Review: The French Prize by Cathryn Hein

 

Title: The French Prize

Author: Cathryn Hein

Published: MIRA: Harlequin AU September 2014

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Status: Read from September 10 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
The French Prize is a contemporary romantic adventure set in Provence, a change of pace for author Cathryn Hein who has a reputation for her heartwarming Australian rural romance novels.

Dr Olivia Walker is a historian obsessed with finding the mythical sword, Durendal, said to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court. When she is employed by the wealthy Raimund Blacard to recover La Tasse due Chevalier Gris, ‘The Cup of the Grey Knight’, she is one step closer to realising her dream and silencing her detractors, for etched around the rim is a clue to legendary sword’s location.
For centuries the descendants of one of Charlemagne’s most trusted aides, Guy of Nabonne, have been the guardians of Durendal but in the 14th century its hiding place was lost. Foreign Legion Captain Raimund Blacard is the last of his family line and he is determined to recover the sword before his murderous rival Gaston, and to Olivia’s horror, destroy it.

In part, The French Prize is an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt for a lost relic as Olivia and Raimund search for the clues that will lead them to Durendal. The sword, and the legends of Roland and Charlemagne, are historical facts which have been incorporated into the story and then blended with Hein’s imagination.

If I am honest the romance was a touch heavy for me personally with all the yearning and the brooding, it didn’t quite overwhelm the plot but I did feel like it threatened to on occasion. That said, the chemistry, relationship development and conflict between Olivia and Raimund was believable within the context of the story.

Olivia, as a passionate historian who has chased the legend of Durendal for most of her life, is horrified by Raimund’s plans to destroy the sword and hopes to convince him to spare it. She naively refuses to let the hunt go, even with Gaston posing a very real threat, but proves capable and resourceful.
Raimund is all about duty and honour but his elder brother’s murder at the hands of Gaston has him swearing to destroy the sword, despite his family’s legacy of guardianship. Grieving and weary, he sees himself as cursed which is why he rebuffs Olivia despite their obvious mutual attraction.

Hein’s settings are nicely realised, from the landscape of the French countryside to the hidden room storing Raimund’s family treasures, her characters are well drawn and the plot is neatly crafted. Combining romance with well paced action and suspense, The French Prize is an engaging novel.

 

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Also by Cathryn Hein reviewed at Book’d Out

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Review: The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

 

Title: The Moment of Everything

Author: Shelly King

Published: Grand Central Publishing: Hachette September 2014

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Status: Read from September 05 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A charming, witty and romantic novel, The Moment of Everything is an engaging debut from Shelly King.

Unemployed, after being made redundant by a Silicon Valley tech start-up, Maggie Duprès spends her days reading bodice rippers in the Dragonfly Used Bookstore, owned by her landlord and friend Hugo, waiting for a fresh start. She imagines it will come from an offer to join a new start up or an opportunity brokered by her best friend, Dizzy, instead, Maggie discovers it in the margins of a tattered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The Moment of Everything is about love, loss and finding your own truth. It is an entertaining story, with occasional bittersweet moments and a real warmth and honesty.

Love is a complicated concept for Maggie, being aware of her father’s affairs and her mother’s seemingly blind devotion and acceptance, she is cynical about romance and relationships. Meeting Rajhit, and falling hard for him, distresses her because she is always waiting for the betrayal she believes to be inevitable.

“I think I’d always been scared of what love meant in my life because I was afraid of it controlling me, of what I would have to give up for it.”

Maggie knows what she doesn’t want – a marriage like her parents or to work in a bookstore. She thinks she wants a casual, fun relationship and the status and wealth of a career in high tech. It is only when she decides to make the Dragonfly profitable while waiting for ‘the’ job that she discovers that the store is exactly what she needs, and only when she nearly loses it all, what she really wants, what will make her happy.

“I’ve always thought…that the moment right before you get what you want is often better than when you actually got it.”

Of course as a bibliophile, the setting of the novel holds enormous appeal. The Dragonfly offers everything beloved about second hood bookstores from the chaotic, musty stacks to the eccentric staff and quirky patrons, with a grumpy cat thrown in for good measure. It seems an obvious cliche but King infuses the Dragonfly with life and warmth and I would love to join Maggie, Hugo and Jason sprawled in the battered armchairs positioned in front of the window.

