All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

image001Kings Rising (Captive Prince #3)
C.S. Pacat
Penguin Books AUS
2016, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

His identity now revealed, Damen must face his master Prince Laurent as Damianos of Akielos, the man Laurent has sworn to kill.

On the brink of a momentous battle, the future of both their countries hangs in the balance. In the south, Kastor’s forces are massing. In the north, the Regent’s armies are mobilising for war. Damen’s only hope of reclaiming his throne is to fight together with Laurent against their usurpers.

Forced into an uneasy alliance the two princes journey deep into Akielos, where they face their most dangerous opposition yet. But even if the fragile trust they have built survives the revelation of Damen’s identity – can it stand against the Regent’s final, deadly play for the throne?

Where do I even begin?

And I mean that in the best possible way. In a this was so good I don’t even know where to start kind of way. The characters? Well it’s what we’ve been waiting for. Damianos is finally allowed to be Damianos. He’s been using his upbringing and military experience in helping Laurent in tactics but this is the first real time he gets to lead in the way that he would as a Prince, an heir, a King. For so long he’s had to dampen down his whole personality – not always successfully either, struggling to fit into a role that he was never designed for. He’d been raised to be a King, not a slave. And Damen is clever, he’s a strong leader, he’s a possessed fighter. He never gives up, even when the odds look ridiculously stacked against him. He doesn’t quite have Laurent’s darkly twisted mind but he has battle experience and know-how.

I read this book almost on tenterhooks, aware of all the reveals that were going to come. When Laurent found out who his slave really was….how was he going to react? The man he’d sworn for years that he would kill. And it was awesome, full of unexpected twists and emotional tugging at my heartstrings as the two of the negotiated their new roles. Damen doesn’t need to do what he’s told anymore and Laurent has to negotiate not being in charge, having an equal beside him.

I’m very mindful of spoilers when writing a review like this – so much to discuss but very difficult to do so without revealing some of the key plot points in the novel. I think that C.S. Pacat has a brilliant mind – it’s very rare to find a book that excels not only in complicated strategy and mindtrickery but also in amazing emotional connection. I’m not a big m/m reader – I don’t avoid it but it’s not something I read a lot of. I just don’t come across many. However this trilogy had me so invested in these two characters and their troubled….relationship. There are so many complications underpinning it – Laurent and his past, his feelings over his brother and also, what is finally revealed in this novel, his battle of wits with his uncle, the Regent hoping to outmaneuver him long enough to stay alive to inherit his throne. Likewise Damen also has his own goal, to return him to Akielos and take his true place as the King after his brother usurped him. So much stands in their way, so much they have done to each other both knowingly and unknowingly. Despite all of that, they have managed to somehow forge something amazing and both of them make the other better. Laurent needs someone with a sense of compassion, someone who recognises when he needs to ‘take a moment and calm down’ before he does something rash, someone who has been raised with strength and self-belief. And Damen, despite the fact that he’s a King, still displays at times, almost too much compassion. He’s complacent, he sees the best in people. It’s how he never saw Kastor and Jokaste betraying him. And even after that, he still gets blindsided several times by more trickery and betrayal. Lucky for Damen, Laurent sees stuff like this coming and he’s able to act in order to both protect and help Damen as well as himself in their uneasy alliance. I haven’t always liked Laurent throughout the trilogy, even in this volume. Perhaps that’s because the narration is Damen’s and he’s so masterfully betrayed at the beginning of the novel, you cannot help but kind of side with him. But the way in which Laurent plays out in this book, I cannot help but admire him and so many things suddenly become so clear. I’m so glad I made the choice to re-read books 1&2 just before this one was released, it’s not something I usually have the time to do but it was so worth it to be able to read them all together and have every little detail fresh in my mind.

I honestly think this was the perfect ending to an amazing trilogy. I loved the first two books and when that happens, you’re so hopeful and fearful for the last. And this gave me everything I wanted, everything I needed and I closed the book feeling so satisfied. And well, lots of other things too, because of the feels, but mostly satisfied. All of the groundwork laid came to wonderful fruition and I can’t find one “I wish this happened” to say about it at all.

10/10

Book #18 of 2016

AWWC2016

Kings Rising is the 11th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

Review: What A Gentleman Wants by Caroline Linden

What A Gentleman WantsWhat A Gentleman Wants (Reece Family Trilogy #1)
Caroline Linden
Zebra Books
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two strangers are swept into a sizzling, spellbinding world of daring deception and unexpected passion. . .

Marcus Reese, Duke of Essex, has spent most of his life pulling his twin brother out of trouble. A thank you would suffice; instead, his resentful sibling forges his name to a marriage license and presents him with an unwanted wife. She’s a vicar’s widow with a mind of her own, and the first person in Marcus’s well-ordered life to make him feel. . .completely out of control.

Dire straits have led Hannah to the altar with a gentleman she hardly knows. Played for a fool, she’s embarrassed, furious, and worse, married to an equally outraged, exasperating man who unleashes all manner of emotions in her–not to mention unwanted desire. Reluctantly, Hannah agrees to play the wife until he can sort out the mess. But the undeniably attractive Duke unsettles her well-guarded heart–making her want to do so much more than “act” the role of blissful bride. . .

