Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Review: Emma of 83rd Street

Title: Emma of 83rd Street
Author: Audrey Bellezza & Emily Harding

Publisher: 1st June 2023 by Simon & Schuster (Australia)

Pages: 384 pages

Genre: romance, contemporary, retellings

My Rating: 4.5 cups


In this witty and romantic debut novel, Jane Austen’s Emma meets the misadventures of Manhattan’s modern dating scene as two lifelong neighbours discover that, in the search for love, sometimes you don’t have to look any further than your own backyard.


Charming and clever, Emma Woodhouse is used to getting her way. She’s content living in her tight-knit Upper East Side neighbourhood, maintaining perfect grades at university and keeping an eye on her lonely father. And when her budding matchmaking hobby results in her sister’s marriage, she knows she’s on to something. If only her annoying neighbour and childhood friend, George Knightley, would get out of the way.


George, a successful businessman, is only too happy to point out Emma's flaws. Is she spoilt? Maybe a little. Does she insert herself into other people’s business? Only sometimes. Emma has the best of intentions, though – she just wants everyone around her to be happy, even as she sets her mind to completing her graduate degree and finding her own place in the world. But will anyone ever take her seriously?


As Emma’s schemes collide with nearly everyone around them, Emma and George come toe to toe. But they slowly begin to realise that there might be more to the person they’ve known their entire life ... and that sometimes the best matches come from the most unexpected places.

My Thoughts

“He was never trying to be mean, he just wanted her to be ready for the world beyond 83rd Street. And just as she was beginning to finally understand what that even meant, he was gone.”

I am a sucker for all things Jane Austen and this modern retelling of Emma looked very appealing. Emma of 83rd Street turned out to be one book that I am awfully glad I picked up and if your tastes are similar to mine, be sure to check this one out! It is sexy, it is sweet and all up a super fun read. 

“Why are you so mad about this?” “Because . . .” He stopped himself, closing his eyes and raking both hands through his hair as if it would somehow restore his patience. “You treat the world like it’s your personal playground, Woodhouse. Like everything is here to amuse you until you find something better to do.”

The story remains faithful to the classic with a few minor adjustments and loads of contemporary innovations. I mean, if you know Emma then you know how this story will end but as always, it's the journey the author takes you on that makes the reading trip so worth your while. A slow burning friends to lovers trope with the added bonus of sections from Knightly and his viewpoint. 

“It’s like a new beginning for her. I’ve given her the fresh start she needed.” “You didn’t negotiate world peace here. You dyed her hair.” “It’s a balayage.” “It’s brown.”

The fun adjustment of having Emma as a socialite living in New York and studying art history is so very clever. The weaving of themes from light and fluffy moments to the deeper lessons taken from the classic is perfect. Both Emma and Knightley's journey will bring a smile to your face with the banter between the two second to none. The writing is witty and en pointe, the characters are layered and engaging, the chemistry is off the charts. If this author duo is rumoured to be working on another Austen adaptation, count me in! The cameo of Will Darcy has me excited ;)

“… if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it 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.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Review: An American Beauty

Title: An American Beauty
Author: Shana Abe

Publisher: 25th April 2023 by Kensington Books

Pages: 352 pages

Genre: historical fiction, romance 

Rating: 4 cups


This sweeping novel of historical fiction is inspired by the true rags-to-riches story of Arabella Huntington—a woman whose great beauty was surpassed only by her exceptional business acumen, grit, and artistic eye, and who defied the constraints of her era to become the wealthiest self-made woman in America.

1867, Richmond, Virginia: Though she wears the same low-cut purple gown that is the uniform of all the girls who work at Worsham’s gambling parlor, Arabella stands apart. It’s not merely her statuesque beauty and practiced charm. Even at seventeen, Arabella possesses an unyielding grit, and a resolve to escape her background of struggle and poverty.

Collis Huntington, railroad baron and self-made multimillionaire, is drawn to Arabella from their first meeting. Collis is married and thirty years her senior, yet they are well-matched in temperament, and flirtation rapidly escalates into an affair. With Collis’s help, Arabella eventually moves to New York, posing as a genteel, well-to-do Southern widow. Using Collis’s seed money and her own shrewd investing instincts, she begins to amass a fortune.

