Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me

FacebookPinterestTwitter

Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

BOOK REVIEW: Beneath the Parisian Skies - Alli Sinclair

Friday, October 27, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Lily Johansson returns to Paris, the city that broke her heart and destroyed her ballet career, hoping to ease the guilt over her fiance's death and to make amends with her estranged sister Natalie, a ballerina with the Boheme Ballet.

 
Terrified of loving again, Lily nevertheless finds herself becoming entangled with the driven composer Yves Rousseau. Lily has many reasons for keeping Yves at arm's length but as he recounts the colour, drama and intensity of the Ballets Russes in 1917, the magic of this Bohemian era ignites a spark within her.

Meanwhile, cast in the role of honouring Ballet Russes dancer Viktoriya Budian, Lily's sister Natalie develops an unhealthy obsessio
n. Natalie's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as elements of Viktoriya's tragic life resonate in her own. Lily fears for her sister's safety and sanity so when Natalie goes missing, she and Yves set out on a desperate quest across France to find her and, along the way, battle their own demons.

Could the search for her sister, lead Lily to realise that ballet -- like love and life -- should not be abandoned so easily?

My Thoughts:

A sweet, heart-warming romance set in the dreamy world of ballet in Paris. The narrative is split between the present-day story of Lily Johansson, who lost both her fiancé and her dancing career there a few years previously, and that of Viktoriya Budian, a ballerina who has escaped the Russian Revolution and is hoping to build a new life for herself in the City of Lights. I am both a balletomane and a Francophile, and so I really enjoyed the setting and dance scenes. Of the two narrative threads, the historical story worked bet
ter for me, as is often the case – perhaps because it was had greater drama and suspense.

If you're after more historical romances set in France, check out the marvellous book The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.


BOOK REVIEW: The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

Wednesday, October 25, 2017





The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A contemporary romance inspired by Christina Rossetti's eerie, sensual poem, "Goblin Market." Four neighbors encounter sinister enchantments and a magical path to love in a small, modern-day Puget Sound town, where a fae realm hides in the woods and waters...


Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic K
it would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

My Thoughts:

The Goblins of Bellwater is a contemporary paranormal romance set in the USA, and so it not at all my usual kind of book. However, the author Molly Ringle was inspired by Christina Rossetti's famous poem ‘Goblin Market’, which is one of my all-time favourite poems; and her twitter feed is full of gorgeous pictures of forests and flowers and folklore; and the cover was just gorgeous. So I thought I’d stretch my reading boundaries and give it a go.

The story is set in Puget Sound, Washington, a place of moss-hung forests and stretches of still water drifting with mist. Unknown to most, the forest is home to creatures of the fae, some of them benevolent, but most not – the goblins of the book’s title.

Local mechanic Kit must steal gold to give to the goblins to keep them from doing harm. One day he fails to bring enough, and so the goblins curse a young woman wandering nearby. Her name is Skye, and she finds herself unable to speak of what has happened to her. Her older sister Livy cannot understand why her usually happy and talkative sister has become so silent and morose. Feeling alone and unsure, she reaches out to Kit and a tentative romance develops. Meanwhile, Skye – desperate for help – draws Kit’s cousin Grady into the spell. The two love affairs develop side-by-side while Livy continues to try and work out what is wrong with Skye
- not knowing that her hot new boyfriend is actually a kind of liaison officer with the goblin world and it is his failure to feed the goblins’ greed that has caused the harm in the first place. This, of course, causes emotional problems when she finds out, while Skye and Grady gradually begin to lose their humanity and take on aspects of the ugly and malicious goblins who cursed them. Eventually Livy must find the strength within her to break the spell, and free Skye, Kit and Grady from their entanglements in the goblin world.

The novel has some of the eerie sensuality of Christina Rossetti’s poem, and the setting is wonderfully conjured – it made me want to go to the Puget Sound and see it for myself. I also really liked the character of Livy, who was so kind and loving and deeply concerned with trying to save the natural world. It’s unusual to see the relationship between sisters at the heart of a paranormal romance, and this freshness helped The Goblins of Bellwater from being too platitudinous. It hasn’t converted me to being a fan of the genre, but anyone who likes their fantasy sexy, fast-paced and contemporary will love it.