Lately, historical romance novels have been my comfort reads. They’re what I look for on my kindle when I can’t decide what I want to read and I’m always looking for new ones so that I have a nice collection there. I’m not exactly sure why it is – but there’s something soothing about the descriptions of dresses and balls. The men are all very aristocratic Dukes and Earls and the women are often of good breeding but impoverished and needing to make an advantageous match.

This one is a little different in that the heroine is not of a ‘good’ family – she’s of an entirely different class, hasn’t even ever met a Duke. She’s the widow of a village reverend and has a young daughter. And originally, she believes she’s marrying a gentleman of relatively good means, someone who will take care of her and make it so that she doesn’t have to move back in with her father after the new reverend arrives to take over the parish. However her groom, the feckless twin of the Duke of Essex gets cold feet at the last moment. Instead of fleeing he goes through with the marriage but signs the name of the Duke instead of his own.

And our heroine, Hannah, finds herself a very unexpected Duchess. And even more surprised is the Duke himself.

The Duke is responsible. Painfully responsible. He’s been bailing his brother out for as long as he can remember but he’s furious this time. Marcus had no intentions of marrying but now that he is married, he feels he must maintain the charade for a while, lest he destroy his family’s relationships entirely. So he convinces Hannah to stay and reside in his home for a while before they will quietly separate and go their ways. Sarah agrees but makes sure that she gets the Duke to acquiesce to her one request.

Despite the fact that Marcus is occasionally a little frustrating in his rigidity, I absolutely adored the two of them together. Hannah is such a breath of fresh air in a novel like this, she’s so practical and day-to-day – she’s used to cooking and cleaning and doing things for herself. She’s never had servants and the Duke has so many that it’s impossible for her to remember all their names, something that distresses her. She has raised her daughter herself too – no nurseries, no nannies or governesses. She doesn’t want to send her away to the nursery in the impressive residence of the Duke but she does realise that in her new role, she will have to adjust some things. Marcus’s stepmother and sister are refreshingly supportive of Marcus marrying a “nobody”, someone not from London society.

As well as Marcus and Hannah getting to know each other in the time they agree to continue being married, there’s a side plot of mystery running through this book too as Marcus seeks to uncover a sinister plot that might possibly involve his wayward brother. Even though he’s furious at him, Marcus is still bailing him out – and it appears that this time, he might be in a very large amount of trouble that might lead to a dangerous situation. I really loved how this played out, the story became more and more intriguing with more touches of suspense. I have to admit I found it difficult to like Marcus’s twin David after the deception that he pulled with Marcus and Hannah – especially poor Hannah, who was really manipulated and went through an emotional wringer. However he really did redeem himself at the end of the novel and now I’d like to read his story – it sounds very interesting! – as well as the story of their younger sister, which make up the trilogy.

Marcus and Hannah had great chemistry and each somehow managed to bring out the best in each other when they were bringing out the worst. Marcus is quite stuffy and proper very concerned with the responsibilities of being a Duke and head of his family and also aware that but for a few minutes, it would’ve been David. There’s some nice complexity to their relationship that extends just beyond Duke and spare as well, which was good. The strength of the development of the relationship between Marcus and Hannah, two strangers who end up married to each other was definitely the highlight of the novel and a joy to read. I really liked both of them and thought that they turned out to be perfect for each other and the way they came to realise they didn’t want their ‘arrangement’ to end was lovely.

8/10

Book #14 of 2016

 

Leave a comment »

Review: Under The Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair

Under The Spanish StarsUnder The Spanish Stars
Alli Sinclair
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Charlotte Kavanagh’s beloved grandma Katarina Sanchez is gravely ill, so when she begs Charlotte to travel to her homeland in Andalucía to uncover the truth behind a mysterious painting, Charlotte agrees.  Taking leave from her soul-destroying job and stalled life in Australia, Charlotte embarks on a quest through Granada’s ancient cobble-stoned streets and vibrant neighbourhoods. There she meets Mateo Vives, a flamenco guitarist with a dark past, and through him she quickly becomes entangled in the world of flamenco and gypsies that ignites a passion she had thought lost.

But the mystery surrounding the painting deepens, reaching back in time to the war-torn Spain of the 1940s and Charlotte discovers her grandmother’s connection to the Spanish underground. Who is her grandmother, really? What is Mateo’s connection to her family history? And why is finding answers to a family mystery turning into a journey of self-discovery for Charlotte?

Weighed down by secrets, betrayals and shattered relationships, Charlotte finds herself questioning the true meaning of heritage, family and love.

Under The Spanish Stars is the second full length novel from Alli Sinclair and main character Charlotte is tasked with traveling to Spain to uncover the truth about a painting that her grandmother has kept in her possession her whole life. Although Charlotte knew her grandmother had been born in Spain and lived there until her 20s, her grandmother rarely ever spoke of her life there and discouraged questions. Charlotte is intrigued by what she could find out on her mission, although time of not something she has a lot of as her grandmother is ill in hospital and Charlotte wants to be able to deliver her the answers she seeks quickly.

