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.

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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:




Many of us are familiar with Disney’s version of Beauty & the Beast. The film shows the cursed Beast who captures the beautiful Belle, and it is only after Belle sees the creature’s inner “goodness” and falls in love that the spell is broken. Some people may consider that the Beast is actually rewarded with Belle’s love and not punished for his wrongdoings. Author Zoë Marriott has decided to redress this imbalance and tell the story from a feminist’s perspective.


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Wai Chim’s novel, Freedom Swimmer may be a work of fiction but it’s based on an amazing true story. It tells the tale of two unlikely friends who embark on a treacherous swim from mainland China to Hong Kong in order to escape the oppression of living under the communist rule of Chairman Mao Zedong. The story is ultimately an incredible and inspiring one that will get us thinking and talking about an important chapter in history (and unfortunately one where millions of people died.)

The book is Chim’s first foray into the world of young adult literature but it isn’t her first story to be set in China. Chim has successfully written The Chook Chook series for younger readers. In Freedom Swimmer she writes a first-person narrative where the perspective shifts between the shy, orphaned peasant boy Ming and the suave and educated city boy, Li. The book opens with some tragedy for Ming- his mother has died from starvation and this has left him an orphan. He is all alone but he does receive some kindness and compassion from a local village girl named Fei.

In 1968 the boys from the village are left to work hard in the fields and survive on a meagre diet of rations. Eventually they are joined by a group of young upstarts from the city that includes Li. This new group are teenage members of Mao’s red guards and they have come to the countryside to help spread the word for the Communist Party’s re-education program. At first the differences between the two groups are stark but over time Ming and Li bond over their harsh circumstances. The pair eventually decide that they need to escape and that they should undertake a difficult swim through shark-infested waters and oceans that are patrolled by cruel guards. What happens next is in their destiny.

Freedom Swimmer shares a few things in common with Alice Pung’s Her Father’s Daughter and Micheline Lee’s The Healing Party. In the case of the former, both authors draw inspiration from their father’s harsh childhoods in order to make us stop, re-think and count our blessings. In the case of the latter, both novels deal with poignant and meaningful topics but also manage to tell their stories through light and easy language.

In Freedom Swimmer Wai Chim manages to negotiate a potential minefield and handle some difficult subjects with a deft touch.  This story is ultimately an inspiring one about the resilience of the human spirit and how people can remain optimistic even in the face of darkness and oppression. In all, this book is an excellent one that packs a lot in and is basically like a punch to the heart.

***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:





It Ends With Us is a title that hints at a certain sense of finality or ending. But in reality this novel is only the beginning. This bold book from New York Times bestseller, Colleen Hoover is an important one that slowly reveals itself to be a rather hard lesson in love, told by an excellent storyteller with a deft hand and a sensitive heart.

The cover of this book reminds me of Charlotte Woods’s The Natural Way Of Things. Both books are works of fiction but they are also so raw and honest that they often feel as though they could be real stories. They also deal with some difficult subjects that are hard to discuss or raise, so hopefully this gets readers talking about them.

Colleen Hoover has offered us a story about an engaging young woman named Lily. At the beginning of the story she is reeling from the recent death of her father. It’s a bittersweet moment for her because their relationship had been a rather fraught one.  At the same time she also meets a handsome neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid. The two connect and he literally sweeps her off of her feet. But the honeymoon doesn’t last forever because Lily also has to process some stuff to do with a previous relationship. It is material that will make her reassess things and challenge what she previously thought. It’s also something we can all learn from.

This novel is a bold one from Colleen Hoover and a very personal story. In her author’s note (which you should only read after finishing the book) she reveals her true connection to this tale. This intense book will tug at your heartstrings and thrust you onto an emotional rollercoaster that will take you through every emotion on the spectrum of feelings. To reveal anything more would ruin things but suffice to say the naked truth is that this is one excellent book full of depth, pathos and grit.


***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:


theart of keeping secrets


Rachael Johns knows how to tell a good story. The author has written numerous romance novels and chick lit books. Her latest novel, The Art of Keeping Secrets is a well-crafted and emotional piece of fiction. It’s also a story that is a testament to the power of female friendship.

The story is about three women who have been friends for the past five years while their sons have been studying together at high-school. The trio have a regular book club meeting but they’re also heavily involved in each other’s lives. You have the down-to-earth Felicity (known to everyone as “Flick”) who is a non-nonsense woman and a keen taxidermist. She seems to be living a textbook romance despite being married to her near-perfect husband Seb for years. But is their marriage all it’s cracked up to be?

