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BOOK REVIEW: Two Steps Forward by Anne Bruist and Graeme Simsion

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past—for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.

Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago, in northwestern Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino—the Way—for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself.

But can these two very different people find each other?

In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal—physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover.


My Thoughts:

A charming romantic comedy set on the Camino Trail, Two Steps Forward is told in alternating chapters between the voices of Martin, an engineer from Yorkshire, and Zoe, an artist from California. Both are struggling with hurt and bereavement in their lives. Martin is in the midst of a messy divorce, and trying to rebuild his relationship with his teenage daughter. Zoe’s husband has recently died, leaving her exhausted in mind and body, and not sure how to go on in her life alone.

The couple first meet in Cluny, France, and each decide independently to walk the ancient pilgrims’ way to Santiago in north-western Spain. Their paths cross and part and cross again, along with those of various eccentric and sometimes exasperating minor characters. The tone is light and amusing, with running jokes about Zoe’s difficulty in eating vegan food in a country that adores its food, and Martin’s struggle to learn to take advice. Along the way, however, deeper issues emerge. Each must learn a few lessons about life and their own inner demons before they are ready to embrace a relationship together. Their story is told in alternating chapters by this husband-and-wife writing team, with Graeme Simsion writing in the voice of mechanically-minded Martin, and Anne Bruist writing from the point-of-view of zany Zoe. This is the sort of book that you can easily imagine being filmed, with strong set pieces, gorgeous scenery, and lots of heart and humour.

You might be interested to read my post about books I read during 2013, the year that Graeme Simsion's book The Rosie Project was released.

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


BOOK REVIEW: The Pearler’s Wife by Roxane Dhand

Friday, February 16, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads)

The year is 1912. Nineteen-year-old Maisie Porter watches from the deck as England fades from view. Her destination is Buccaneer Bay in Australia’s far north-west. Her fate: marriage to distant cousin Maitland Sinclair, a man she has never met.

When Maisie arrives in her new home, she finds a stifling small town bound by Victorian morals. Shocked at her new husband’s callous behaviour towards her, she is increasingly drawn to the intriguing William Cooper, a British diver she met on board ship. It soon becomes clear that secrets surround her husband, as turbulent as the waters that crash against the bay. Secrets that somehow link to her own family – and secrets that put Cooper and his fellow British divers in great danger…

From the drawing rooms of London to the latticed verandas and gambling dens of Buccaneer Bay, The Pearler’s Wife is a sweeping, epic read, inspired by a lost moment in history.


My Thoughts:

An assured debut by author Roxane Dhand, The Pearler’s Wife is a sweeping romance set in a little-known corner of Australian history, the pearling industry in the far north of Western Australia. The heroine, nineteen-year-old Maisie, is sent to Australia from England to marry a man she has never met. Her new home is called Buccaneer Bay, which sounds like something out of a pirate novel but is in fact a real place (the Buccaneer Archipelago was named after the English buccaneer and privateer William Dampier, who charted the area in 1688).

Maisie’s new husband is a cruel and ruthless man who treats his employees with reckless disregard. Lonely and bored, Maisie finds herself drawn to a British diver named William Cooper. The sensual tension between them, and the slow realisation of dangerous secrets hidden by her husband, add slow-burning suspense to the narrative. The claustrophobic setting of a small pearling town in 1912 is superbly evoked, and the story is full of action, drama and romance, making it perfect escape reading for a long, hot summer.

For another wonderful historical novel, also set in Western Australia, check out my review of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.

Remember to leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

Friday, December 29, 2017



The Blurb (from Goodreads):


DETERMINED LADY

Tough-minded Jessica Trent's sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And when Dain's reciprocal passion places them in a scandalously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction...

LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

Damn the minx for tempting him, kissing him... and then forcing him to salvage her reputation! Lord Dain can't wait to put the infuriating bluestocking in her place—and in some amorous position, And if that means marriage, so be it!—Though Sebastian is less than certain he can continue to remain aloof... and steel his heart to the sensuous, headstrong lady's considerable charms.


My Thoughts:

Struck down by bronchitis this month and looking for a heart-warming Regency romance to read, my friend Anna Campbell suggested Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. ‘It’s sometimes called the best Regency romance ever written,’ she told me. Well, that was good enough for me. I ordered it and, as soon as it arrived, sank back into my welter of pillows and began to read.

Now, I would never have bought this book from the back-cover blurb. It begins:
‘Sebastian Baillister, the notorious Marquess of Dain, is big, bad and dangerous to know. No respectable woman would have anything to do with the “Bane and the Blight of the Ballisters” – and he wants nothing to do with respectable women. He’s determined to continue doing what he does best – sin and sin again – and all that’s going swimmingly, thank you … until the day a shop door opens and she walks in …’

The thing is, I really hate alpha males. They are always rude, overbearing, patronising and sexually aggressive. I hate them in real life and I hate them in fiction. I’ve been having trouble reading much romance or young-adult fantasy lately because of the ubiquity of the alpha male. Give me a kind and clever man over these ruddy brutes anytime!