And so Charlotte, who has spent the past few years being responsible, working her responsible job in the family insurance company, takes some leave and departs for Spain. There she meets with a professor about the painting who tells who she believes may have painted the painting that Charlotte seeks information on. In order to try and learn more, she is directed to seek out Mateo Vives, a flamenco guitarist who might not only be able to help Charlotte on her quest….but help her rediscover parts of herself that she has been keeping hidden.

I really enjoyed Charlotte’s journey both to find the information her grandmother needs as well as her journey in discovering her real self. Charlotte has an artist’s soul but her practical father has kind of insisted that she tamper it down because it rarely pays the bills. It’s an eternal struggle for Charlotte, who she wants to be versus who others want her to be. Before going to Spain she doesn’t have the confidence or the self-belief to give things another to, to take that step and say ok, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next but it doesn’t matter.

As well as Charlotte’s story, Under The Spanish Stars also takes us back in time to explore more of Charlotte’s grandmother Katarina’s past. I know next to nothing about Spanish history, so I found a lot of the snippets of life during that time somewhat fascinating and kept making little notes for myself on things to read up on further when I’d finished the novel. I actually found Katarina’s story really engaging and wished it made up a larger portion of the novel. Although I enjoyed Charlotte and her journey, I think the mystery and intrigue surrounding Katarina and her past had much more potential and could’ve been a larger part of the story.

I do have admit that both elements of romance in the book didn’t really work for me. I didn’t find much interesting about Mateo at all and I found his and Charlotte’s chemistry quite lacklustre. I think I actually enjoyed the parts of the book he wasn’t in more than the ones he was and his particular way of speaking got a bit grating after a while ie “you are doing the joking again?” and “you have done the driving in Spain?” etc. This very well may be the way Spanish people speak English, I don’t know. The only person I’ve known who spoke Spanish was an El Salvadorean married to my cousin and his English was probably better than mine. Likewise the romance wasn’t the most interesting part of Katarina’s story either, instead I found her personality and determination as well as the mystery surrounding the painting and her heritage to be the most interesting aspects of the story surrounding her. I also liked learning about the gitana families, the Spanish gypsies who have their own very particular culture and customs. Fortunately for me, the romance wasn’t a huge aspect of the book and I was able to focus on the other parts that did work for me.

7/10

Book #15 of 2016

AWWC2016

Under The Spanish Stars is book #9 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

 

Leave a comment »

Author Q&A: C.S. Pacat

image005 (1)

Today is the release day of the highly anticipated Kings Rising, third and final novel in the Captive Prince series. To prepare I have been re-reading the first 2 books over the last few days and they are even better than I remember. Whilst I await the arrival of Kings Rising I am delighted to welcome the author, C.S. Pacat to my blog. She kindly answered a few of my questions on writing and life.

Q1. Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions. The Captive Prince trilogy began life as a web serial before being picked up by Penguin. What was the transition like from publishing it online yourself to moving to a traditional publisher?

It’s been incredible, an amazing privilege to work with a publisher like Penguin, and to have them be so supportive of the series.

I think what’s so exciting about publishing at the moment is that the internet is opening doors for new kinds of books–it’s allowing books like Captive Prince the opportunity to connect to readers and garner the kind of viral attention that can then propel them into the mainstream.

Q2. Share a little of your writing routine: do you write full time or balance with other work? Are you more of a plotter or do you like to wing it?

I write slowly, more like moss covering a rock. Because I write slowly, I have to write every day. I’m lucky enough to be able to write full time, and the routine is: begin around 10am, write until dinner, then (often) write again until around 10pm.

I’m a compulsive planner, I like to plot everything in advance. I typically have a three-stage process: a “blue sky phase” where I just come up with as much cool stuff as I can think of, then a period of creating characters and plot, then I map out scenes.  Only after that do I start writing manuscript.

Q3. Do you have a preferred place to write such as a study or café? And is there anything that’s essential to your creative process like music or coffee?

I write at a cafe, because I have learned to guard against my weaknesses! I can’t write productively at home: I procrastinate. Luckily, there are a few kindly cafes in my local area who will let me nurse a single coffee for six hours. At night, if I’m planning to do a night shift of writing, I’ll head out again to a hotel lobby or bar. I listen to music while I write, and use noise cancelling headphones.

Captive Prince

Q4. Where did the inspiration to write the Captive Prince trilogy come from?

I wanted to write the book that I wanted to read. I love high-octane escapism, adventure, swordfights, chases, escapes, true love, intrigue, high stakes, biased viewpoint – and homoerotica, themes of sex, power and sexuality. So I started with all of those elements that I love, and built from there.

Q5. For those who haven’t yet read the two released books, how would you describe them in one sentence?

A homoerotic fantasy adventure with a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance between two princes from rival nations.

Q6. And for the diehard fans patiently, agonisingly waiting for Feb 2nd, can you give us a tiny tidbit on Kings Rising? Anything?!

The first chapter of Kings Rising can be read on the Penguin website as an exclusive sneak peak (https://www.penguin.com.au/content/kings-rising/extract). I can’t reveal anything more, but I will say look out for chapter 8, which contains one of my favourite scenes in the whole series.