Emma is the divorced mother of Caleb and twin teenage girls, Laura and Louise. She is a superwoman juggling the new demands of full-time work and single motherhood. She appears to be coping but she is also harbouring a number of secrets of the head and heart. Then there’s Genevieve (known as “Neve”) who is a looks-obsessed make-up artist and a single mum who has a close relationship with her son, Will because she has always been the sole parent in his life. The only problem is she hasn’t told Will the truth about his father’s true identity.

This novel is told in the third person and split into separate chapters focusing on each of these strong women. Their friendship is a real and inspiring one and the trio are almost like sisters. They’ve shared lots of things together and they’ve also had their share of ups and downs and lived to tell the tale afterwards. So they should be able to make it through anything that life throws at them, right?

Rachael Johns has crafted an excellent little book in The Art of Keeping Secrets. She reveals things slowly with just enough to keep the reader hooked and interested. The reader is basically strapped into an emotional roller coaster of a journey, bumps and all! In sum, this book is a fun read about three strong, everyday women and it examines the choices they make and how their secrets, lies and betrayals have lasting impacts on the individuals living around them. Fascinating stuff.

***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:




A pearl can be an interesting symbol. Some people are superstitious and think it brings bad luck if worn at certain moments. And at the very least in different levels of light this thing can shine and change colour in front of the naked eye. In Leah Fleming’s novel, The Last Pearl we are presented with some characters that change colours like pearls in that they are like real, multi-facetted gems in some instances while others bring bad luck and sadness to the people around them.

Fleming has written numerous books including The Captain’s Daughter andThe Girl under the Olive Tree. Her latest novel is a well-researched one that is set in the 19th century and takes in stories from Scotland, York and Iowa over a period of around twenty years. It follows three main characters who are motivated by a desire to better themselves, sometimes with good intentions (like doing relatives proud or supporting the family) and others with evil ones (as they’re motivated by pure greed and lust).

The story begins with a young, Scottish lad called Jem Baillie. His father is a pearl fisherman and the two discover a large, exquisite pearl they name, “Queenie.” This rock is to be set aside so that one day it will pay for Jem’s education. But Jem’s father falls ill and passes away and his mother makes the mistake of selling the pearl for a pittance to a rogue buyer. Jem is mad and vows revenge.

In York Greta Costello had lived a comfortable life until her father passes away. She takes on different jobs, working at a Quaker household and with a local jeweller who teaches her the art of pearl stringing. These jobs are abruptly cut short and the naïve Costello is faced with a difficult decision that is not dissimilar to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. Costello must decide whether she should marry the wealthy Eben Slinger in order to secure comfort for herself and her family or whether she would wait for a man that truly loves her. The choice she ultimately makes has long-standing ramifications because things are not as rosy as they initially seem.

The Last Pearl is a beautiful and delightful gem of a book. It’s a complex slice of historical fiction where different stories are woven together to produce a dense family drama. This novel tackles the themes of love, loyalty, greed, hatred and loss. Some characters will make you laugh and love them while others will make you want to cry, and then there are some still that will make you want to hit them in anger and frustration. This book is a rare, emotional one that shakes you out of inertia and causes you to feel just as the characters do in a most stark and visceral manner. Brilliant.


***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:




Unrivaled is not your typical book. It’s supposed to be a suspense/thriller set in the bright lights of Hollywood and told from four different perspectives. The premise is ultimately a good one but the writing is overly simplistic and the characters are too stereotyped and clichéd to appeal to adults (although this could be perfectly pitched at the young adult readers the novel was designed for).

Alyson Noël is a successful author of over 20 books and is a New York Times best-seller whose work has been translated into multiple languages. Her latest offering, Unrivaled is the first in a new trilogy called, “Beautiful Idols.” It’s a young-adult novel and I think this may be why I had trouble engaging with the story. As a 32 year old Australian woman with only a passing interest in celebrity (and a distinct hatred of anyone that is famous for the sake of being famous) I found this story to be too vapid, slow and superficial.

The story begins with the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood It-girl, Madison Brooks. She is someone that is harbouring a number of secrets but she is certainly not alone on this front. The story then turns back time to a month prior where we meet three young, hungry teens who have agreed to take part in a contest run by a Hollywood heavyweight called Ira Redman. The competition will see an aspiring entertainment journalist named Layla, a wannabe musician called Tommy and a bratty would-be actress named Aster competing with other desperate teens to become a full-time promoter for one of Redman’s clubs. To do so they must get people through the door of one of his establishments and the more famous the guest, the better.

