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BOOK REVIEW: The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

Friday, November 10, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power. . . .


A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.

Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.

The first volume of the Empress of Bright Moon duology paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.


My Thoughts:

I met Weina Dai Randel when I was in the US earlier this year, attending the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland. A gorgeous cover and intriguing premise worked their usual powerful force on me, and I added her novel The Moon in the Palace to the great pile of books I had to lug home.

The story begins when a Buddhist monk predicts that a five-year-old girl named Mei would one day be the mother of emperors and reign over the kingdom of China. From that moment, Mei’s father began to plot to have his beautiful little girl brought to the attention of the Emperor. Her father’s plans are disrupted by his unexpected death, but then Mei – now twelve years old – finds herself summoned to the court as one of fifteen maidens chosen to enter the Inner Court. From this moment, her life changes drastically. Separated from her mother, she must learn to negotiate through the intrigues and dangers of the life at the palace. The Emperor has many hundreds of concubines, most of which he has never seen. If Mei wants to become his Most Adored, she must use her wit as well as her beauty … and be very careful not to fall in love with another man …

The Moon in the Palace brings the claustrophobic world of ancient China to vivid life. Exotic, dangerous, brilliantly coloured and romantic, it’s an astonishingly assured debut and a fascinating story.


For another great read set in Ancient Asia, in this case Japan, I recommend Lian Hearn's book Across the Nightingale Floor, the first in a fantastic series. It made my list of favourite books by Australian Authors. 


Remember to leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!



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: 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: A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester

Friday, August 18, 2017



The Blurb (from Goodreads):

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.

Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?

My Thoughts:

Natasha Lester is an Australian writer based in Perth, and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is her first foray into historical fiction, after two contemporary tales published by Fremantle Press.

I was irresistibly drawn to her book by its gorgeous cover and the promise of its title, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald. I love books set in the 1920s, which was such a heady period of glamour and new freedoms. And I was intrigued by the premise: the heroine, Evelyn, is determined to become an obstetrician, at a time when women were rarely permitted to study medicine. To support herself, Evelyn becomes a dancer for the Ziegfield Follies.

The book didn’t let me down. Evelyn’s story is full of drama, heartbreak and determination, and the setting of Manhattan in the early ‘20s is brought to glorious vivid life. I particularly loved the scenes when Evelyn was fighting to be allowed to study medicine – they rang really true for me. I’m keen now to read Natasha Lester’s new book, Her Mother’s Secret.

If you love historical fiction you might also like to read my review of one of my all-time favourite books, Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters.

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

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Dashing Widows' series by Anna Campbell

Thursday, April 13, 2017




The Seduction of Lord Stone – Anna Campbell

Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell

Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell

Pursuing Lord Pascal – Anna Campbell


MY THOUGHTS:

Australian author Anna Campbell is well-known for her sultry Regency romances, and these four books connect together to make a series called ‘The Dashing Widows’. Each book follows the amorous adventures of a beautiful widow and her entanglements with various rakes, dukes, and wicked uncles. The books are really just love bites – I read each one in a couple of hours – and often the action of one overlaps with the action of another. They are very sexy! Perfect holiday reading.

BOOK REVIEW: Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman

Sunday, April 09, 2017

BLURB:

The old ones will have their revenge.

Two peoples have been fighting over the same land for a thousand years. Invaders crushed the original inhabitants, and ancient powers have reluctantly given way to newer magics. But Ember was to change all this with a wedding to bind these warring people together - until her future goes up in flames.

Ember's husband-to-be is murdered by a vengeful elemental god, who sees peace as a breach of faith. Set on retribution, she enlists the help of Ash, son of a seer. Together they will pit themselves against elementals of fire and ice in a last attempt to end the conflicts that have scarred their past. They must look to the present, as old furies are waking to violence and are eager to reclaim their people.

MY THOUGHTS:

Pamela Freeman is the author of a brilliant fantasy trilogy called ‘The Castings,’ comprised of Blood Ties, Deep Water and Full Circle, which I really loved.

Ember and Ash is a stand-alone novel set in the same universe but a generation after the events of the trilogy. It begins with the wedding night of the heroine, Ember. Her husband is killed within moments of them taking their vows, by a vengeful elemental god. The tragedy re-opens old wounds and destabilises the fragile peace of the land. Ember sets out on a quest to defeat the god and save her people, accompanied by one of her kin, Ash, the son of a seer. Their journey will test them to their limits, and help remake their world forever.