Prince's Gambit

 

Q7. Name five of your favourite authors and/or books

Dorothy Dunnett is my favourite author, both for the Lymond Chronicles and the Niccolo series.

Iris Murdoch, particularly The Bell, The Philosopher’s Pupil, The Word Child.

Tom Stoppard, my favourites being Travesties, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Arcadia.

I always feel like a dork answering “Shakespeare” to questions like this, but I am a Shakespeare nut, and am always reading and re-reading the plays.

For something more recent, I read the Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie this year, and loved it.

Q8. What three things would you want to have if you were trapped on a desert island?

Provisions, books and a friend.

Q9. What do you like to get up to away from the keyboard?

I love to horse ride, and I go riding fairly frequently. My indoor hobbies are reading and gaming on my PS4. But truthfully, I spend most of my time writing, because it’s what I love to do.

image001

Q10. And lastly….what is next for you after the publication of Kings Rising?

I’ve started work on a new series, a YA fantasy, with some magic elements. I’m in the building stage now, setting up the tensions and intensities between characters–I’m really excited by the series, and can’t wait to start writing manuscript.

I’ll also be releasing a series of three short stories set in the Captive Prince universe, which will be available later in 2016. Stay tuned!

***

To learn more about C.S. Pacat and the Captive Prince series visit her website and follow her on twitter

AWWC2016

Leave a comment »

January Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 15
Fiction: 15
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 1
Books in a Series: 9
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 5
Male/Female Authors: 0/15
Kindle Books: 9
Books I Owned or Bought: 4
Favourite Book(s): Legacy Of Hunter’s Ridge by Sarah Barrie
Least Favourite Book(s):  Cartel and Seven Sons by Lili St Germain
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 7

Not a bad start to the year, 15 titles read for January. I spent the first third of the month still on holidays and then 2 days travelling home so I didn’t get a lot of reading done in that portion.

January provided a few very good reads – The Widow by Fiona Barton, The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth and The Landing by Susan Johnson as well as Legacy of Hunter’s Ridge by Sarah Barrie, my fave read of the month. Definitely looking forward to the next book in that series!

I also did a rare re-read in the month of January, revisiting Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat in anticipation of the third book, Kings Rising which is being released this week! I’m hoping to have re-read the 2nd book by the time my copy of Kings Rising arrives.

Some February reads coming up….(possibilities, I tend to pick on a whim, lol):

All That Is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster
When The Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat
What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

1 Comment »

Review: Cartel by Lili St Germain

CartelCartel (Cartel #1)
Lili St Germain
Harper Collins AUS
2015, 337p
Free read on iBooks

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How much is a life worth?

I grew up in Colombia, the daughter of a wealthy drug lord. I lived a life of extravagance, until one day a drug run went horribly wrong and everything came crashing down around us.

I was given away. A payment for a debt. The Gypsy Brothers Motorcycle Club became my new owners, and I did everything I could to survive.

But falling in love with the man who owned me wasn’t part of the plan…

I don’t even know where to start with this one.

I’ve heard some interesting things about this author/series and given the second book was recently released, it seemed as though it was everywhere. This was a free download from iBooks, probably in promo for the release of the second book and I also ended up with Seven Sons by Lili St Germain as well. I have read romances that revolve around an OMC before, for a while there they were pretty much the thing. But this isn’t a romance. It’s billed as “dark romance” but….yeah, no.

Mariana is a teenager who was at university in the US but is recalled home because her drug runner father got drunk and ended up with the load of drugs he was hauling impounded by the DEA. His cartel boss is going to kill them all but Mariana negotiates herself instead, giving herself to Emilio Ross, drug and crime boss extraordinaire, in exchange for the lives of her family. Emilio toys with Mariana for a while, basically attempting to mess with her head before putting her in an ‘auction’ as a sex slave. Emilio’s son Dornan (stupid name) has seen something ‘special’ in Mariana and that combined with her amazing accountancy skills buys her a free pass out of the auction and one into Dornan’s bed and strip club as a bean counter. I’m honestly so bored of the badass seeing something undefinably “special”, something that he’s never seen/felt before, something that causes him to act out of character and blah blah blah. Especially as Mariana is boring, whiny and doesn’t really do anything interesting at all, except during her sacrifice for her family. And even then, I don’t know, it doesn’t really feel all that believable. There’s something about the detached way that she does it, that she goes through these motions that doesn’t really seem like survival mode but more just….the fact that Mariana is boring. She has no real interesting thoughts or reactions to anything.

Emilio is basically, I don’t know, Pablo Escobar or something without being on the run. He’s an asshole who moves drugs and has bought off cops, US marshals, border patrol and basically anyone else you can think of. Dornan is VP of the Gypsy Brothers, an OMC and I don’t know what he does? Runs strip clubs? Rides around being a supposed badass? Who cares.

