BOOK REVIEW: PAMELA HART – A LETTER FROM ITALY

 

A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226447

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

BOOK REVIEW: PETER POLITES – DOWN THE HUME

 

When we think of an “Australian story” the ones that typically spring to mind are predominantly about the country, bush or the past. So what is a reader to do when they want something that reflects their own modern life in the Western suburbs of Sydney? Thankfully, Peter Polites has answered this in his debut novel, Down The Hume, one that seems like a likely successor to Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded.

Polites is the associate director of SWEATSHOP, a literary movement based in Western Sydney which is devoted to empowering marginalised communities. Polites was also a co-writer of the Sydney Festival show, Home Country, an epic story about culture and identity that was performed in a Blacktown carpark. When we consider Polites’ previous work it is unsurprising that he also brings his experiences as a young, homosexual man of Greek descent to his debut novel. The book’s main character Bux also has these same character traits, but Bux also loves a violent, abusive drug-enabler and gym-obsessed man named Nice Arms Pete.

Down The Hume is a little like a car speeding at full force along our nation’s famous highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The book is a complex one that negotiates important topics like machismo, hedonism and a deep sense of existential yearning. The text itself is also quite raw and confrontational. The story is told in the first person and you very much get the sense that you are along in the passenger seat for the ride with Bux, come what may.

We follow Bux through addiction to prescription medication, as well as some tender moments where he bonds with his mother (another person who had a “vanishing” and abusive man in her life) and a friendship with an elderly gentleman who he cares for at his nursing home job. Bux is a paranoid and jealous lover who takes to stalking his boyfriend Pete, whom he suspects of cheating.

Each of the chapters of the book are named after places in Sydney and sometimes these moments read like little vignettes or discrete episodes; Bux grapples with the implications and ideas of culture and identity as a man of Greek descent wearing an outfit typically worn by Middle Eastern men. In another moment he has to reconcile his position as a homosexual man with the weight of familial expectations on his head (in one flashback his family had assumed that he’d want to settle down with a nice girl and have a family.)

Down The Hume is a dark noir story. It uses sharp, street-wise language to create a multifaceted tale that reads like urban poetry. Peter Polites is ultimately a refreshing new voice in contemporary literature and his dynamic prose proves that there is so much more to Australian stories than the expected bush gangs, convicts and farms of yore.

Originally published on 13 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-peter-polites-down-the-hume-shakes-our-expectations-about-australian-stories/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: J.C. GREY – LOST GIRL

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Lost Girl is like a gift wrapped up in an enigma, topped off by a riddle. The novel is a wistful romance by J.C. Grey. It is a first person narrative where the titular character is the narrator. What ensues is a dark and mysterious novel filled with love, loss and heartbreak.

To outsiders, Emerald Reed-McAllister has it all. She’s the “it” girl around town. A successful model and stylist, she’s nabbed herself an adoring and clever husband in the form of a sexy man named Marc McAllister. But all is not as it seems. Em is the kind of girl who runs away from her problems and they don’t get much bigger than the one she suddenly finds herself in the middle of.

So Em seeks sanctuary in the form of a strange, old house named Lammermoor. This building has had a chequered history to say the least. Some of its previous inhabitants have been subjected to unfortunate accidents or other inexplicable things. The locals are scared and convinced that the place is haunted. Em is encouraged to leave but she wants to fix the place up and remains steadfast in her plans.

Over the course of the novel we learn more about the house as well as Em’s own history and the nature of her relationship with Marc and his family. The prose is well-written and nicely-paced and overall it is a rather clever, romantic mystery. The beginning is a bit of a slow burn as things are put into place and the alternating timelines can jar a little bit but if you can see past these things you will be rewarded with an intriguing and extraordinary novel. This book is so much more than your average love story, it’s ultimately a mysterious and atmospheric look at the past and it proves that some relationships are in fact, built to last.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-lost-girl#comment-286418

BOOK REVIEW: DAVID M. BARNETT – CALLING MAJOR TOM

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Major Tom may have been a junkie in David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” but in David M. Barnett’s book he’s just grumpy, old curmudgeon. The book is the first humorous one to be written by Barnett, an English journalist and author of the Gideon Smith series. Calling Major Tom is a fantastic book, a heart-warming and funny read with a fabulous premise and a cast of interesting characters and it’s also one that would appeal to fans of Ben Elton and Graeme Simsion.