“The kind of people who come to the Dragonfly don’t just own books, they need them, crave them, find it impossible to breathe without them. They come because they are in love with the store itself, with its handled wares and their untold takes. They come because they are wondering about about the people who owned all these books before. The come because the people whose paths they cross are like the books they find, a bit worn around the edges, waiting for the right person to open them up and take them home.”

Well crafted with engaging characters and a heartfelt storyline, The Moment of Everything is a captivating novel I’d readily recommend.

The Moment of Everything is available to purchase from

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Review: Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Moonlight Plains

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

Read an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

Continuing her loosely linked series featuring the Fairburn family, Barbara Hannay presents Moonlight Plains, an engaging romance which blends a contemporary and historical narrative.

In 1942, as the Japanese threaten the coast of North Queensland, nineteen year old Kitty Martin is sent to Moonlight Plains, the home of her widowed great uncle, far west of Townsville. Kitty, frustrated to be thwarted in her desire to assist in the war effort, is only in residence for a few weeks when two US airmen, blown off course, are forced to ditch their planes at the isolated property, and she finds herself facing tragedy… and heartbreak.
Nearly seventy years later, Kitty is glad her grandson is restoring the faded grandeur of the homestead at Moonlight Plains and quietly pleased that her young friend Sally Piper, a journalist, has taken an interest both in the project, and Luke Fairburn. Kitty only hopes that with the restoration of the past, she can keep hidden her own long held secret that could ruin everything.

Kitty’s wartime narrative reveals a bittersweet love story, of risks taken and hearts broken. Kitty’s 70 year old secret is easily guessed but I really liked her storyline which is sweet and poignant and I felt for Kitty confronted with a difficult choice in a difficult time.

The development of Sally and Luke’s contemporary relationship follows a familiar path, their physical attraction eventually leads to deeper feelings though neither are willing to admit it. I could understand Sally’s hesitance, though I thought the specific reason for her feelings of guilt was an odd aside.

I didn’t think Luke’s reaction to his grandmother’s secret was entirely in keeping with his character. A moment of pique I could understand but his hurt feelings, even in light of his relationship with Sally, seemed excessive. Laura’s reaction to the cache of secret letters written by her father to Kitty was more believable given she lacked the context of the relationship and was still grieving both her father’s passing and bitter over her recent marital breakdown.

I often forget that WW2 was also fought on our shores (I’ve complained before about the failure of the Australian curriculum to focus on the conflicts that occurred on our own soil when I was at school) and so I appreciated the brief glimpse from Hannay of its effects on Townsville and its residents. I also found it easy to visualise the restored grandeur of the old Queenslander at Moonlight Plains, nestled within its bush setting.

A winsome novel, Moonlight Plains seamlessly weaves together a lovely story of love lost and gained. This is another delightful rural romance from Barbara Hannay, following on from Zoe’s Muster and Home Before Sundown.

Moonlight Plains is available to purchase from

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Click on the covers to read my reviews of


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Review: Heartbreak Hotel by Debbie Moggach

 

Title: Heartbreak Hotel

Author: Debbie Moggach

Published: Vintage Digital: Random House UK August 2014

Status: Read from August 13 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When aging actor Russell ‘Buffy’ Buffery inherits a B&B in rural Wales he stuns his family and friends by abandoning London to run it. Buffy finds he enjoys his role as host, but the crumbling manor is in desperate need of maintenance, and a steady occupancy rate, and he needs to find a way to fix it before it all falls down around him.

The premise of Heartbreak Hotel, and the reputation of author Debbie Moggach, is what drew me to select this novel for review, unfortunately I was disappointed by the novel’s structure. The drawn out stories of some of the individuals who eventually wind up at Heartbreak Hotel seemed disconnected to the narrative and the idea of the ‘Courses for Divorces’ was terrific but never fully exploited. The last half of the book, when the characters are brought together, is much stronger than the first.

I did like the Moggach’s characters, most of them find themselves at the B&B after a disappointment of some sort or another. Buffy is an interesting man, he had a successful career as an actor but now aged 70 he is reinventing himself as well as grappling with the missteps he made as a husband and father. For many the guests of Myrtle House their stay at the B&B has surprising consequences including new love and the kindling of new dreams.

Heartbreak Hotel is often amusing and has some charm, but ultimately it was just an OK read for me.

