Review: Nightingale by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: Nightingale

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin October 2014

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Status: Read from October 23 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren collapses under the weight of his badly injured mate slung over his shoulders onto the sands of Gallipoli, he imagines it is an angel he sees on the beach amongst the carnage of war. Claire Nightingale, briefly permitted on shore to assist with triaging patients, is stunned by the sight of the muddy and bloody man who, ignoring sniper fire and his own wounds, carried his friend down the treacherous escarpment in search of medical help. For the young South Australian farmer and lonely British nurse it is love at first sight, and though their time together is brief, they make promises they have every intention of keeping, if only they can survive the war.

From the trenches of Gallipoli to the bustling cities of Cairo, Istanbul and London, Fiona McIntosh takes us on a journey of love, faith, heartbreak and hope in her latest romantic historical fiction novel, Nightingale.

The opening chapters with their harrowing descriptions of life, and death, in Gallipoli are affecting, highlighting the everyday heroism and tragedy of the ANZAC assault. McIntosh captures the chaos of war, and the shocking circumstances in which soldiers, half starved, ill and injured, were forced to fight what was essentially a no-win battle, and reminds us of the brave work done by the nurses and doctors who volunteered to witness the carnage to save and care for the wounded.

“…she watched in silent horror as men, some of whose boots had barely left their print on damp Turkish sand fell, fatally injured. The mules were crazed with terror and the screams of injured animals joined the cacophony of explosions, gunfire… and the groaning, dying men…”

An integral part of storyline involves Jamie speaking with a young Turkish soldier, Açar Shahin, during the truce declared to clear No Man’s Land of the dead. During their brief meeting Shahin extracts a promise from Jamie to deliver a letter to his father when the war is over, convinced he won’t survive the trenches. This is a touching reminder that the ‘enemy’ were men just like ‘our boys’, and this is further underscored when Claire, honouring Jamie’s promise, meets Açar’s father.

“The momentousness of this hard-to-imagine truce after such cruel and vicious fighting began to tingle through his body as though forcing him to mark it. It would never come again, he was sure, and only the men experiencing this intimacy with the enemy would ever know this extraordinary sense of sharing and camaraderie.”

Jamie and Claire meet under horrific circumstances, when love is the furthermost thing from their minds, yet their instant bond is believable given the situation. Their separation is heartbreaking and when it seems likely these two lovers will never find each other again I felt a little breathless.

“And so he hadn’t been ready in this moment of hell- in this place of cruelty and blood, of sorrow and hurt – for an angel to materialise and touch him…”

The writing is of McIntosh’s usual high standard, though occasionally a little florid. The historical details and various settings feel authentic with vivid description evoking time and place. I was quickly invested in the emotion of this engaging novel, even though historical romance is not my favoured genre.

A captivating story of love and war from one of Australia’s best loved storytellers, Nightingale is wonderful read.

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Review: A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn

 

Title: A Fig at the Gate

Author: Kate Llewellyn

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A distinguished Australian poet, Kate Llewellyn has published six books of poetry and is the co-editor of The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets. She is the author of nineteen books, including Lilies, Feathers & Frangipani on the Cook Islands and New Zealand; Angels and Dark Madonnas on India and Italy; and Gorillas, Tea & Coffee: An African Sketchbook.

A Fig at the Gate is written in the tradition of her bestseller titles The Waterlily: A Blue Mountains Journal and Playing With Water: A Story of a Garden. Now in her seventies, Kate has settled in Adelaide near where she was born and is establishing a new garden to nourish, sustain and delight.

Journal entries chart the evolution of Kate’s garden over three years, the planting of plum trees and cabbages, of wisteria, cumquats and rosemary, along with the addition of chickens and ducks.
Kate also shares her musings and learned wisdom on life, aging, family and friendship, her prose interspersed with her poetry.

A Fig at the Gate is warm, gracious and wise chronicle of nature, beauty and life.

*Please note I choose not to rate memoirs*

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Review: Springtime by Michelle de Kretser

 

Title: Springtime: A Ghost Story

Author: Michelle de Kretser

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Picking up her pace, Frances saw a woman in the leaf-hung depths of the garden. She wore a long pink dress and a wide hat, and her skin was a creamy white. There came upon Frances a sensation that sometimes overtook her when she was looking at a painting: space was foreshortened, time stood still.

When Frances met Charlie at a party in Melbourne he was married with a young son.

Now she and Charlie live in Sydney with her rescue dog Rod and an unshakeable sense that they have tipped the world on its axis. They are still getting their bearings – of each other and of their adopted city. Everything is alien, unfamiliar, exotic: haunting, even.”