If you like the sound of The Goblins of Bellwater, you might also like A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Friday, October 20, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads)

From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country.

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shat
tered by oppression and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Kostova's new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.

My Thoughts:

Elizabeth Kostova is best known as the author of The Historian which was a huge bestseller in 2005, riding the tsunami of vampire craziness. Elizabeth Kostova’s book was dark, complex, intelligent, and filled with the true history of vampiric lore. I loved it. I also loved her second novel, The Swan Thieves, about art, love and madness. So I was really thrilled when I was asked to do an event with Elizabeth during her Australian tour in July.

She was here to promote her third book, The Shadow Land, which moves fluidly between the past and the present in Bulgaria. The story begins when a young American woman – newly arrived in the capital city of Sofia – accidentally finds herself in possession of someone else’s bag. Inside the bag is an urn filled with human ashes.

Distraught at the discovery, Alexandra tries to find the original owner but the only clue she has is the name engraved on the urn – Stoyan Lazarov. In her quest to identify him, she finds herself in ever increasing danger.

The sections set in the past are told from numerous points-of-view but circle ever closer to the life and death of Stoyan Lazarov, a musician who sees something he should not have seen during the years of the communist regime.

Heart-breaking, evocative, and suspenseful, The Shadow Land explores a little-known and tragic part of European history in beautiful, restrained writing that brought me to tears several times.

For another great historical read set in Europe, check out my review of Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

My Thoughts:

One hundred years ago, two girls went down to the stream at the bottom of their garden in the village of Cottingley in Yorkshire, and took some photographs of fairies. Elsie Wright (aged 16) and Frances Griffiths (aged 10) were cousins, and each took turns in being photographed. They developed the photos, and showed them to Elsie’s father who had mocked them for believing in fairies. Elsie’s mother showed the photos at a meeting of the Theosophical Society, and eventually they came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who championed the two girls and their photos as evidence of supernatural phenomena. The two girls maintained the truth of their photographs all through the ensuing media storm but eventually confessed - when in their 80s – that the fairies had been drawn on paper and carefully cut out and stuck on hat-pins. All except one, Frances said. One of the photographs was real.

Hazel Gaynor brings the mystery of the Cottingley Fairies thrillingly to life in a gorgeously written narrative that moves seamlessly between Yorkshire in the 19th century - a time when Conan Doyle and other men of science wanted desperately to believe in the possibility of fairies and ghosts and spirits - and Ireland in the 21st century. A mystery, a love story, and an enchanting and surprising journey of self-discovery, 'The Cottingley Secret' unwraps the true story behind one of the great hoaxes of the 19th century while still allowing the possibility of the magical.



Read my 2015 interview with Hazel Gaynor here.

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Marry in Haste by Anne Gracie

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

From the award-winning author of The Summer Bride comes the first in a charming new historical romance series where marriages of convenience turn into true love matches.

Major Calbourne Rutherford returns to England on the trail of an assassin, only to find he’s become Lord Ashendon, with the responsibility for vast estates and dependent relatives. Cal can command the toughest of men, but his wild half-sisters are quite another matter. They might just be his undoing.

When he discovers that Miss Emmaline Westwood, the girls’ former teacher, guides them with ease, Cal offers her a marriage of convenience. But strong-minded and independent Emm is neither as compliant nor as proper as he expected, and Cal finds himself most inconveniently seduced by his convenient wife.

Emm knows they didn’t marry for love, yet beneath her husband’s austere facade, she catches glimpses of a man who takes her breath away. As pride, duty and passion clash, will these two stubborn hearts find more than they ever dreamed of?