But there I was, trapped in my sickbed, desperate for some light-hearted diversion, and so I opened the book and read the first page. It was a letter from the author, addressed to ‘Dear Reader’, and it said, ‘as many of you know, we authors can be fragile creatures. Pale and wan, we toil in our garrets, talking to people who don’t exist. Our tender egos hoard the snippets of praise that come our way from time to time, saving them to get us through a Really Bad Writing Day …’

I laughed out loud. Pale and wan I was indeed, and much prone to talking to people who don’t exist. And, yes indeedy, a snippet of praise is sometimes all that gets us through.

And so I read the book. And I laughed out loud quite a few more times, and once or twice towards the end I had a lump in my throat too.

I don’t need to paraphrase the plot for you. Big bad beast of a hero meets clever unconventional heroine and, despite himself, falls in love.

It is all done with a deft, light hand, however, and a great deal of humour. And, most interestingly, it made me understand why so many women love a romance with a big, bad beast of a hero. The thing is, Loretta Chase shows us the hurt and pain behind this seemingly hard and confident man, and then she shows us how he is saved by the steadfast love of a good woman. Now the feminist in me has always both scorned and feared this particular cultural myth – how many women have found themselves trapped in abusive relationships because they hope the man can change?

Yet I do believe that people can grow and change, and that love has transformative power. I think it is important for us to believe in the possibility of love to change the world.

Because so much of the story dwelt on Sebastian’s back story, and the unkindness and lovelessness that made him the man he was, you can’t help cheering Jessica on and admiring her for never giving up till she has finally cracked his hard outer shell.

If you are someone who steers clear of romances because you cannot bear the breathless banality of the language, then you may need to skip some scenes (for example: “She never had to think, only let herself be swept endlessly round the ballroom while her body tingled with the consciousness of him and only him: the broad shoulder under her hand … the massive, muscular frame inches from her own … the tantalizing scent of smoke and cologne and Male …’ And yes, ‘Male’ was capitalised in the text.)

However, if you can forgive Loretta Chase those passages of purple prose, you will be rewarded with a love story full of heart, humour and that essential touch of poignancy that can make the romance genre such a rewarding read. Particularly when you are sick.

You might also enjoy my reviews of Charity Girl and Sylvester, by the Queen of Regency Romances, Georgette Heyer.

Please leave a comment - what are your favourite Regency Romances?

BOOK REVIEW: Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout

Saturday, December 09, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads)

What really happened at the chateau?

When Charlotte regains consciousness after an accident, she finds herself living a stranger’s life. The previous five years are a blank, and her husband, Henri, and daughter, Ada, are strangers. Arriving at their family chateau in southern France, she hopes to regain her memories. Instead she feels isolated and unsettled. Strange events hint at underlying darkness and menace. Charlotte doesn’t know who to trust.

Did she really have an affair with their charming Irish neighbour, as her enigmatic mother-in-law suggests? And what of Henri? He seems loving and kind, a good parent, but Charlotte is wary. Then there is Ada, a little girl who just wants her mother back.

With the help of her friend and fellow Australian Susannah, Charlotte starts to piece together events, but her newfound confidence is shaken with news that puts a deadline on her quest…

Le Chateau is a suspenseful gothic tale that will appeal to readers of Daphne du Maurier and Kate Morton.



My Thoughts:

Le Chateau is a romantic and suspenseful mystery set in a chateau in France, and so it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Sarah Ridout is an Australian author who has a Masters in Creative Writing from University College Dublin, and spent eight years living in southern France. The novel is rich in sensory detail about the French countryside, food and local customs, all of which I loved.

The protagonist of the book is a young Australian woman named Charlotte who is married to a Frenchman. She does not, however, remember him. Or their daughter, Ada. Or, indeed, any detail of her life in the past five years. An accident has robbed her of her memory, and now she must return to living at his family’s chateau and picking up the threads of a life she cannot remember. Strange menacing events frighten and unsettle her, and Charlotte does not know who to trust. Physically weak, emotionally fragile, she must try to find out the truth of what happened to her, before more harm is done.

The story reminded me of the Gothic romances by authors like Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart that I devoured as a teenager. A house full of secrets, a brooding atmosphere of darkness and danger, the exotic setting of a chateau in the sun-drenched south of France, eerie hints of some kind of supernatural threat, and a fast-paced suspenseful plot all add up to a real page-turner. I must admit I guessed the villain early on in the narrative, and so I would have loved a real humdinger of a plot twist at the end. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it hugely.

If you enjoy romantic mysteries, you might also enjoy The Lakehouse by Kate Morton. 

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

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.


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