The story requires some large suspensions of disbelief. These are namely that an unlikely, anti-social astronaut by the name of Thomas Major would a) mistakenly telephone a dysfunctional family from Wigan in Manchester and b) continue to interact with them on subsequent calls as he continues his voyage to Mars. If the reader can get past this then they are in for an excellent kind of space oddity.

Barnett does a superb job with his character development. He tells the back story of Thomas Major through a series of flashbacks where we learn about a number of the tragedies the star endured. These events helped shape Tom into the difficult and unlikely astronaut for the British Space Agency he ultimately would become. Originally the role of astronaut on the first solo mission to Mars to set up colonies was to go to another man but after he dies Tom seizes the opportunity to leave earth forever. The press love that Tom is in the role because it is shortly after the death of David Bowie and they love the idea that another “Major Tom” is floating in a tin can in space.

The other characters in this book are the Ormerod family. They are led by Grandma Gladys who is fiercely loyal about protecting her grandchildren but unfortunately also seems to be suffering from dementia. The latter individuals include Ellie, a strong young woman who is trying to keep her family together after her mother died and her father was sent to prison. There is also the young and clever James who is bullied by some young thugs at school. The Ormerod family manage to forge a connection with Major Tom and they make him realise how much more the earth has to offer him.

Calling Major Tom is an uplifting and unique book about friendships, memories and sadness. It finds the right balance between light comedy and heartfelt sentiment while also containing a swag bag of pop culture references. David M. Barnett’s book Calling Major Tom could be an early contender for best novel of 2017 because it proves that there is so much more to life on Mars.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29547280-calling-major-tom

BOOK REVIEW: BEATRICE COLIN – TO CAPTURE WHAT WE CANNOT KEEP

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If you’re looking for a wonderful romance novel to consume on Valentine’s Day then To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a worthy candidate. This historic fiction book by Beatrice Colin is a good, old-fashioned love story set in the 19th century in Paris after building has commenced on the Eiffel Tower. Some of the real-life characters star in this novel and at the end of the day it’s the kind of tale that makes you realise why Paris is considered the city of love.

The story’s main character is the complex but likeable, Caitriona Wallace. She’s a young and mostly smart widow from Scotland. Her husband succumbed to an untimely death so in order to make ends meet she agrees to chaperone two annoying, little rich kids to Paris. Nice work if you can get it!

Catriona’s charges are the disorganised, lazy and privileged lady’s man, Jaime and his flighty younger sister, Alice. The latter is silly and quite often obsessed with appearances and keeping up with the Jones’s. There are quite a few occasions where Alice feels like she could be considered Lydia Bennett’s (Pride & Prejudice) Scottish clone. The similarities to Austen’s novel do not end there, as Colin’s work is also a multi-faceted one where love, revenge, lies, society and manners are all deftly-tackled, albeit in a historic setting.