The book is a slow-burner and it spends a lot of time detailing the competition and the lengths the characters will stoop to. Even with all of this information, the characters still feel rather hollow and not fully formed, especially when they do things that are completely unexpected. The story of the competition also lacks suspense and it merely unfolds amidst the expected world of hidden agendas, dirty laundry, secrets, lies and the like. The book really hits its stride when it manages to catch up with the part of Brook’s disappearance but it ends in  such an unsatisfying and abrupt way in order to leave things open for the sequel that some readers may walk away feeling cheated by this turn of events.

Unrivaled is a dark novel that shows how ambitions can turn poisonous with a bunch of unlikeable and self-absorbed characters that seem like a reflection of today’s society. Noël is a good writer but this novel is a flat one, as it details some beautiful people’s competitive natures in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. It was a book that wasn’t to my liking but the kids may enjoy this easy-to-read tale of celebrity thrills and spills.

***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:




The Other Side of the Season is a mysterious, Australian novel set near Byron Bay. It’s the fourth book by Australian author, Jenn J McLeod and it’s basically like an onion. As you read the prose it’s like another layer is slowly stripped away to reveal something more and slightly different. The Other Side of the Season is a heart-warming tale that proves that there are often multiple sides to a story and that each perspective is often as valid and as important as the other.

The book begins in the present day with a strong woman named Sidney who is looking to escape her mother’s house in the Blue Mountains. Sidney found herself returning home to live with her Mum after a long-term relationship break-up. This character is named after the artist, Sidney Nolan and she is looking at discovering some information about the past. Sidney is a relatable and rich character who has never been told much about her extended family so she decides to go on a journey with her younger rapscallion brother to get some answers.

The second major thread in this novel has the reader immersed in a quaint town called Dingy Bay in Northern NSW in the late seventies. The main characters in this story are two young brothers, a 17 year old aspiring artist named David and his elder brother Matthew. The pair work on the family’s banana plantation. David is in love with the girl next door and Matthew looks poised to run the family business but one day a tragedy strikes and the decisions the characters make will have long-standing ramifications that shake their simple, rural lives.

McLeod has done a fantastic job of creating very real and interesting characters and revealing many facets of their lives so we know exactly what makes them tick. She also expertly weaves together two very different stories set in opposing periods in time. In the end the reader is offered a very vibrant, detailed and lush tapestry of life, love, family and friendship and a story that is told with a nostalgic view of the past and present. This novel is one that will tug at your heartstrings as it is so emotional. It will also make people stop and cherish life and realise that the choices we make are often more complicated than they initially seem and that you really shouldn’t live your life filled with regrets.

***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:




Oh you pretty things… Kelly Doust’s debut novel is a celebration of all things precious. It’s a rich, historic fiction book that intricately threads together the stories of the owners of a beaded coronet. This fashion piece is like a cat with nine lives because over the course of the book we learn that it has lived in different countries and continents and has enjoyed being reinvented as a choker, headband, collar and artwork.

Doust has previously written five non-fiction books about craft and fashion. For Precious Things the author tapped into her love of vintage clothing by offering a vibrant account of the different people that wore the collar and their own individual stories. This begins with a woman that is about to get married to a man she barely knows in Normandy and then to death-defying acts with a trapeze artist at a circus. There are dancers in Shanghai and an artist’s muse and model in Italy and eventually it was used by a different model during a now-famous magazine shoot. The main thing is the piece belonged to some very strong, independent and important women through time.

The flashbacks are evocative and lush but there are also a lot of different stories and these could have been fleshed out a little more or at least visited more than once (in some instances). It is often the case that the reader may find themselves getting into the groove of a particular voice or character only to be drawn into a new life of the collar or into the present day. The current owner of the collar is Maggie, an auctioneer working in London and juggling the busy demands of family, a career and being a loving wife and mother. Her character is the one that features the most prominently through the book.

Kelly Doust should be applauded for coming up with such a creative idea and for crafting such an ambitious novel that threads together so many different elements. In addition to all of this, Doust has also managed to capture one important common thread and that is the insatiability of the human spirit and how love and family should prevail and be considered more important than our wants and desires. This novel is for anyone who has ever looked at something and thought, “If only it could talk” because it offers a very vivid, romantic and imaginative tale that celebrates life, love and lust through the ages.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit:

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