 

Heartbreak Hotel  is available to purchase from

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Review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

 

 

Title: The House We Grew Up In

Author: Lisa Jewell

Published: Atria Books August 2012

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Status: Read from August 11 to 12, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“They lived in a honey-colored house that sat hard up against the pavement of a picture-postcard Cotswolds village and stretched out beyond into three-quarters of an acre of rambling half-kempt gardens. Their mother was a beautiful hippy called Lorelei with long tangled hair and sparkling green eyes who treated her children like precious gems. Their father was a sweet gangly man called Colin, who still looked like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish round-framed glasses. They all attended the village school, they ate home-cooked meals together every night, their extended family was warm and clever, there was money for parties and new paddling pools, but not quite enough for foreign travel, but it didn’t matter, because they lived in paradise.”

Lisa Jewell’s newest release, The House We Grew Up In, is a poignant and absorbing story about the Bird family. As children, Megan, Bethan and twins, Rory and Rhys, delighted in their mother’s sense of whimsy, the kitchen walls papered with their artwork, and the annual Easter egg hunt in the garden. But as adolescence strikes, the children have less patience for their mother’s eccentricities, and the family bond begins to chafe. When tragedy strikes one Easter Sunday the family is devastated and as each member struggles to make sense of it, they turn away from each other and eventually go their separate ways. Years later, the remaining Bird family members gather at the house they grew up in and are confronted by old hurts, resentments and unresolved guilt.

The House We Grew Up In spans a time frame of about thirty years and shifts back and forth to reveal the Bird’s past and present, unfurling a complex tale of a family fractured by suicide, betrayal, adultery and mental illness. Their childhood home, once a comfortable, cosy haven becomes the physical manifestation of the dysfunction and turmoil which affects the family.

Each individual has their own secrets to tell that are teased out over the course of the novel. Jewell’s characters are realistically portrayed, though their flaws, from Lorelei’s obsessive hoarding to Rory’s irresponsibility, are more clearly in focus. The dynamics that play out between the family, as well as various lovers and friends, are believable and observed with keen insight into the complications of these relationships.

Heartfelt, provocative and powerful The House We Grew Up In is an engaging novel, well crafted by an accomplished author.

 

The House We Grew Up In is available to purchase from

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Also reviewed on Book’d Out

 

Review: Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

9781402281839

 

Title: Sweetshop of Dreams

Author: Jenny Colgan

Published: Sourcebooks Casablanca August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 08 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

From Jenny Colgan comes another delicious tale of family, love and romance in her newest release, Sweetshop of Dreams.

If pressed, Rosie Hopkins will admit that she is in a bit of a rut, her career has stalled, and so it seems, has her relationship of seven years, but she can’t imagine how spending six weeks in rural Derbyshire will help matters any. However her elderly Great Aunt Lilian needs help and Rosie, an auxiliary nurse, is best placed to do so. Reluctantly Rosie travels to the small village of Lipton, determined to sort out her aunts affairs and return to London, and Gerard, as quickly as possible, but as she experiences the charms of country life, changeable weather and grumpy dentists notwithstanding, Rosie slowly discovers just how sweet life could be.

On her first day in Lipton, Rosie gets lost in the country side during a rainstorm, on her second she discovers her aunts sweetshop, which needs to be sold as a going concern to fund Lilian’s move into a nursing home, has been abandoned, and on her third she careens out of control on Lilian’s old bicycle, destroying a farmer’s vegetable patch and humiliating herself in front of a hunky farmhand and the handsome local doctor. Country life, Rosie is convinced, is not for her but as she begins to restore the sweetshop to its former glory and make friends with the locals, she begins to consider the choices she has made and reevaluate what would make her happy.

Entwined with Rosie’s adventures in Lipton are glimpses into Lillian’s past as a young woman and the regrets, disappointments and tragedies that shaped her life. This goes a long way to explaining Lilian’s sharp tongue, and gives the story a little more depth, emphasising the novel’s major theme of regret over the risks not taken.

Most readers of a certain age will fondly remember the sweets of their youth, my preference was for cobbers (caramel squares covered in milk chocolate) and lurid pink musk sticks, so Rosie’s refurbishment of Lilian’s sweetshop holds a great deal of nostalgic appeal. Colgan’s recipe additions for treats such as Coconut Ice, Peanut Brittle and Tablet (aka Scottish Fudge- which Jenny Colgan kindly shared with Book’d Out readers) are a welcome inclusion, and perfect to enjoy along with the book.