This story looks at the burgeoning romance between the low-class, Caitriona and Emile Nouguier, a Frenchman who is an engineer working on the Eiffel Tower and a member of high society. The two have to keep their courtship a secret due to their marked differences in social standing. There is also pressure from Nouguier’s elderly mother because she wants her son to be betrothed to the “right girl.” These ingredients make for a beautifully-written slice of sexy escapism where rules are broken almost as often as they’re followed.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a novel that’s as vibrant, charming and atmospheric as the city of Paris itself. It also shares a few things in common with great romance stories by Austen or more recently Natasha Lester’s A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald. To Capture What We Cannot Keep is an absolute treat, an evocative and easy read where you can sit back, relax and enjoy the warm embrace of a sumptuous historic drama and a beguiling romance that is tres magnifique.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-to-capture-what-we-cannot-keep

BOOK REVIEW: NADIA MARKS – AMONG THE LEMON TREES

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Love is a wonderful thing. We all want to experience it. Many musicians, artists and writers have used it as inspiration, but it was perhaps Darren Hanlon who put it best when he sang, “Love is just a lazy generalisation that we use for a hundred different feelings and as many situations.” Journalist and author, Nadia Marks knows a lot about this kind of love, as she proves in her debut novel for adults, Among the Lemon Trees. She says that the Greeks have no fewer than four different types of love: Agápe is the big love, storgé the tender other love, philia friendship, and éros sexual love.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201701/218733

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

BOOK REVIEW: ARMANDO LUCAS CORREA – THE GERMAN GIRL

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The German Girl is about a little-known event from World War II but it’s an important story nonetheless. The book is the debut novel from journalist, Armando Lucas Correa. It is also a fictional re-telling of the transatlantic passage of the St Louis ship that travelled from Hamburg to Cuba in 1939. It’s a story that remains relevant today as we need to consider the plight of refugees throughout the world.

This story alternates between the perspectives of two young women. There is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Hannah Rosenthal. She is the daughter of a professor and a member of a wealthy, German family. She is Jewish but in some respects she is accepted by the German community because she looks Aryan, much to the chagrin of the “ogres” (the name that she as a child gives the Nazis.)

Over time, the Rosenthal family is like many of the other Jewish families living in Germany at the time, in that they are subject to discrimination and maltreatment. Eventually the situation becomes so untenable that they sell everything they have in order to buy tickets to travel across the sea and gain passage to Cuba in the hope of eventually settling in America. But things do not go according to plan because Cuba reneges on its promises (i.e. on the previously-issued visas that were awarded to the majority of the passengers.)

Anna Rosen is the other key narrator here. She is Hannah’s long-lost niece who is living in New York with her mother. Rosen’s father seems like a mystery to Anna because he was killed in the tragedies that took place in America on September 11. Anna’s father never got to know that he would become a father someday. Rosen’s aunt reaches out to her niece and the two bond over family history, sadness and shared tragedy.

The German Girl is a cautionary tale about an overlooked chapter in history. It’s an emotional story filled with uncertainty, horror and heartbreak. This is ultimately a well-researched and emotive book that offers another important perspective on the atrocities of the Second World War and patriotism in general.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-the-german-girl

BOOK REVIEW: KARLY LANE – THIRD TIME LUCKY

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Karly Lane’s book, Third Time Lucky is a lovely adaptation of a Christmas novella. It’s a story that translates well to the longer format but it’s also one that is difficult to write about without revealing some crucial plot points. It is perhaps best if we consider that this is a rural romance that poses and solves a number of questions, including: is it possible to forgive the past? Can you learn to love after you’ve been duped by your partner and left a widower?  Can young lovers that were once torn apart rekindle their relationship? Do you choose revenge or forgiveness after being slighted?

This novel stars December Doyle, a strong and relatable character who lives in a small and mountainous town in country NSW called Christmas Creek. Doyle is a kind character that only sees the best in people. She’s also the only female to be born into her family for some time. As a result of this, she is often protected by her well-meaning but stubborn father and brothers.

Doyle finds herself newly single. Her childhood sweetheart, a former bad boy-turned-successful businessman named Seth Hunter returns to town just as she is beginning to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life. What ensues is a period where the main and supporting characters meet again and reassess their past relationships, rights and wrongs.