My Thoughts:


A light-hearted Regency romance by Australian author Anne Gracie, Marry In Haste is the story of a British soldier-turned-spy who unexpectedly finds himself hampered with a title, a vast estate, numerous aged retainers and a handful of wilful half-sisters who never do what they are told. Floundering helplessly, he turns to their former school teacher for help. But Miss Emmaline Westwood has her own dreams, and turning governess is not one of them. Life has other plans for her, however, and soon the mismatched couple are marrying for convenience’s sake, much to the disapproval of his irascible Aunt Agatha, who must always have the last word.

Anne Gracie’s Regency romances are always a delight, filled with vivid likeable characters, laugh-out-loud situations, and sparkling dialogue.




You might also enjoy my interview with Anne Gracie which you can read here.

Are you also an Anne Gracie fan? Please leave a comment, I love to read your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Now a major motion picture starring Eddie Redmayne and directed by Tom Hooper, THE DANISH GIRL is a shockingly original novel about one of the most unusual and passionate love stories of the 20th century.

Loosely inspired by a true story, this tender portrait of marriage asks: What do you do when the person you love has to change?

It starts with a question, a simple favour asked by a wife of her husband while both are painting in their studio, setting off a transformation neither can anticipate. Uniting fact and fiction into an original romantic vision, The Danish Girl eloquently portrays the unique intimacy that defines every marriage and the remarkable story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between loyalty to her marriage and her own ambitions and desires.

The Danish Girl is an evocative and deeply moving novel about one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the 20th century.

My Thoughts:

Inspired by the tragic true-life story of Einar Wegener, one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, The Danish Girl has since been made into a hit movie starring Eddie Redmayne. I haven’t seen the movie but it certainly brought the book to my attention.

Then I heard David Ebershoff speak at the Historical Novel Society conference in the US, and I was so entranced I rushed off to buy the book straight away and have it autographed.

It’s a simple yet fascinating story. Einer Wegener was a Danish landscape painter, married to another artist, Greta, who painted enormous portraits of famous people. One day Greta’s model – a ballerina – failed to turn up and she asked her husband to model for her instead. Einar had to pull on a pair of silk stockings and hold a tutu against him. It awoke something in him. Einer began to dress as Lili, identifying more strongly with her every day. Eventually she underwent a series of surgeries, eventually dying of an infection after a botched attempt to transplant a uterus.

David Ebershoff has taken numerous liberties with the story, making Greta Wegener an American heiress when she was in fact Gerda Gottlieb and Danish. I believe this was to make the story more appealing to an American audience, but I would have preferred more historical accuracy. That detail aside, the novel is written with great sensitivity and tenderness, and Greta’s struggle to understand Lili is at the core of the novel. A really fascinating and heart-breaking story.



For another great read that's about to be turned in to a movie, check out my review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Remember to leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

From the author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy comes the story of a friendship between two girls set in Victorian England, with magical machines, wizards, witches, a mysterious underworld, and a race against time.

Annabel Grey is primed for a proper life as a young lady in Victorian England. But when her mother suddenly disappears, she’s put in the care of two eccentric aunts who thrust her into a decidedly un-ladylike life, full of potions and flying broomsticks and wizards who eat nothing but crackers. Magic, indeed! Who ever heard of such a thing?

Before Annabel can assess the most ladylike way to respond to her current predicament, she is swept up in an urgent quest. Annabel is pitted against another young witch, Kitty, to rescue the sacred Moreover Wand from the dangerous underworld that exists beneath London. The two girls outsmart trolls, find passage through a wall of faerie bones, and narrowly escape a dragon, but it doesn’t take long for Annabel to see that the most dangerous part of her journey is her decision to trust this wild, magical girl.

Sparkling with Karen Foxlee’s enchanting writing, this is a bewitching tale of one important wand and two most magical girls.

My Thoughts:


I’m a big fan of Karen Foxlee and always buy her books as soon as they come on my radar. A Most Magical Girl is a delightful, whimsical tale of a very ordinary girl named Annabel Grey who is sent to stay with two eccentric old aunts when her mother disappears. To her dismay, Annabel realises her aunts are witches and that she is the heir to their magic. Meanwhile, a wicked man named Angel is sucking out the power of sad things – such as flowers stolen from a new grave or the bonnets of long-dead babies – to feed his Dark-Magic Extracting Machine. He plans to take over the world and only Annabel can stop him. She needs help, however, which as always comes from the most unlikely people …

An enchanting story, told with simple lyrical writing, and just enough wild magic to keep it fresh and surprising, A Most Magical Girl is just the kind of book I would have loved when I was eleven.




