Review: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

 

Title: Better Homes and Hauntings

Author: Molly Harper

Published: Pocket Books July 2014

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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: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

 

Title: The Queen of Tearling {The Queen of Tearling #1}

Author: Erika Johansen

Published:  Bantam Press: Random House July 2014

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Status: Read from July 18 to 20, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Erika Johansen’s debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling, attracted notice months before its publication date. The film rights have already been bought by Warner Bros and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has signed on as both executive producer, and its star.

The Queen of the Tearling is the first book in a trilogy featuring nineteen year old Kelsea Glynn, the newly revealed heir to the throne of Tearling. After a lifetime in hiding she must claim her birthright and defend her rule against her debauched uncle, corrupt officials and The Red Queen, a depraved sorceress who reigns the neighbouring land of Mortmesme.

In terms of plot there isn’t really much to distinguish this fantasy novel from those with similar tropes, but there is plenty of action with a surprisingly dark and gritty edge. Kelsea’s fight for her throne results in a wealth of political intrigue, involving spies at court, assassination attempts and attempts to circumvent Kelsea’s orders, which leads to multiple sword clashing confrontations. Magic shimmers in the air, but affords only a few its privileges, and there are also seeds of romance for Kelsea with a handsome rogue named Fetch.

Tearling is a realm rife with corruption, heavy with bureaucracy which favours the rich and exploits the poor. Initially I was puzzled by the setting but eventually figured out that despite the medieval detail, it is set not in the past, or an alternate universe, but the distant post-apocalyptic future of our own world. This creates an unusual landscape that blends a feudal society with reminders of modern life, which also embraces magic, but exactly how, and why, it came about is only hinted at.

I liked Kelsea well enough, she is a mixture of teenage insecurity, often naive and headstrong, but also compassionate, determined and well intentioned. She faces a myriad of ethical challenges with both the idealism and pragmatism of youth. I was a little disappointed at the emphasis both the author, and her character, place on appearance though.

The Queen of Tearling is an entertaining read and though it is not without its flaws as a novel, I can see its cinematic potential, and I’ll be interested to read its sequel.

The Queen of Tearling is available to purchase from

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Review: Family Secrets by Liz Byrski

Title: Family Secrets

Author: Liz Byrski

Published: Pan Macmillan Au July 2014

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Status: Read from July 12 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Liz Byrski turned fifty she keenly felt the lack of literature that reflected the lives of women in mid life, and drawing on her experience as a journalist and freelance writer, set out to change that by writing the sort of books that she wanted to read.

Family Secrets is Liz Byrski’s eighth fiction novel, a story about love, regrets, forgiveness and redemption.

After a long, debilitating illness, Gerald Hawkins passing is both a cause for sadness and relief for his wife Connie, and his adult children Kerry and Andrew. For decades they have lived their lives as Gerald, a dominant man, had wished them too and now that he is gone they are all forced to find their own way forward.

Connie chooses to revisit her past, announcing her plans to go to England for an extended holiday, hoping to reconnect with the woman she was before she married Gerald and gave up her dreams to become a dutiful wife and mother in Tasmania, and to rekindle her relationship with her childhood best friend, and Gerald’s sister, Flora, who has been estranged from the family for many years. Connie’s journey is not what she imagined it would be however, especially when she is confronted with some home truths about the choices she made and the person she has become.

Meanwhile her children are grappling with their changing futures. Andrew, disillusioned with his career and his marriage, is unsurprised to discover his wife’s affair but determined to protect his teenage daughter, Brooke, from the fall-out. Kerry, harbouring long held resentment and guilt about her father is at a loss when he dies, and is left struggling with the symptoms of clinical depression.

Byrski explores the way in which it is often difficult to be honest with ourselves, and others, and the corrosive nature of failing to accept the truth. Each main character in Family Secrets is challenged to reconcile their past and escape the shadow of Gerald’s legacy by taking responsibility for the people whom they have become, and making changes that allow them to reconnect with the people they love.

I thought Family Secrets was an engaging read, not especially gripping but a thoughtful and well told story of realistic domestic drama.