Third Time Lucky sees Karly Lane penning another intriguing romance novel. Lane is a country girl and it is obvious in her authentic prose and descriptions that are quite detailed and multi-faceted. Third Time Lucky is an easy and breezy read that will make you want to kick off your heels, relax into a couch and enjoy a simple but satisfying romance tale.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/blog-tour-book-club-third-time-lucky

BOOK REVIEW: ANNA ROMER – BEYOND THE ORCHARD

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Beyond the Orchard is an Australian saga spanning multiple years, taking in different generations and perspectives. It seems to have a lot in common with the late Bryce Courtenay’s work insofar as it’s an epic slice of Australiana. The book is the third novel by Anna Romer (Thornwood House) and a rich and detailed tapestry where some different characters lives are all interwoven together through a series of secrets and lies.

The story stars Lucy Briar, a young woman whose mother passed away when she was just a young girl. Briar is now all grown up and has been living in London for the past few years. She is also newly engaged. Lucy left Australia for the UK a few years ago after a relationship with an older man (the father of a friend of hers) had gone awry.

Lucy is called back to her childhood home after she is invited to her friends’ wedding. Before Briar arrives in Victoria she receives a message from her estranged grandfather that is completely unexpected. He wants to meet her and set the record straight on a few things regarding the past. Sadly, Lucy’s grandpa does not get the opportunity to follow through with his promise. But little by little Lucy undertakes he own detective work and uncovers a rich and complicated family history and some life events that involve her relatives as well as love, loss, death, despair and redemption.

Anna Romer’s novel is a rather ambitious one that threads together the perspectives of various characters living at different points in history. She also adds additional textural flourishes in the form of extracts from a book written by Lucy’s father Ronald. These extra storylines add greater depth and meaning to the existing characters and their motivations because it is a case of art imitating life.

Beyond the Orchard feels like it’s a real story because it is so atmospheric and emotional. It’s a testament to Romer’s fabulous writing that the characters seem as rich and complex as real people. Romer’s prose is well-written and sometimes quite poetic and beautiful. This book is a well-constructed one where mystery and romance make for one haunting and intriguing family history.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-beyond-the-orchard

BOOK REVIEW: TRICIA STRINGER – A CHANCE OF STORMY WEATHER

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A Chance of Stormy Weather was originally self-published in 2004 by Australian, rural romance writer, Tricia Stringer. It was also one of her most requested books, as some readers thought it was good at distilling what life in the country is really about. This fictional story is not Stringer’s best work but it is still a well-written and pleasant-enough novel.

This book is about the marriage between a Sydney girl named Paula and a farmer from South Australia named Dan. The two had a whirlwind romance and got married not long after they initially met (and why this was the case is not properly explored.) This then sets things up for a fish-out-of-water tale as the book takes in the events that surround their first few months of marriage.

Paula is a naïve city girl when it comes to her new life. She doesn’t know much about the country (even basics like what kind of meat mutton is allude her) and she’s not used to driving along dirt roads. Paula is sometimes a difficult character to warm to. She is pretty idle when she initially arrives at her new home (granted some of this could be chalked up to the culture shock that she experiences) and she is sometimes quite silly (it’s hard to believe that she was burned in a previous relationship only to rush into the arms of another man.)

Dan on the other hand is an easier person to like. He’s a hard-working guy who’s trying to forge out a living and be self-reliant. But he is also hiding some secrets from the past, most importantly the present status/nature of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Katherine. There is also Dan’s meddlesome aunt, Rowena who is always on hand to offer her two cents worth and Paula’s parents are occasionally present to interfere with their daughter’s relationship under the guise of “meaning well.”

A Chance of Stormy Weather glosses over some important elements in the main characters’ romance (as well as their lives before they met one other) and it is ultimately a rather predictable story of a fish out of water. It’s also a book where the characters are not the most endearing or easy to warm to. Stringer has a fine reputation for telling engaging stories about the lives of individuals living in rural Australia and while this book seems to tick some boxes well, there was also room in this vast country expanse for some additional improvements.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-a-chance-of-stormy-weather

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