Want more Karen Foxlee? Here is my interview with her from 2014.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Alice Network by Alice Quinn

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.

My Thoughts:


The Alice Network
is one of the best books I’ve read this year. An utterly enthralling tale of love, courage, resistance and redemption, it begins in 1947 with the story of Charlie St Clair, who has been taken out of college because she is pregnant and does not know who the father is. Taken to Europe by her mother ‘to take care of the problem’, Charlie rebels. All she wants to do is try and track down her cousin, Rose, who went missing in Nazi-occupied France during the war. Charlie has only a few clues, but one of them leads her to the house of Eva Gardiner, a scarred and dangerous drunkard.

Eva then begins to tell her story. In 1915, she is a brilliant young woman hampered by a profound stutter that leads most people to think she is stupid. Fluent in both German and French, Eva is recruited as a spy for the British and sent into Occupied France to work for the Alice Network, an underground resistance group run by Lili, an audacious young woman with the codename of ‘Alice’. Cool-headed, smooth-faced Eva is a natural, and begins to acquire useful information as she works as a waitress in a restaurant frequented by the top-brass German officers, who do not realise she speaks their language. Despite all her care, Eva catches the attention of the restaurant owner, a suave, sophisticated – and deadly – French collaborator named René.

The novel moves fluidly back and forth between the two historical periods, the suspense building as Charlie’s search for her cousin becomes entwined with Eva’s search for René, a man she had thought was dead. I just could not put this book down and found myself reading it when I had a million other things to do. I particularly loved the depiction of Eva’s struggle with her stutter, as this has been a lifelong fight for me also. Stutterers are rarely given heroic status in fiction or film, and indeed often appear only for comic purposes. It’s really refreshing to see someone with a speech impediment portrayed as clever, quick-witted and incisive. A stumbling tongue does not mean a fumbling brain.

The Alice Network was the first of Alice Quinn’s books I’ve read, but it will not be the last. I’m hunting down all her other books as we speak!



If you're interested in history, you may also enjoy reading my review of A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart, another great read set in WWI.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Returning to her hometown of Fjallbacka after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice-cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life.

Erica conceives a book about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their own shared past. While her interest grows into an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about a small town with a deeply disturbing past.

My Thoughts:

I haven’t really been swept up into the craze for Nordic-noir (ie hard-boiled contemporary crime set in Finland or Norway or Denmark), but I do love a good atmospheric mystery and so I grabbed The Ice Princess on my e-reader when I saw it on sale.

First published in Sweden in 2003 and translated into English in 2007, The Ice Princess is Camilla Lackberg’s first novel and is the beginning of a series set in the small fishing village of Fjallbacka, which has since been made into a hugely popular television drama in Sweden. Camilla Lackberg is Sweden’s top-selling author, with sales of more than 20 million books in 60 countries.

The story begins when the writer Erica Falck is one of the first people to find the body of a woman frozen in a bath. The corpse is one of her childhood friends, Alexandra Wijkner, and at first it seems as if she had slashed her own wrists. However, there are a few unexplained mysteries about her death and Erica begins to hunt for the truth. Meanwhile, another old friend – local detective Patrik Hedstrom – has his own suspicions. When the two join forces, they uncover a long-hidden secret that will have tragic ramifications for the whole town.

The great strengths of this novel are the depths of characterisation, unusual for a murder mystery, and the ice-bound setting which adds so much tension and atmosphere. The book is not a thriller by any means; its suspense builds slowly but surely, and the growing relationship between Erica and Patrik adds warmth and charm. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next in the series.



If you would like to read more books about 'dark happenings in cold places', please take a look at my review of Hannah Kent's wonderful novel, The Good People.

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive


Blogs I Follow