It was wonderful to return to the world of ‘The Castings’, where every new-born child is named for the first thing the mother sees after the baby is born. One of the things I love about Pamela’s writing is the way the stories of minor characters are given unexpected weight, so that everyone’s lives have meaning. She is also courageous enough to give us an unexpected ending which nonetheless rings true with the world she has created. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements

Monday, March 27, 2017



BLURB:


1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world Katherine Ferrars knows is crumbling under Cromwell's army, and as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to do her duty and marry for the sake of family.


But as her marriage turns into a prison, and her fortune is decimated by the war, Kate becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets the enigmatic Ralph Chaplin, she seizes the chance he offers. Their plan is daring and brutal, but it's an escape from poverty and the shackles of convention. They both know if they're caught, there's only one way it can end..


MY THOUGHTS:


I absolutely loved Katherine Clements’s debut novel The Crimson Ribbon which was inspired by the true-life story of Elizabeth Poole, a mystic and writer during the English Civil War who became famous for her boldness and vision (she told Oliver Cromwell not to execute the king, for example).


It was one of my Best Books of 2013, and so I was excited to hear Katherine Clements had published a new book, also set during the English Civil War.


The Silvered Heart tells the story of Lady Katherine Ferrars, an impoverished noblewoman-turned-highwaywoman. The book begins when she is only thirteen, and is travelling to her wedding with the son of another aristocratic family. The Cavaliers and the Roundheads are at war, though, and so the roads are dangerous. Her carriage is held up by highwaymen, and young Kate barely escapes with her life. The events of that day foreshadow what will happen to her later, as she struggles to survive the imploding of her world. 


I have always loved books set during the English Civil War and never understood why it has not become as popular a period as Tudor or Elizabethan times. It has everything. Bloody battles, betrayals, executions, kings-in-hiding, star-crossed lovers, spies, witch-hunts, highwaymen and, of course, the legend of the Wicked Lady - a woman who tried to shape her own fate by taking to the roads. The character of Lady Katherine Ferrars is fascinating. She’s headstrong, impetuous, romantic and, at times, both selfish and unkind. This makes her seem so real – she just gallops off the page. 


The Silvered Heart is an exciting and engaging mix of drama, romance, and history – I really loved it and hope Katherine Clements is writing another book. 

BOOK REVIEW: Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, February 15, 2017



BLURB:


Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.


Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies...


Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone..


MY THOUGHTS:


The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. It draws together the familiar narrative strands of Blackthorn’s quest for justice and her fear of drawing too close to anyone with the situation of a young woman who does not seem to fit into her world. Blackthorn is a wise woman who has suffered terribly in the past, and Grim is her huge but gentle sidekick who worships the ground she walks on. Their story began with Dreamer’s Pool and Tower of Thorns, which you must read first, and, as always with Juliet Marillier, is a wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. I’ve really loved this series, and am sad that there will not be any more stories about the damaged healer and her taciturn giant of a companion. I’m only comforted by the knowledge that Juliet Marillier is working on a new project. I can only hope we are not kept waiting too long!



BOOK REVIEW: The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie

Saturday, February 11, 2017



BLURB:


Fiercely independent Daisy Chance has a dream—and it doesn’t involve marriage or babies (or being under any man’s thumb). Raised in poverty, she has a passion—and a talent—for making beautiful clothes. Daisy aims to become the finest dressmaker in London.

 

Dashing Irishman Patrick Flynn is wealthy and ambitious, and has entered society to find an aristocratic bride. Instead, he finds himself growing increasingly attracted to the headstrong, clever and outspoken Daisy. She’s wrong in every way—except the way she sets his heart racing.

 

However, when Flynn proposes marriage, Daisy refuses. She won't give up her hard-won independence. Besides, she doesn't want to join the fine ladies of society—she wants to dress them. She might, however, consider becoming Flynn's secret mistress. . .

 

But Flynn wants a wife, not a mistress, and when Flynn sets his heart on something, nothing can stand in his way. . 



MY THOUGHTS:


I’ve been eagerly awaiting the last book in Anne Gracie’s ‘Chance Sisters’ quartet, and now I’m all sad that the series is over. All four books have been delightful, full of wit and romance and poignancy, with each of the four young women so distinctly different in their personalities and each travelling a very different route towards happiness. 


If you love sparkling Regency romances, Anne Gracie is a must-read! Start with The Autumn Bride, which introduces the characters and situation, and then read them in order. 



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