An engaging and charming story with few sour notes, Sweetshop of Dreams is an enjoyable novel and a sweet treat to savour.

Sweetshop of Dreams is available to purchase from

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Click on the image for Jenny Colgan’s recipe for Tablet (aka Scottish Fudge)

Tablet The Fudge House

Review: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

 

Title: Better Homes and Hauntings

Author: Molly Harper

Published: Pocket Books July 2014

Read an excerpt

Status: Read from July 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed Molly Harper’s sense of fun and humour in her Jane Jameson series and Naked Werewolf series so I leapt at the opportunity to read this new stand alone novel.

Better Homes and Hauntings is a paranormal romance/mystery that is set in a dilapidated haunted mansion on a private island off the coast of Newport. Crane’s Nest is the ancestral home of young software billionaire Deacon Whitney and despite a history of tragedy and hauntings he decides to renovate the mansion, hiring a team of professionals including his best friend and architect, Jake, Nina, a landscaper, and professional cleaner and organiser, Cindy. The project requires them all to remain on the island during the renovation and ignore the weird vibes and frightening dreams the house seems to provoke but that grows increasingly difficult as a malevolent spirit begins to make its presence known. Deacon’s cousin, Dotty is convinced that solving the mystery surrounding the death of her great-great grandmother, Catherine Whitney, will put the spirit to rest but they need to do so quickly, before history repeats itself.

Harper finds a good balance between creepy ghost story and lighthearted romance in Better Homes and Hauntings. There were moments when my skin prickled with goosebumps and times when I was smiling broadly at the snarky banter between her characters.

The mystery is well thought out, with missing diaries, stolen jewels and a ghostly murderer to find. Harper also integrates a real world element in the form of Nina’s vengeful ex-boyfriend, intent on sabotaging her success.

I though the mix of personalities worked well, the enforced isolation creating a quick and tight bond between the main characters. Two romances develop over the course of the novel, Deacon falls for Nina, while Jake is infatuated with Cindy. Both pairings are well suited and it is sweet to see them work things out.

A quick, light and engaging read, fans of Harper are sure to enjoy Better Homes and Hauntings and as a rare stand alone it’s a great way to test her appeal without committing to a series.

Better Homes and Hauntings is available to purchase from

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Review: Mating For Life by Melissa Stapley

 

Title: Mating For Life

Author: Melissa Stapley

Published: Washington Square Press July 2014

Status: Read from June 29 to July 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Mating For Life is an ambitious exploration of love, relationships and the search for happiness by debut author Marissa Stapley.

The narrative unfolds from multiple perspectives, primarily those of Helen and her three adult daughter’s, Liane, Ilsa and Fiona, who are all variously struggling with romantic entanglements. Helen, a former wild child who essentially raised her daughters, fathered by three different men, on her own, is in her mid sixties and after years of eschewing tradition is wary of her lover’s urging for commitment. Liane has been with Adam for three years, but while holed up in her family’s lake cabin trying to finish her PHd thesis and imagining her future, she realises that he is not who she wants or needs after all. Fiona has invested everything she is into her marriage and children and when cracks begin to appear in the facade of her perfect family, is left angry and floundering. Ilsa, an artist and mother of two is growing increasingly dissatisfied with her passionless marriage to her much old husband and becomes embroiled in an illicit affair.

As the story unfolds, each woman is forced to negotiate the complications of mother-daughter and sibling dynamics, confront the choices they have made and reevaluate their priorities. What becomes obvious is that to successfully mate for life, they must first learn what it is they honestly want and need as individuals.

Each chapter is prefaced by a snippet from the mating rituals of a Canadian animal or bird which relates directly to the content. I thought the writing style was lovely overall, the descriptions of both place and emotion evocative, though at times a little over detailed. I found I was distracted by the additional perspectives added to the narrative from several minor characters and while I think the author chose to do so in order to explore another facet of her theme, I didn’t think it necessary.

While I could relate to some aspects of the themes of Mating For Life, neither the story, nor the characters really resonated with me in the way it has seemed to with other reviewers. For me, Mating for Life was a pleasant read but not a memorable one.