Family Secrets is available to purchase from

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Review: The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

 

Title: The Bookshop That Floated Away

Author: Sarah Henshaw

Published: Constable: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2009, Sarah Henshaw had a brilliant idea – to transform a narrow boat, named Joseph, into a bookshop, called The Book Barge, but by 2011, battered by the recession, the growth in digital book sales and Henshaw’s self-confessed terrible book-selling skills the store, moored in the Midlands, was on the verge of closing. Desperate to keep the business afloat, Sarah came up with the idea to traverse the canals of England for six months to raise awareness of the plight of independent booksellers and, of course, sell books.

The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of Henshaw’s adventures through the waterways of Britain, negotiating its hundreds of locks, mooring where able, and selling the odd book, supplementing the costs of her journey, largely financed by her parents and an extraordinarily generous ex boyfriend, by bartering stock for essentials like meals, alcohol, haircuts and bathroom privileges along the way. Passionate about books and literature but lacking business savvy, and at times common sense, the journey was not an easy one, hampered by break-downs, break-ins and break-outs.

I expected to love this book, but unfortunately I finished it feeling rather disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the author or her writing style, that I had trouble connecting with, but I think it was probably a mixture of both. I found Henshaw’s attitude irritating at times, and there is a weird section written from the perspective of Joseph, the boat. Still, I love the whole idea of The Book Barge and I did find Sarah’s adventures interesting, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.

The Book Barge is now moored permanently in the Barton Marina, open weekends and holidays (at Henshaw’s whim). Check The Book Barge Facebook page for details about opening hours and special events.

 

The Bookshop That Floated Away is available to purchase from

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Review: The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

 

Title: The Awakening of Miss Prim

Author: Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera Translated by Sonia Soto

Published: Hachette June 2014

Status: Read from June 12 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Wanted: a feminine spirit quite undaunted by the world to work as a librarian for a gentleman and his books. Able to live with dogs and children. Preferably without work experience. Graduates and postgraduates need not apply.”

Miss Prudencia Prim, quite undaunted by her lack of experience with dogs and children, and in possession of a number of degrees, presents herself to the gentleman advertiser looking for someone to organise his extensive private library, secure in the knowledge that she is the right person for the job. It isn’t until Miss Prim begins work for the eccentric Man in the Wing Chair, and spends time in the unusual village of San Ireneo de Arnois, that she begins to have doubts, not only about the job, but also all she thought she knew of the world.

The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming, contemporary tale with an old-worlde feel.

The setting is a small Spanish village named San Ireneo de Arnois, home to those who have chosen to eschew modern life and dedicate themselves to building a self sufficient, close knit society which values intellectual debate, old-fashioned values and community. For the independent Miss Prim, village life is a challenge. Though she agrees with its principles in theory, she finds the inclusiveness almost claustrophobic.

In The Man in the Wing Chair’s employ, Miss Prim finds herself struggling with the continual challenges to those things she has always held as certainties, such as her disbelief that a ten year old child could accurately paint Rublev’s icon from memory, to her disdain for the mystical tenets of religion. This is the awakening that the title of the book refers to, Miss Prim’s discovery that no one has all the answers, least of all her.

There is rather a lot of philosophical discourse, which will surely delight those who can recognise a Latin text by a single quote or enjoy obscure literary and cultural references. Usually I would dismiss this sort of thing as pretentious but in a village where the children visit the Tretyakov Gallery in Russia to study art and can quote Virgil’s Aenaid, it somehow doesn’t seem out of place.

Yet for all Miss Prim’s, and The Man in the Wing Chair’s knowledge and education there are things neither of them really understand, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. The low key not-quite romance is strongly reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Emma, a text referred to several times throughout the novel. Prim is of course Emma, too sure of herself and her world view, and The Man in the Winged Chair, the wise yet emotionally unavailable Mr Darcy.

Though I didn’t find The Awakening of Miss Prim to be a particularly easy or fast read, it has a undeniable grace and charm. I’d recommend it to lovers of literary classics, philosophy and learning.

Available to purchase from

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Review: A Shiver of Light by Laurell K Hamilton

Title: A Shiver of Light { Merry Gentry #9}

Author: Laurell K Hamilton

Published: Bantam Press UK June 2014

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

My Thoughts:

A Shiver of Light is the ninth book in Laurel K Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series featuring an exiled fairy princess, the descendant of a fertility goddess, and her multitude of handsome consorts. It has been a long wait for the return of Princess Meredith NicEssus, five years in fact, since the publication of Divine Misdemeanors.