Status: Read on October 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I requested this for review because though I own de Kretser’s award winning Questions of Travel I have yet to read it.

Springtime is an introspective little piece – a short story, (presented in hardcover, smaller than a mass paperback with largish type) rather than a novella.

It is a brief portrait of a woman facing the uncertainty and impermanence of change, time and fate. The tone is ethereal, the language graceful but it didn’t really speak to me beyond that.

 

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Review: I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton

 

Title: I’ll Be Watching You

Author: Beverly Barton

Published: Avon UK October 2014

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from October 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton is a romantic suspense novel with elements of erotica and mystery. After spending fifteen years in jail for a crime he did not commit, Reed Conway is determined to return to Spring Creek and prove his innocence by outing whoever really slit his step father’s throat. When Ella Porter, the daughter of the man who secured Reed’s conviction, receives a vulgar and threatening anonymous letter the day after Reed is paroled, Reed is an immediate suspect but after Ella confronts him, she As threats against the Porter family escalate Ella, swayed by Reed’s sexy charm, begins to believe in his claim that he is being framed now, as he was fifteen years ago, but can she really trust a man convicted of murder with her life?

Unfortunately I wasn’t terribly impressed with this story. The plot resembles a daytime soap opera arc with the a small cast tangled in an almost incestuous web of abuse, deceit, betrayal, adultery, obsession, and murder. The suspense is okay but the plot shocks are fairly heavily foreshadowed and when the killer’s identity was revealed, I realised I wasn’t surprised in the least.

The narrative is written in the third person using multiple perspectives, including that of the anonymous killer. If I am honest, I didn’t find any of the the characters very convincing as individuals, not helped by their convoluted relationships to one another.
Nearly thirty and a circuit judge, Ella Porter lacked the presence or personality I would expect from such an accomplished, mature woman. She’s a daddy’s girl, believing him to be infallible and completely clueless about the state of her parents marriage. And despite believing that Reed is a killer who plans to harm her, she dissolves anytime Reed looks her way.
Reed is described appealingly “A good six three. Broad shoulders. Biceps bulging…surprisingly tanned…thick tawny hair curled about his neck and ears…A lazy, raw sensuality oozed from his pores.” However the moment he is distracted by Ella he completely forgets about searching for the killer who framed him, despite spending the last 15 years in prison waiting for his opportunity to prove his innocence.
The chemistry between them is a bit contrived (bad boy meets good girl) but the erotic scenes are written well enough, if a little florid. Be aware that Ella and Reed aren’t the only couple to share some steamy moments, and there are several erotic encounters through the book.

There is a distinct southern small town feel to the setting, both through the use of double barreled first names like Jeff Henry and Joe Brierly and the brief descriptions of the town and its social structure. The language is a bit odd though, sometimes feeling very stilted and formal for such a contemporary setting. I think it was an attempt by the author to distinguish between class – but it just came off as weird.

Though I’ll Be Watching You didn’t really work for me, it was a quick and undemanding read. it seems to have an appreciative audience from readers who enjoy the soap opera style melodrama and sexy bits, so if that is you..enjoy!

 

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Review: The Brewer’s Tale by Karen Brooks

 

Title: The Brewer’s Tale

Author: Karen Brooks

Published: Harlequin MIRA October 2014

Status: Read from October 19 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When Anneke Sheldrake’s father is lost at sea she is horrified to learn that she and her younger siblings have been left with nothing. Desperate to keep what remains of her family together, she strikes a bold bargain with her father’s employer and, armed with her late mother’s family recipes, daringly chooses to go into business as a brewer of ale. Despite being ostracised by most of her family and friends, and repeatedly harassed and intimidated by the local Abbot and his cronies whose monopoly of the ale trade is threatened, Anneke’s brew steadily wins favour amongst the community. Just as success seems within her reach, Anneke is targeted in a malicious attack that razes nearly everything she holds dear. Forced to flee for her life, Anneke is nevertheless determined to begin again and finds an unlikely ally in a London brothel owner. With courage and hard work, Anneke, taking the name Anna de Winter, slowly rebuilds her life and business, until the horrors of her past once again threaten to destroy her.

A saga of betrayal, love, tragedy, courage and triumph, The Brewer’s Tale is an ambitious historical drama by author, Karen Brooks.