The fact of the matter is, there’s nothing in this book except a bunch of disconnected scenes that don’t actually really make up a believable story. Dornan tells Mariana that she’ll tell him she loves him soon and she does. But Dornan, apart from buying her himself instead of letting her to go the sex slave auction, doesn’t actually do anything that warrants anyone falling in love with him, let alone a psychologically traumatised teenager who has been kidnapped, mindfucked, actually fucked, abandoned for weeks on end in an apartment she cannot escape from, almost raped, etc. It’s a wonder she still has a mind at all and isn’t a dribbling mess but the thing is, I can’t buy Mariana’s mental strength anymore than I can buy what she and Dornan have is a “romance”. One of them is a criminal with zero respect for women, daddy issues up the wazoo and the other is a captive who has no choice but to launder their money and service Dornan. About Dornan’s only redeeming feature so far is that he “doesn’t like to share” which isn’t really about Mariana and not putting her through being abused by other men, it’s about himself.

But Dornan gives her orgasms……and she loves him.

But….why? Why does she love Dornan?

I don’t even know that this can be portrayed as some sort of Stockholm Syndrome where Mariana is dependent upon him because he rescued her from a significantly worse fate. If it is supposed to be Stockholm Syndrome then it’s not at all written to portray that sort of mindset, the sort of dependence or emotional mind control. Mariana is whiny and once she gets to have sex with Dornan, really doesn’t seem all that concerned about her situation. Dornan is hot, of course. He’s a badass motorcycle dude who basically has zero personality. Some attempt is made at giving him some sort of backstory, along with his friend and the President of Gypsy Brothers but it mostly falls flat. The most interesting thing about Dornan is his uneasy relationship with his father and the issues this creates for him, but it’s only glossed over and doesn’t really delve into it. Some attempt is made to make Dornan seem sickened by some of the violence but given I’ve read Seven Sons, it isn’t at all believable.

I didn’t see this trilogy ending well at all, even before I did some research and realised that it’s a spin off of the Gypsy Brothers series and not the other way around. Actually reading Seven Sons (first of the Gypsy Brothers books) was an attempt to find out the ending of this trilogy without having to read the next 2 books, because Seven Sons was only 100p. However it didn’t really tell me anything and I guess you’d have to read a couple further along in the series, or maybe the final one. But I’ve honestly read enough. I no longer care what happens to Mariana and given I’ve read Seven Sons I can gather what happens to Dornan.

And it’s probably not undeserved.

2/10

Book #9 of 2016

 

 

2 Comments »

Review: The Edge Of The Fall by Kate Williams

Edge Of The FallThe Edge Of The Fall
Kate Williams
Hachette AUS
2016, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Edge of the Fall is the sequel to Kate Williams’s hit novel The Storms of War and the second book in a groundbreaking, epic trilogy that tells the story of the de Witt family between 1914 and 1939: ideal for fans of Downton Abbey, The Rules of Civility, Somewhere in France, Atonement and The Paris Wife

An utterly spellbinding novel of the 1920s in London and Paris,The Edge of the Fall is bestselling author Kate Williams’s follow-up to her beloved and universally praised novel The Storms of War: the second volume in an epic, cinematic historical saga that follows the de Witt family through the drama and tumult of the post–World War I world.

In the aftermath of the Great War, the de Witt family are struggling to piece together the shattered fragments of their lives. Rudolf and his wife, Verena, still reeling from the loss of their second son, don’t know how to function in the post-war world. Stoneythorpe Hall has become an empty shell with no servants to ensure its upkeep. The de Witt children have changed too: Eldest son Arthur has returned, but a shroud of mystery surrounds his wartime business dealings in Europe. Socialite-turned-socialist Emmeline is passionate about carving out a new niche for herself in life, one that comes with its own dangers. And idealistic, adventurous Celia, the heart of the family and the de Witt’s youngest daughter, is still desperate to spread her wings and see more of the world. To escape Stoneythorpe and the painful secrets that lie there, she moves to London and embraces life and love in the Roaring Twenties.

At once romantic and real, sweeping and sensitive, The Edge of the Fall is brimming with intrigue and emotion, balancing the glamour of the era with the gritty reality of life in a world changed forever by war. It is a glorious feat of storytelling and a must-read for those who loved The Storms of War and fans of historical fiction everywhere, from the brilliant young story teller recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as among the “queens of contemporary fiction.”

It seems I’m forever requesting or picking up books without realising that they’re the sequel to a previous one because I read this one without knowing until today when I went to c&p the description, that it’s a sequel. That explains quite a few things I think. If I’d read The Storms of War before this one I would’ve grasped the family’s situations much better and things that felt a bit vague, such as the marriage of the sister of the main character, would’ve made more sense.

The story begins at the end of WWI and the de Witt’s are struggling to reestablish their places in the world. Their stately pile was used as a hospital during the war and because of family patriarch Rudolf’s German extraction, their lives are definitely not what they once were. Oldest son Arthur has returned from abroad but seems sly and secretive. Elder daughter Emmeline has married and moved to London now and Celia, youngest of all has returned from doing her part for the war effort. The family are preparing to welcome Rudolf and Verena’s niece Louisa to the household and Celia is excited, hoping to befriend her. She is to be disappointed though as Louisa it seems, bonds far more quickly with Arthur despite their significant age gap. When Arthur takes Louisa to London, ostensibly to give her a season it instead sets forth a storm of tragic events that will test the family’s strength and faith in each other and shine more of a negative light upon their heritage.