Their relationship is an open secret, and no one is surprised when Collis marries Arabella after his wife’s death. But “The Four Hundred”—the elite circle that includes the Astors and Vanderbilts—have their rules. Arabella must earn her place in Society—not just through her vast wealth, but with taste, style, and impeccable behavior. There are some who suspect the scandalous truth, and will blackmail her for it. And then there is another threat—an unexpected, impossible romance that will test her ambition, her loyalties, and her heart...

An American Beauty brings to vivid life the glitter and drama of a captivating chapter in history—and a remarkable woman who lived by her own rules.

My Thoughts

Arabella Huntington embodied the rags-to-riches dream from the Gilded Age in America. Rising from the poverty post Civil War, she went on to become one of the most influential women of her era. Shunned by society she became the wealthiest woman at one stage, a woman with such a mysterious backstory. Having adored Shana’s previous novel, The Second Mrs Astor, I was excited to read of yet another memorable woman from the past. 

‘I am not a wife now, but something else: a shadow wife, kept in my place just beyond society’s golden sun, pinned at the brink of propriety at the whim and courtesy of a generous man. A shadow wife, with a shadow child.’

Shana writes so well in providing the richly detailed backstory to Arabella’s past and what led her to such a position in society. This is a character with not only great beauty and charm but also the wit and strength to move beyond survival for herself and her family. Inspired by true events Shana gives her readers a glimpse into not only an extraordinary story but also a window into society through a range of characters, be they friend or foe. Combine this with lavish settings and locations and history buffs will be so very happy. 

‘By God, she would not be quiet. She would not obey. She was going to take what was hers and she was going to succeed, because she had to succeed. Her life, her family’s and her child’s, depended upon it. And she refused to be afraid.’

Whilst I enjoyed this book I found it not up to the level of The Second Mrs Astor. The tale of a poor girl discovered by a rich older man, scorned wife, mistress to wife, struggle to recognise illegitimate son etc has been covered in other similar tales. So it did not feel as fresh as the tale of Mrs Astor. However, this is still such a great read for history buffs, particularly those interested in the Gilded Age and the rise of strong female leads. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the author 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, June 13, 2023

Review: Love Theoretically

Title: Love Theoretically
Author: Ali Hazelwood

Publisher: 13th June 2023 by Little, Brown Book Group UK

Pages: 368 pages

Genre: romance, contemporary, women’s fiction

Rating: 4.5 cups


The many lives of theoretical physicist Elsie Hannaway have finally caught up with her. By day, she’s an adjunct professor, toiling away at grading labs and teaching thermodynamics in the hopes of landing tenure. By other day, Elsie makes up for her non-existent paycheck by offering her services as a fake girlfriend, tapping into her expertly honed people pleasing skills to embody whichever version of herself the client needs.

Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet gig—until her carefully constructed Elsie-verse comes crashing down. Because Jack Smith, the annoyingly attractive and broody older brother of her favorite client, turns out to be the cold-hearted experimental physicist who ruined her mentor’s career and undermined the reputation of theorists everywhere. And that same Jack who now sits on the hiring committee at MIT, right between Elsie and her dream job.

Elsie is prepared for an all-out war of scholarly sabotage but…those long, penetrating looks? Not having to be anything other than her true self when she’s with him? Will falling into an experimentalist’s orbit finally tempt her to put her most guarded theories on love into practice?

My Thoughts

Ali Hazelwood is back again! Yes, the queen of STEM romance is releasing her third book and it’s another sure-fire winner! I will admit that I have not read her previous two: I ventured into Love Hypothesis and did not get very far before putting it aside. Third time lucky I guess as I just had to see what all the fuss was about and I am sure glad I did. With the most likable characters and a fave trope of mine - enemies to lovers - I was hooked from the very beginning. 

“Bold of you to assume that the real me is my best hand.” That stupid, crooked half smile is back. “Foolish of you to think it isn’t.”

Yup! I adored this book and smashed through it ever so quickly, breathing in the fresh air of fun and laughter! Elsie is one of the most endearing main characters I have read in a long time and Jack ticks all the boxes and then some for leading men. 

‘It’s complicated, being a woman in STEM. Even more so when you’re young and unproven. And even more so when you have a semipathological need to get along with others.’

This is quite an academic book (yes, I know it’s STEM) but I was pleasantly surprised with revelations about the life of an academic. There is much covered but I was never bored or confused, in fact, quite the opposite - I found it riveting - the experimentalist versus theoretical physicists. Even though I know next to nothing about physics, it was interesting to learn of the dynamics of working in research programs and the jobs you have to take to hopefully end up where you want to be. Being a female in this field would also bring its own challenges and Ali covered all of this extremely well. 