Anneke is strong protagonist, with spirit and convictions uncommon for her time. Despite harrowing personal tragedy she finds the strength to rise above it and carry on, refusing to be cowed by her persecutors. Her courage, loyalty and determination are admirable qualities and ensure the reader is firmly on her side, willing her to triumph.
Anneke’s loyal cast including her sweet sister, Betje, the brash Alyson, and the dashing hero, Lord Leander Rainford, are eminently appealing. The villains, including Anneke’s spiteful cousin, a raft of spiritually corrupt monks, and her inescapable enemy are infuriating and often terrifying.

Though set in medieval England, the story begins in ‘The year of Our Lord 1405 in the sixth year of the reign of Henry IV’, I didn’t get a true sense of the period. It seemed not that much different from Georgian or Victorian times, though to be fair it mattered little as the details were consistent and the setting well grounded. I was surprised at how interested I was in the history of the brewery industry, and I finally discovered the difference between beer and ale. (I don’t drink either so had never thought about it before)

The writing is articulate and the first person perspective works well. The pacing was reasonable but I did feel the story, at well over 500 pages, was too long overall. I was tempted to skim at times, particularly as the plot was, though well thought out, generally predictable, with the second half of the story essentially mirroring the events of the first.

Nevertheless, The Brewer’s Tale was a satisfying read and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy the drama and romance of sweeping historical fiction driven by a strong heroine.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Chutney and Cheddar Palmiers from Home Baking by Jo Wheatley

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Home Baking

Author: Jo Wheatley

Published: Constable and Robinson: Allen and Unwin October 2014

My Thoughts:

Jo Wheatley was the 2011 winner of The Great British Bake Off, a television series pitting amateur bakers against one another to win the title of Britain’s best home baker. Home Baking is her second cookbook and includes 100 recipes.

The recipes range from the simple to the sublime and the sweet to the savoury. Home Baking includes recipes for classic treats such as Shortbread, Pretzels, Cornish pastries, Chicken and Leek pie, Salmon En Croute,  Rocky Road and Rasberry Red Velvet Cake as well as those a little more exotic like Parmesan and Pesto Fantail Loaf, Apple, Gooseberry and Elderflower Crumble, Goat’s Cheese and Fig Gougeres, and a Toffee Apple Croquembouche. There is a section devoted to cooking with kids which includes tasty recipes like Lemon and White Chocolate Muffins, Cheesy Mini Ketchup Scones and a Sweetie Spectacular Tray Bake.

This is a large format hardback with matte pages  with full page colour photo’s of the dishes. The recipes are well presented with a short comment to introduce the dish, often offering a tip or two, a bolded list of ingredients and clear prep and cooking instructions. Missing from most recipes however is a an indicator of serving size.

I have marked several recipes I would like to try including the Lemon, White Chocolate and Macadamia Bombs, Easy Italian Soda Bread, Chicken, Chorizo and Potato Frittata, and Portuguese Tarts. During the week I was in need of something to share at a committee meeting and didn’t have a lot of time, so I decided to try Wheatley’s Chutney and Cheddar Palmiers. They were quick to prepare, baked in 15 minutes and were absolutely delicious.

palmiers1

Chutney and Cheddar Palmiers

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets of puff pastry (I used frozen Pampas pastry -mine weren’t shaped quite as well as hers because I let it thaw a little too long.)
  • 1/2 cup grated tasty cheese  (I used Pizza Cheese which combines cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan)
  • 1/2 cup caramelised onion chutney (you can buy this in a jar in the condiment section of your supermarket or it’s simple to make your own)

Method

  • Heat oven to 190C/370F and line 2 shallow baking trays with baking paper
  • Lay out puff pastry and spread chutney over the surface, leaving a small margin around the edges, and then sprinkle with the grated cheese.
  • Starting from two opposite ends, roll pastry to enclose filling until both ends meet in the middle. Use a small, sharp knife to cut into 1.5cm (1/2 inch) slices. Place, cut-side down, on the lined trays.  Press slices gently with palm to flatten slightly.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden brown.
  • Makes 20-24.

You can find more recipes from Jo Wheatley on her blog Jo’s Blue Aga

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About: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

 

Title: A Sudden Light

Author: Garth Stein

Published: Simon & Schuster October 2014

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

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Review: Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel

 

Title: Half the World in Winter

Author: Maggie Joel

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Read an extract

Status: Read from October 13 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A story of tragedy, grief, and redemption, Half The World in Winter centers around Lucas Jarmyn and his family who are mourning the grisly death of nine year old Sofia. As the household struggles with the loss of their beloved daughter and sister they turn away from each other, and their home, in which Lucas forbids a fire to be set, grows ever colder.
Hundreds of miles away a train accident claims the life of a young girl. Her grief stricken father, Thomas Brinkley, demands justice from the head of the railway, Lucas Jarmyn, and when it is not immediately forthcoming, seeks revenge on the man and his family.