The biggest problem for me in this book was that it felt so very obvious. The prologue means that there is basically no doubt in the reader’s mind what occurs and so Celia and everyone running around trying to get to the truth of it, trying to unravel a mystery made for pages and pages of somewhat tedious reading. I know the characters aren’t aware of the same things that the reader is but it felt like there should’ve been more of an attempt to blur the lines a little, make a bit “did it or didn’t it?” when really it seems as though there’s no doubt from the very get-go. Everyone seems to place mostly unwavering faith in a lazy, greedy wastrel who doesn’t really deserve their loyalty and I felt quite dissatisfied with how the bulk of that story played out.

The story shifts between Celia and Louisa and I have to say, I did find Louisa’s portion much more interesting than Celia’s and perhaps that was because I didn’t know about the previous book when I read this one. Celia’s story revolves too much around some “fauxmance” with Tom, the son of the help at her parent’s home and it never seemed to be going anywhere to me, always floundering and the whole thing just felt very awkward to read, especially after Tom’s confession. Louisa’s story was much more interesting but I had to wait so long to really get to it and it felt like a lot of the really meaty part was missed out as we skipped away again. Louisa’s narrative should’ve been a bigger presence in this story, considering all that happened. Instead I felt it got too bogged down with Celia, always back to Celia and for a lot of the time, she really didn’t have much going on until well after the time of Louisa’s stay at Celia’s family home and her time in London. Celia’s trip to Germany was quite interesting, a glimpse into the lifestyles of those who had made money from the war in Baden-Baden. Most of Celia’s story seemed to come much late in the book (and apparently this is the second novel in a trilogy, so I think I can see where the third book is going) but by the time it all began to unfold, I think I’d kind of lost interest. Everything felt too contrived, no one really talked to each other, just about everyone could’ve done with a few home truths.

It seemed promising at first but didn’t live up to my expectations. The story jumped around too much for me and elaborated too much on stuff that didn’t interest me and skimmed over what did as well as signposted the major “dilemma” or climax of the novel far too obviously. Even now that I know it’s a trilogy and a lot is explained probably in book 1, quite a bit of my dissatisfaction with this book doesn’t have much to do with that.

5/10

Book #8 of 2016

 

 

Leave a comment »

Review: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Beside MyselfBeside Myself
Ann Morgan
Bloomsbury Publishing (UK & ANZ)
2016, 313p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people’s expectations affect human behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.

This is the first fiction novel of Ann Morgan, who is quite well known for her A Year of Reading the World blog. I’ve been reading that blog for a while now and followed her quest to read a book from every country on the planet, detailing how people sought her out to help her, often unofficially translating publications for her, supplying their own copies of books and just generally giving information on books from countries that would be considered difficult to source material from. She published a book about that experience and has now turned her hand to fiction.

So much about this blurb intrigued me. When I was younger, I wanted to be an identical twin. I read all the Sweet Valley Twins/High/University books and thought it sounded like so much fun. Of course as I grew older I kind of lost interest in being a twin and wanted to have twins. Then I became pregnant and was really rather relieved that each time, the ultrasound showed a single baby. But I find the twin dynamic really interesting and I enjoy reading books that feature twins, especially ones that revolve around the differences, the evolving relationship as they negotiate adolescence and adulthood. I think a lot of books paint one twin as the good Elizabeth-style twin and another as the more reckless Jessica-style twin who usually bullies/takes advantage of the good one and I’m not sure it’s always that simple.

Beside Myself is certainly complex in some ways but I think it also relied on the good/less good theory to begin with. Helen is the ‘good’ twin who gets good marks in school, gets to wear pretty clothes. Ellie is behind at school, is always pulling at the neckline of her clothes and ruining them and occasionally still wets the bed. One day as a ‘trick’, Helen suggests they swap roles and she coaches Ellie on how to behave like her. Helen does their hair differently, swapping their usual hairstyles and they swap clothes. The only problem is that when the trick is over, Ellie refuses to swap back, continuing to act like Helen and Helen becomes so frustrated that she seems to take on ‘Ellie’ traits. The more desperate Helen is to prove who she is, the more she seems unable to whereas Ellie seems to excel, seemingly having no more trouble doing schoolwork, no more accidents.

So much of the early set up seemed implausible to me: is it really possible for a mother not to notice that her children had swapped roles? Most mothers/family members of multiples that I know can tell them apart in an instant, no matter who they’re pretending to be. My husband knows twins and occasionally we see one or the other on tv. “I don’t know which one it is,” I’ll say, because they need to be in front of me in person for me to tell them apart as there are some subtle differences. My husband will glance at the screen, they’re usually some 50+ metres away from the camera, often not looking or back towards us or whatever. But he’ll state “that’s A or B” within three seconds. He’s known them 20+ years and says they even walk differently and don’t need to be facing him for him to know which one it is. And yet Helen and Ellie’s mother accepts it in a second, which I just couldn’t buy. Attempts are made late in the book to address this but I’m not sure I found them plausible either. If that was the true motivation, I think it’s even more heinous than not being able to tell your children apart at the age of seven.