A Shiver of Light picks up a short time after the events of Divine Misdemeanors with Merry now heavily pregnant with what was assumed to be twins but is quickly revealed to be triplets. The babies are born, a boy and two girls, fathered by not one but six of her lovers, each child sharing genetic traits with at least two of the men, though paternity has not yet been formally established. It is this uncertainty that has Taranis, King of Light and Illusion, who raped Merry early in her pregnancy, insisting he also has a claim on the children, and with his powers newly restored he begins a frightening campaign to take Merry away from her lovers, and make her his queen.

I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed in the story. There is so much potential that just seems wasted between repetitive descriptions of Merry’s men, far too much talk and very little action. There are a couple of confrontations through the story with Taranis and Queen Andais but most of the excitement, and the single twist, is crammed into the last 30 pages or so.

The only characters to show any real growth in this installment are Galen, who is galvanised by fatherhood, and Queen Andais who is trying to curb her psychotic tendencies in order to forge a relationship with Merry and the babies. Merry is either drowning in hormone induced hysteria for a lot of the novel, or desperately horny. She doesn’t spend a lot of time with her children, leaving their care to their fathers and a phalanx of nannies despite apparently breastfeeding. I am really interested to see how the babies play into the continuing story though. At only a few days old, all three are displaying immense magical abilities.

Despite devouring A Shiver of Light in a couple of hours, in retrospect it was a fairly weak story which failed to live up to expectation. Still I know I will be picking up the next one simply because I am not quite ready to say goodbye… even if I have to wait another five years.

Available to purchase from

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via Booko

 

Review & Giveaway: For One Night Only by Phillipa Fioretti

 

Title: For One Night Only

Author: Phillipa Fioretti

Published: Momentum January 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 09 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

After spending time with her Italian relatives, Australian born Ornella Ortenzi plans to enjoy a few days in the Sicilian town of Taormina with a friend before heading to Rome for an audition that could launch the acting career she has always dreamed of. So when Ornella meets Hugh Calthorpe, a handsome British archeologist, she is determined not to be swayed by his charm but after a hike up a volcano, a few drinks and a moonlight skinny dip, she decides to throw caution to the wind. After a wonderful night together, Ornella and Hugh are sharing breakfast the next morning when Hugh wanders into the cafe to pay…and vanishes, leaving his phone and sunglasses behind.

For One Night Only is a fast-paced, entertaining romantic suspense novel that has Ornella and Hugh caught up in a dangerous adventure when Hugh is abducted and ordered to steal the precious floor mosaic depicting Dido and Aenaes he recently uncovered in the basement of a hotel. There are some good twists to the story as Fioretti plots an exciting romp that includes escape and capture, a nasty group of Italian thugs, corporate conspiracy and betrayal as Ornella and Hugh strive to save themselves, and each other.

I liked both of Fioretti’s protagonists. It might be a little bit of a stretch to believe that Ornella would be so adamant about finding Hugh given the circumstances, but she is a confident and determined woman, who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid of trying to making it happen whether it is landing the role of a lifetime, or chasing after the missing Hugh. Hugh is a nice guy, smart, a little cheeky but obviously essentially principled and honest. The chemistry between the pair is well depicted from their first meeting and in the moments they spend both together and even apart, the author manages to develop the relationship so that the reader is hoping for a happy ever after.

The setting of For One Night Only is particularly lovely, I enjoyed the tour of Taormina and its surrounds, led by Fioretti’s vivid descriptions of simmering volcano’s, black sand beaches and bustling cafe’s. {Google the town and you will be fantasising about visiting it yourself!)

Combining romance, mystery, action and suspense, For One Night Only is a well written and entertaining story which I enjoyed reading.

Learn more about Philipa Fioretti and her love of  Italy by clicking here

Available to Purchase From

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Review & Giveaway: Lick by Kylie Scott

 

Title: Lick  {Stage Dive #1}

Author: Kylie Scott

Published: Pan Macmillan Au April 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 05 to 06, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Bookworld}

My Thoughts:

A sexy contemporary romance, Lick, the first book in the Stage Dive series, was first self published by its Australian author Kylie Scott but has since been picked up by traditional publishers in several countries and earned her a place on the USA Today Bestseller List. I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot from this title, even though it seems to have captured the imagination of thousands of readers, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be an entertaining, sweet and quick read.