Half the World in Winter is an exploration of the dynamics of a family in mourning, and the impact of death and grief in a period where tragedy was common. The Jarmyn family are not only struck by the death of Sofia, they lose a nephew to the Boer War, a cook to a chicken bone, a discarded maid to vice, and are burdened by the deaths of those souls killed on the railway.

“Inside 19 Cadogan Mews time had ceased. It no longer existed, it had no meaning. A silence had fallen that no one felt willing to break. Footsteps were muffled, and commands, if they were given at all, were given in muted whispers in the hallways and corridors. doors were kept closed and before entering hands hesitated on doorknobs and deep breaths were taken. An excuse not to enter at all was often found.”

Set in England during the 1880’s, the period detail is rich and meticulous, from the minutiae of the Jarmyn’s household to the physical and social context of Victorian England. I was surprisingly interested by the workings of the Victorian railway system, and intrigued by the elaborate rituals of mourning – for middle class Britons there were strict rules to be followed after a death, determining, for example, the type and colour of fabric worn, to the depth of the border on notepaper.

“Half an inch for the first three months of mourning certainly. After that the border decreases to one-third of an inch. At six months it decreases to a quarter of an inch, then in increments of a tenth of an inch over the succeeding six months depending on the nature of the loss and one’s relationship with the deceased”

I did struggle with the sombre and often bleak timbre of the narrative and the measured pace of the novel quickened only marginally near the end. The writing however is stylish and descriptive, and the portrayal of the period is vivid.

Half The World in Winter is a genteel historical drama,  but it was a little too slow and solemn for me to really enjoy

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Review: The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

 

Title: The Cure for Dreaming

Author: Cat Winters

Published: Amulet Books October 2014

Status: Read from October 16 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley)

My Thoughts:

“Your future is to become a respectable housewife and mother. Women belong in the home, and inside some man’s home you’ll stay.”

Set in the year 1900, seventeen year old Olivia Mead is a bright girl dreaming of one day going to university, but in Portland, Oregon ‘respectable’ women are still expected to desire little more than becoming wives and mothers. Olivia supports the voices of the suffragettes clamouring for the right to vote, to wear bloomers when they ride their bicycles, to choose education and independence but her father, a dentist, is appalled by his daughter’s rebellious attitude and hires a young traveling hypnotist, the renowned ‘Henri Reverie’ performing in town to ‘cure’ Olivia of her ‘unfeminine’ dreams.

The Cure for Dreaming is an unusual tale combining a specific historical issue and era with a twist of the paranormal. Aimed at young adults, the plot and characters are fairly simplistic, yet it is a thought provoking read, sprinkled with an appealing mix of romance, horror, magic and mystery.

Henri modifies Olivia’s father command for his daughter to accept society’s demands of women somewhat by telling Olivia she will wake and the see the world as it truly is. Her new perspective is frightening and far from supporting her father’s world view it shows faded and caged women, men with red eyes and sharp teeth and simply makes Olivia’s belief in female emancipation even stronger. With help from a contrite Henri, Olivia eventually reclaims her voice and her dreams.

The setting is vivid and atmospheric and supported by the inclusion of half a dozen photographs from the period. For much of Winters’ young adult audience the history about the rights of women is sure to be an eye opener.

A quirky and quick read, I think The Cure For Dreaming would be a wonderful choice for any mother/daughter book club in particular.

 

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Review: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

 

Title: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead

Author: Rebecca James

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Cooper Bartholomew’s broken body is found at the base of a cliff his death is declared a suicide but Libby, Cooper’s girlfriend, refuses to believe him capable of it. Desperate to understand what led him to the edge, Libby retraces Cooper’s last hours, eventually unraveling a tale of betrayal, jealousy, and shocking secrets.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Cooper, Libby, Sebastian and Claire, and shifts between ‘then’, detailing the events that led up to Cooper’s death, and ‘now’, exposing its aftermath.

Though well paced, the novel lacked much of the tension I had been expecting, this is more of a psychological drama than a thriller. I found the plot fairly predictable and while the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, when finally revealed, are emotionally powerful, they didn’t come as a surprise to me. However, I found the narrative very compelling, due in no small part to my investment in the characters.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

An engaging read about friendship, first love, loss and lies, I really enjoyed Cooper Bartholomew is Dead. This is Rebecca James’ third novel following on from Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage.

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