The book skips back and forth a bit in time, from when the twins are children to when they’re adults. Their lives have diverged significantly – Ellie-now-Helen is a TV presenter, married to an architect living in a beautiful home. Helen-now-Ellie suffers from significant mental illness, lives on welfare and squats in squalor. They haven’t seen each other in many years – but their mother contacts the twin now known as Ellie to inform her that Helen has been in an accident and lies in a coma. Helen’s charismatic husband visits, begging her to come and see Helen as the one thing that might possibly wake her up. Ellie is reluctant but somehow ends up in Helen’s big house, seeing what her life could’ve possibly become…..had she never come up with that idea to swap roles as children. The problem for me was that I think I needed more from Helen/Ellie’s years in their late teens/early 20s. We get snatches of Helen-now-Ellie’s life as she is the narrator but I would’ve liked more, to get a better understanding of her illness. Was it something that lurked in her all the time? Or was it something that grew and developed because of the role she’d been forced into as a child? I’m probably supposed to decide myself but I can’t get past the fact that no one except the elderly grandmother with dementia seemed able to tell that the twins had swapped. Surely a different hairstyle and different clothes doesn’t change a person completely….how did Ellie-now-Helen improve so much at school? How did Helen-now-Ellie regress so much that she could barely colour in the lines in her first day or two of being forced into the role of Ellie at school?

Beside Myself was an interesting look at nature vs nurture and I thought the writing was superb. The story of one twin’s descent into mental illness, isolation and poverty did strike a chord within me but at the same time I did find it difficult to believe that she wouldn’t have been able to prove in some way that she wasn’t original Ellie. I was very surprised when the girls’ teacher didn’t seem to notice anything untoward at all and it seemed as though everything that unfolded did so because of something I found really difficult to believe. Even simple things, like one twin being bought lovely clothes and the other one being given daggy, ugly clothes struck me as merely a plot device to ensure they looked differently rather than something that was believable. Yes original Ellie had a habit of tugging on her clothes (something that seems to stop miraculously when she becomes Helen) but why continue to buy her clothes and shoes that were so inferior to her twin’s?

I have to give it good marks for the writing but ultimately it left me with too many questions and too few answers.

6/10

Book #7 of 2016

 

2 Comments »

Author Guest Post – Sally Hepworth

Today I am delighted to welcome Australian author Sally Hepworth to the blog. Sally is the author of The Secrets of Midwives and the recently-released The Things We Keep. Today she’s sharing her thoughts on a topic that’s probably close to the hearts of all authors!

Sally Hepworth

SHOW ME THE MONEY

 

I’m just going to put it out there, because everyone else does. Ever since I got my first book contract a few years ago, the same question has hovered on people’s lips.

How much?

There are different versions of the question, of course. “So, are you able to earn a living?” is pretty standard. “How much money does an author make these days?” is another regular. And of course, for the more direct among us, there is: “How much are you getting paid?”

The question might be whispered, it might be brazen. There are those who’d never dream of asking, but not many whose ears wouldn’t prick up if the topic arose. Money. For some reason it’s simply titillating, irresistible fare.

Authors ourselves are guilty of it. At events, we dance around the topic with each other with questions like “have you got your first royalty cheque?” or “how’s it selling?” Our responses are generally maddeningly vague: It’s selling pretty well;

Yes, got my first check; Yeah, we’re getting by. A generous few might go a little further and mutter something about five or six figures, which narrows it down to somewhere in the range of $10,000 and $999,999.

Ultimately people want numbers. Cold. Hard. Numbers.

And everyone’s asking. A few months ago, my GP asked me outright how much I earned for my last book, during a breast examination. More recently, an acquaintance of my mothers charged across the shop floor of Laura Ashley, exclaiming: “is she making a fortune?” Journalists apologize and preface the question with, “I’m sorry, but I have to ask …”

Part of it, I suspect, is what I call the J.K. Rowling effect.  A lot of writers bandy about the old saying “you don’t get into writing for the money.” But I wonder. Yes, most writers know the statistics going in. We know the deal. But doesn’t everyone believe hope they’ll be that one exception to the rule? The J.K. Rowling. The E.L. James, the Stephenie Meyer. If it was them, why not me? Isn’t that possibility, that tiny incy wincy chance, part of the game? Isn’t that why we buy lottery tickets?

The sad truth is, the vast majority of writers don’t earn much. I don’t know the exact statistic these days, but it’s bound to be woeful. Woe. Ful. Want to hear about that? Me neither. I’d much rather hear about J.K. Rowling.

Look, I get it. I’d love to know how much money other people earn. Heck, if it was socially acceptable, I’d ask everyone I met. The gardener, the train driver, the man at my news agency. I’m nosy like that. The fact that we don’t talk about it, makes it exciting. And for an author, it’s even more exciting. The range is enormous. You might earn pennies. You might earn squillions. It’s the mystery that is the exciting part.