Mating For Life is available to purchase from

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Review & Giveaway: Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie

 

Title: Colours of Gold

Author: Kaye Dobbie

Published: Harlequin MIRA April 2014

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Status: Read from July 06 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie, also known as Sara Bennett and Lilly Sommers, is a captivating tale combining mystery, romance, history and a touch of ‘other’.

With the narrative alternating between the past and the present, Colours of Gold tells the story of a small girl found near death in a sealed barrel in the Murray River in 1867 and her connection to a present day art restorer’s discovery of a Trompe L’oeil in an old Melbourne hotel scheduled for demolition.

From the opening chapters of the historical timeline I was intrigued by the mysteries introduced by the author, namely the identity of the young girl rescued from the river, her extraordinary ability to see colours (aura) that warn her of a persons mood, misfortune or illness, and her fear of a tall man in a long dark coat that haunts her, day and night. Moving from the banks of the Murray, through the dusty streets of gold rush towns and finally to Melbourne, Dobbie deftly evokes the character and landscape of the historical period as Alice, and friend Rosey, struggle to escape their dark pasts, in hopes of creating a brighter future.

In the contemporary timeline, Annie Reuben is excited by the challenge presented by the conservation of the Trompe L’oeil found in the basement of the old Goldminer Hotel and intrigued by the people and the scenes it depicts, especially the figures of two young girls in the foreground. Despite the threat of interference by History Victoria, and a looming financial crisis, Annie is determined to solve the mystery of the painting, and find out what the sudden appearance of a man in a long dark coat means for her, and her daughter.

Well written, I thought the alternating chapters were particularly well structured, each advancing the story and merging neatly at the conclusion. Suspense is built carefully during the course of the novel, with the pace quickening as Alice and Annie get closer to solving the mysteries that concern them.

An entertaining and interesting novel, with appealing characters, I was surprised at how quickly I became invested in the story of Colours of Gold and how reluctant I was to put it down. This was a great read for me.

For your chance to WIN one of two copies of Colours of Gold CLICK HERE {open worldwide}

 

Colours of Gold is available to purchase from

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***

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Review: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Title: All Fall Down

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Published: Simon and Schuster AU July 2014/ Atria Books US June 2014

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publishers}

My Thoughts:

“The day had stretched endlessly before me – weepy daughter, angry husband, piles of laundry, messy bedroom, a blog post to write, and probably dozens of angry commenters lined up to tell me I was a no-talent hack and a fat, stupid whore. I need this, I thought, letting the bitterness dissolve on my tongue.”

Allison Weiss is a busy working wife and mother who finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for an injury helps relieve some of the stress that threatens to overwhelm her daily. With a pill, she worries less about the financial burden of the mortgage, has more patience with her beautiful but sensitive daughter’s tantrums, is less distressed by her father’s cognitive decline, and has the energy she needs to meet her work deadlines. But soon one pill a day isn’t enough to take the edge off, nor is three, nor five, nor ten or even twenty…

In All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner confronts the stereotype of an addict. Allison is reasonably representative of the modern, suburban, middle class woman juggling not only marriage, motherhood and career but also a myriad of other demands, such as the care of aging parents and financial concerns. Despite her increasing reliance on pills (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin) sourced both from legitimate prescriptions, and later supplemented by purchases from clandestine internet based businesses, Allison dismisses the notion of herself as an addict, even as her life begins to fall down around her.

With realism, compassion and a touch of humour, Weiner charts how easily Allison slides into addiction – her retreat into denial, her growing desperation for her next pill and the damage her it begins to inflict on her family and her career. It all seems frighteningly possible, though opiates have never done much for me (I was once prescribed Oxycontin for an injury and they made me so violently ill I strained my vocal cords and damaged my inner ear, leaving me with laryngitis and vertigo for a week), I found I could relate to her desire to soothe the pressure, and the relief the pills must have offered.

While the first half of the book focuses on Allison’s downward spiral the second focuses on her struggle to recovery. Eventually forced into rehab, Allison still refuses to accept her status as an addict, she doesn’t relate to the women with whom she shares a room or group therapy and so continues to take refuge in denial, until she is finally confronted with the truth and begins to rebuild her life, day by day.

All Fall Down is a well written and thought provoking novel, gently confronting the issue of prescription addiction in an accessible manner sure to resonate with her audience.

All Fall Down is Available to Purchase

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