in time explaining events prior to the current storyline. I felt that the author did such a good job of the contemporary timeline that in many ways, it was not needed. 


The Garnett Girls is a debut novel I highly recommend for readers who love strong family, character driven tales. The writing flows effortlessly as it weaves a story full of the light and dark moments in life - there will be loss and there will be laughter. Most of all, this is a tale about family relationships, mistakes made and how, through love, a family can make it through it all. 


"I'm not sure we'll ever really understand. We might have to accept that some things about our family can't ever be known."






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, January 30, 2023

Review: Mrs Van Gogh

Title: Mrs Van Gogh
Author: Caroline Cauchi

Publisher: 30th January 2023 by HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Pages: 484 pages

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 5 cups


Synopsis:


Who tells her story?


In 1890, Vincent Van Gogh dies penniless, unknown, a man tortured by his own mind.


Eleven years later his work is exhibited in Paris and his unparalleled talent finally recognised. The tireless efforts of one woman gave the world one of its greatest creative minds.


But twenty-eight year old Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, Vincent’s sister-in-law and the keeper of his immense collection of paintings, sketches and letters, has, until now, been written out of history. This beautiful, moving novel finally gives this extraordinary woman a voice…


My Thoughts


‘I’m going to bring Vincent van Gogh’s art to the world. I’ll let others see his genius.’


Most of us know, of course, of Vincent Van Gogh. Many of us know that his work did not become famous until after his death. Then why - I ask myself - have I never asked the question: who was responsible for presenting his art to the world? This book answers all that and more in such a way that will stay with me … probably for my lifetime. 


‘If it takes until my very last breath, one day, every single artist, art lover and art critic in the world will know the name Vincent van Gogh.’ He laughs. ‘You’re as mad as the earless painter.’


I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who is even slightly intrigued by a fictional narrative on this topic. In the words of the author herself: “.. shocked and bewildered that despite her key role in the growth of Vincent’s posthumous fame, Johanna’s story had been all but ignored … I’m neither a historian nor a biographer, I had little choice - and much pleasure - in writing an imaginative reconstruction of a brief marriage and the story of how a young widow changed art history … this novel offers a creative account of the remarkable woman who became “the guardian of Vincent van Gogh’s legacy.”


‘He’s one of the most progressive painters alive. He has to keep painting,’ he says. ‘He forces us to surrender conventional ideas when viewing his art. But Jo …  Can I hope that one day he’ll be understood?’


Johanna was only married to Theo for a short two and a half years - mind blowing in the big scheme of things. To consider that in such a short time she met and became engaged to Theo, witnessed Vincent’s mental collapse, married, had a child, witnessed Vincent’s death then, sadly, Theo’s mental collapse and death. ‘A former schoolteacher who stepped into two and a half years of madness, love and grief. After that, aged only twenty-eight, some might have turned their back on the Van Gogh name. But nevertheless, Mrs Van Gogh-Bonger persisted. She spread him over the world, selling at least 195 paintings and 55 drawings by Van Gogh, including Sunflowers to London’s National Gallery of British Art in 1924, the year before she died.”


‘I’m at a loss for words. I’ve stepped into a world where madness and art seem to hold hands to dance. I’m not sure I know how to exist here.’


In light of this, Caroline has penned such an incredible story. It’s raw, it’s heartbreaking but it’s filled with resilience and fortitude that moved me beyond measure. It’s a massive undertaking and Caroline does it with such poise and panache that it truly is one of the most remarkable fictional narratives I have read. I don’t even have the space to go into the ease of her writing, the depth of her research and portrayal of artists of the era or the days in Paris (love the weekly Eiffel Tower photo) and especially, the nod to the role of women in the era. Just do yourself a favour and go read this book! You won’t be disappointed - the tale of such a remarkable woman who became the caretaker of the Van Gogh legacy.


‘For in the routine of daily life there is so little time to reflect, and sometimes days go by when I don’t actually live, but let life happen to me, and that’s terrible. I would think it dreadful to have to say at the end of my life: “I’ve actually lived for nothing, I have achieved nothing great or noble”…’ Johanna Bonger, aged seventeen (March 26, 1880)’







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.