And for this reason I, of course, can’t tell you how much I earn. Still, if you’re a journalist / shopping in Laura Ashley / giving me a breast examination, by all means, ask. But you won’t get something for nothing. You show me yours and I just might show you mine.

***

Thank you Sally! I have to admit, I’m rather guilty of those thoughts myself sometimes. I see a popular book, one that’s pushed significantly or one that seems to be the ‘it’ book of the moment and think to myself hmm, I wonder how much that one ended up making? I think being a novelist is a romanticised career sometimes, especially when you read about the sensations like Rowling.

AWWC2016

You can see my review of The Secrets Of Midwives here

And The Things We Keep here

Visit Sally’s website

Follow her on twitter

Leave a comment »

Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

WidowThe Widow
Fiona Barton
Transworld Publishers (Random House UK)
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

Fiona Barton’s The Widow is a polished debut in suspense, giving us not a new story but a new spin on it. I’ve read similar things before, generally from the perspective of the jaded detective who dedicates their career to finding the one perpetrator behind a horrible crime, only to find themselves stonewalled at every turn by an accused that’s too clever or legal jargon or any other number of obstacles. In this novel although we do get that perspective it’s also split, focusing on the wife of a man accused of committing a terrible offense: the kidnap and murder of a two year old girl as well as the newspaper journalist who seeks to secure her story.

You’ve seen them before, partners of people accused of doing heinous things. They stand by them, stoic at their side while they answer questions or give a carefully prepared statement. Jean is that woman, the sort of woman that you can imagine a predator taking and moulding into what he wanted. She’s meek, doesn’t come across as particularly clever with a simple job. She keeps a nice home for Glen, her husband and so long as things go Glen’s way, their life moves on without a ripple. When things don’t go Glen’s way he turns into someone else and Jean becomes Jeanie to cope with the stress. Jeanie doesn’t ask questions. Jeanie does what her husband says, supports him totally. Jeanie doesn’t crack under police pressure either, she has her story and she sticks to it.

Fast forward and Glen is dead without ever having been convicted of the crime he was accused of. The little girl’s body has not been found and now, Jean is free. The television cameras and the reporters are hounding her day after day, desperate for her story. What does she really know? Always there has been the ever-present Glen hovering, reminding her that they don’t speak to the press. But now they sense an in and reporter Kate is the first one through the door, blithely making cups of tea and paying Jean the sort of attention she hasn’t had in years and doesn’t know how to deal with. Without doing a single things, Jean suddenly has herself an exclusive deal to tell her story…

I found myself really hooked on this story because it was obvious from the get-go that Jean knew quite a bit more than she was letting on but how much she knew and how much she was aware of knowing were the interesting questions for me. She’s painted as a very submissive wife, the sort who is utterly overrun by her husband but at the same time there are flashes….glimpses of a woman who has hidden depths, quiet means of flouting her husband’s authority.

Glen was smooth, the sort of character with an answer for every question, an alibi, a rational explanation and he was obviously a source of great frustration for the detective in charge of the case, who believed that he was the culprit but just couldn’t prove it. Couldn’t close the case for the devastated mother, couldn’t find the body of her little girl. Probably like many men before him, Glen uses his wife as part of his alibi and the dutiful Jean confirmed it over and over again under police questioning.

I found this story so interesting and horrifying as well. It makes me wonder how many times police probably know who the perpetrators are but yet they just don’t have the solid evidence they need to prove it. They know it, but can’t act on it. Makes me think of cases in Australia, like a young 3yo boy who was kidnapped over a year ago and nothing has been seen or heard of him since.

Parents of missing or kidnapped children often come under severe scrutiny from the media and the mother of the kidnapped child in this story is a young single mother on welfare. She allowed her daughter to play in the (fenced) front yard where she could supposedly be safe but it was nothing for someone to tempt her over to the fence and simply lift her over it and into a waiting car. The whole thing probably took less than ten seconds from start to finish and she finds herself criticised, lambasted for her mothering skills and not taking better care of her child. It seemed such a classic case of victim blaming, because a child should be safe in her front yard. She should be able to innocently play while her mother folds washing or god forbid has a cup of tea or even watches something on television. Parenting is hard work, especially on your own and sometimes you have to take your half hour of peace where you can. But it’s a fact that whilst a child may be safe most of the time, there will be a time when they might not be safe. When danger lurks, even though they’re just doing something they’ve done many times before. I found the intrusive presence of the media frightening in this story, the way they hounded and harassed Jean, even the way Kate manipulated and cajoled her into giving the interview, giving up pieces of her life with Glen. Jean came across as vulnerable and browbeaten and I think that journalists like to convince themselves sometimes that they’re trying to get her story for the greater good but really all they are after is the kudos for their paper and the knowledge that they succeeded where others had failed.

I really enjoyed this book – I thought it was clever, well written and although it’s not really a new story as such, it was presented in a way that made it seem very new and different. Jean was a well created character, I really did waiver on how I felt about her throughout the book many times. I liked that complication, that uncertainty in my head. I was never sure on turning the page what she was going to reveal. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Fiona Barton’s next novel.

8/10

Book #2 of 2016

1 Comment »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,901 other followers