“Let me get this straight, you don’t remember anything?”
“No,” I said, swallowing hard. “What did we do last night?”
“We got f**g married.” he growled.”

Lick begins with twenty one year old Evelyn waking in her hotel room after a wild night in Vegas to discover a 5 carat ring on her finger, a tattoo on her ass and the presence of tall, dark and gorgeous rock god David Ferris. Unable to remember much of anything, but convinced both she and David have made a terrible drunken mistake, Evelyn offers David a simple annulment and returns to Portland to pick up her quiet life where she left off. It is a sensible plan, but word of their Elvis impersonator officiated marriage has been leaked and Ev is ambushed by paparazzi. Forced to take up David’s offer of sanctuary while his lawyers take care of the details, Ev is surprised to learn there is more to her new husband than she suspected and that perhaps a divorce would be a bigger mistake than their marriage.

While the plot of Lick is all about the Cinderella fantasy of an ordinary girl being chosen by a handsome prince, the tone and the characters of this novel are what saves it from becoming a bland romance.

Evelyn is an appealing heroine, smart, witty and a little awkward she is an ordinary sensible girl for whom things go wildly awry the one time she sets aside her inhibitions. I can’t blame Ev for being unable to resist David, Scott’s description of him is just delicious, and at twenty one she is still in possession of the idealism that believes in destiny, true love and happy ever after.

‘Stage Dive’ lead guitarist David is the hot bad boy with a vulnerable heart. It’s a combination that is difficult to resist even when he is being a jerk because you just know his arrogance is a self defense mechanism. Unsurprisingly it turns out Dave has been badly hurt in the past and he has to deal with his trust issues before he can expect his relationship with Ev will work out.

“Love isn’t always smooth or straightforward. It can be messy and painful. Doesn’t mean it isn’t the most incredible thing that can ever happen to you.”

Though labeled a New Adult title due to the ages of the protagonists, Lick doesn’t seem to have any trouble attracting a more mature audience. If funny, sexy and sweet romance is your thing then take a stage dive into Lick.

Purchase Lick from Bookworld

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Review: Encore by Margaret Lynette Sharp

 

Title: Encore

Author: Margaret Lynette Sharp

Published:  CreateSpace February 2013

Status: Read on May 26, 2014

My Thoughts:

Encore is a lovely book of 25 short stories by Margaret Lynn Sharp, her sixth self published collection.

Sharp’s characters are a mix of ages and genders, whose stories are told in the first and third person. This results in an interesting variety of perspectives on humanity, relationships and romance.

I particularly liked Dear David, written in an epistolary format, about a rekindled romance, Just the Shot, about a grandfathers gift to his grandson, and The Locket, the story of a secret love.

Despite the brevity of each contribution, Sharp is able to inspire emotion in the reader and communicate the action succinctly. More often than not, the stories hold a twist that veers away from the expected. The prose and dialogue is well-crafted, if sometimes a touch too formal.

Like Sharp’s previous collections, Encore is a pleasant and easy read.

Encore is available to purchase at

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Review: A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home by Sue Halpern

 

Title: A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

Author: Sue Halpern

Published: Allen & Unwin May 2014

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

My Thoughts:

When Sue Halpern found herself and her Labradoodle, Pransky, at a loose end, she searched for ways in which to keep them both busy. Of the options available, Sue felt Pransky would make a wonderful pet therapy dog and began the process of training for certification. Reigning in Pransky’s natural exuberance was no small task but within a few months, having passed the assessment process, Sue and Pransky walked into the County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center to meet its residents.

Halpern introduces us to the men and women she and Pransky visit each week, who suffer a variety of ailments from simple old age to genetic diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimers. The stories are sweet, touching and poignant and it is evident that Pransky’s presence benefits those that spend time with her, providing companionship, comfort, and joy. It is equally clear that Halpern and Pransky also benefit from the time they spend at the facility.

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is “…about one singular, faithful, charitable, loving, and sometimes prudent dog….showing great hope, restraint and fortitude….”. but also a thoughtful treatise on life, illness, aging and death. Each chapter is framed by one of the seven Virtues and includes anecdotes of Sue and Pransky’s visits with the residents of the nursing home, interspersed with commentary on philosophy, religion, social policy, scientific research and healthcare.

Available to Purchase From

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