‘I’ve seen you play half a dozen different roles for half a dozen different situations, switching personalities like you’re channel surfing, and I still have no idea who you are.’

Elsie is a people pleaser and this is all about her journey to learn to be honest. The fact that Jack is there and wanting to support her on this journey makes the story so engaging. Elsie needed a support crew as she undervalues herself in so many ways. Undoubtedly the chemistry is off the charts but for me, ultimately, it was Elsie’s journey that I found the most engaging and satisfying. Her struggles and questions could be any one of us and that made her so relatable. 

Love, Theoretically is a book I didn't want to put down. Laughing at everything from the Bill Nye to Twilight references, feeling for Elsie and her diabetes, cringing at family dynamics, working out how to make ends meet - it all comes together for a highly recommended read. 

“When’s the last time you had someone in your life you could be completely honest with, Elsie?”

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, June 12, 2023

Review: Put Your Feet in the Dirt, Girl

Title: Put Your Feet in the Dirt, Girl
Author: Sonia Henry

Publisher: 30th May 2023 by Allen & Unwin

Pages: 270 pages

Genre: memoir, medical, Australia

My Rating: 4.5 cups


The bestselling author of Going Under recounts her real-life journey from hard-partying Sydney medical intern to dust-covered rural GP.

"Solo GP needed for medical clinic, mining town in Pilbara region, Western Australia. Car and accommodation provided. On call paid extra. Close proximity to absolutely nothing."

In 2020, lost and heartbroken, and with an unscratched travel itch thanks to international border closures, Sonia Henry accepted a job as a GP in remotest Western Australia. The plan was to stay for one month. But before she knew it, this dressed-to-the-nines Sydney party girl was becoming an Akubra-wearing bush doctor covered in red dust--and loving every minute of it.

Sonia spent the next two years working in some of the remotest parts of the country. She learned how to shoot in the middle of the desert, visited pearl farms and pubs, came to terms with being regularly outnumbered by crocodiles, and adopted a cattle dog called Buddy, who would come to be her closest companion. She also met an eclectic bunch of patients and friends, and opened her eyes to the truths--both good and bad--of the country she calls home.

Put Your Feet in the Dirt, Girl is a modern outback medical memoir full of heart, energy, rage and wonder. It is a must-read for anyone who has ever had to get lost in order to be found.

My Thoughts

‘So you wouldn’t go out there?’ I ask. She looks at me as if I have turned green. ‘Are you kidding? As a solo female? With no experience in that kind of medicine? No way in hell.’

So begins a story from an excellent storyteller. It’s difficult to write this review as the topics covered are so broad and diverse, however, I shall try my best hoping that readers will walk away inspired to read this gem of a book. In essence if I had to sum it up, I would say Sonia writes about some harsh truths many Australians most likely are unaware of and that then is reflective upon self truths and the tales we tell ourselves. 

‘With a destination in mind, there’s a goal and a road, and challenges and hurdles and life to be lived on the way.’

On one level this is an exquisite and eye opener report into remote Australia and that alone makes this requisite reading. Confronted with the remoteness of the Pilbara, far west New South Wales and of course the great Northern Territory, Sonia arrives at these places and more often than not, finds herself the only doctor for miles around - hundreds of miles around! The stories she then goes on to share will seem as if from another country but they are not - neglect and far worse of our First Nations people, where the gap between the ‘haves and have nots’ is increasing at a rapid and sorrowful rate. Questions are raised on how to fill this ever increasing chasm with the understanding that only by connecting to the outside will we allow ourselves to connect to the inside. 

‘Everyone always wants to be somewhere else. I was always like that, too: there was always somewhere else to be, someone else to meet, another horizon to conquer.’

Sonia’s descriptions of the vast, remote and wondrous expanse of the Outback is awe inspiring, as if she had somehow gone back to the beginning of time itself. ‘People talk about the power of the land. Because the land is alive, here, speaking to me.’ Living this way forced her to be in the present moment, ‘I am nothing but a speck, a whisper of a life, crossing over a power and history I can’t put into words. I have nothing but the present moment. That’s what the earth does to me. Every plan, every worry, every feeling I have is insignificant compared to this.’

To be a solitary woman and experiencing this is yet another remarkable feat. ‘I thought I had to see the world to find myself, but all I really had to do was put my feet in the dirt of this enormous land, and get lost enough to learn the truth. And the truth is this: there are so many things bigger than me that I have been humbled completely. With that truth comes freedom. And in the freedom of humility, comes the chance to live a truly meaningful life.’

Sonia’s writing is eloquent, her story to tell so very worthy of being heard. Do yourself a favour and make sure you read it and don’t forget to put your feet in the dirt!

‘Someone said to me once, Stevie,’ I tell her, ‘that the best thing you can do in trying circumstances is to put your feet in the dirt and see what happens after that.’

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, June 6, 2023

Review: A Shadow in Moscow

A Shadow in Moscow
Author: Katherine Reay

Publisher: 13th June 2023 by Harper Muse

Pages: 384 pages

Genre: historical fiction, Russia, mystery, WWII, Espionage, Thrillers

Rating: 5 cups


A betrayal at the highest level risks the lives of two courageous female spies: MI6's best Soviet spy and the CIA's newest Moscow recruit. As the KGB closes in, a compromise must be struck if either woman hopes to survive.

Vienna, 1954

After losing everyone she loves in the final days of World War II, Ingrid Bauer agrees to a hasty marriage with a gentle Soviet embassy worker and follows him home to Moscow. But nothing deep within the Soviet Union's totalitarian regime is what it seems, including her new husband, whom Ingrid suspects works for the KGB. Upon her daughter's birth, Ingrid risks everything and reaches out in hope to the one country she understands and trusts--Britain, the country of her mother's birth--and starts passing along intelligence to MI6, navigating a world of secrets and lies, light and shadow.

Washington, DC, 1980

Part of the Foreign Studies Initiative, Anya Kadinova finishes her degree at Georgetown University and boards her flight home to Moscow, leaving behind the man she loves and a country she's grown to respect. Though raised by dedicated and loyal Soviet parents, Anya soon questions an increasingly oppressive and paranoid Soviet regime at the height of the Cold War. When the KGB murders her bestfriend, Anya picks sides and contacts the CIA. Working in a military research lab, Anya passes along Soviet military plans and schematics in an effort to end the 1980s arms race.

Alternating points of view keep readers on their toes as the past catches up to the present when an unprecedented act of treachery in 1985 threatens all undercover agents operating within the Soviet Union, and both Ingrid and Anya find themselves in a race for their lives against time and the KGB.

My Thoughts

I have read many of Katherine’s books and enjoyed them all. It was almost ten years ago when I read her Jane Austen retellings and just a couple of years ago The London House, which I still remember well. So, I knew I was in for a great read …. I just did not realise how great a read this would turn out to be. 

‘She laid down her pride and truly became the shadow she needed to become.’

A Shadow in Moscow is an incredible Cold War novel that is so sophisticated and compelling that I highly recommend it. Katherine masterfully interweaves two stories  - one of Ingrid starting in Vienna in 1954 and then Anya in Washington 1980 and the convergence of the two plots is mindblowing. I love the two viewpoints, the two eras, the two contrasting lives. There is just so much to this tale. 

“… you said you wanted to make the world a better place for her. So did I. Our ideas of what that world should be differed. They still do.”

This is a masterclass on how to write a spy novel. The richness of history interwoven through fact and fiction is seamless. To be in the mind and understand what these people went through is truly eye opening. Katherine so eloquently opens readers eyes to both the pros and cons of Soviet politics and philosophy in a way that was most compelling from the conclusion of WWII, to the Cold War and living behind the Iron Curtain. This is a fresh take on post war/Cold War spy novels - feminine at its heart with two incredibly strong female protagonists and their determination to build a better world. 

‘Nothing feels right here. Some people believe we are closer than ever to the utopian and global Marxist-Leninist world dream, but we aren’t. It’s slipping away because it was never attainable’

As the story draws to its tension filled ending you will be on the edge of your reading seat in this absorbing Cold War tale. Memorable characters detailing incredible tales of bravery and espionage that lead to shattering conclusions. Everything about this book is well done. As I stated at the outset, I have been a fan of Katherine’s books for many years, but this one … well I think it is top of the list. It is that good! Be sure not to miss it. 

“That’s the pain of the Cold War, Ingrid. Cold can burn low for a long, long time, never reaching the heat necessary to burn out . . .”

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.





Katherine Reay is a national bestselling and award-winning author who has enjoyed a lifelong affair with books. She publishes both fiction and nonfiction, holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois, with her husband and three children.