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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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.

 

The Cure for Dreaming is available to purchase at

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Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

 

Title: Dear Committee Members

Author: Julie Schumacher

Published: The Friday Project: Harper Collins UK October 2014

Status: Read from October 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Presented wholly in epistolary form, Dear Committee Members is a short, witty novel exposing the weary cynicism of an aging college English and Creative Writing professor under siege from budget cuts, rampant bureaucracy, renovations, online forms and desperate students.

Over a year Professor Jason Fitger writes many letters, spurning the modern day convenience of email where possible, to complain about the lavish renovations occurring on the floor above him in the Economics department while the Humanties department slowly suffocates among the dust, to lobby whomever he can think of, enemy or no, to grant his favoured writing student a fiduciary break, and to recommend both past and present graduates, some of whom he has never met, for jobs they are wildly over qualified for.

Into each missive creeps increasingly brutally honest snippets of Jay’s frustrations with his stalled writing career and his disastrous love life, his contempt for university politics, and his dismay at the dwindling esteem for language and literature. Though painted as an opinionated, surly curmudgeon, it becomes obvious that Fitger is also a passionate and dedicated teacher whom wants the respect he feels his department and its denizens deserve.

Bitterly funny and surprisingly poignant, Dear Committee Members is a scathing commentary on the foibles of academic administration, and an eloquent argument for the rescue of Humanties studies.

Dear Committee Members is available to purchase at

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Review: The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

 

Title: The Wonder of All Things

Author: Jason Mott

Published: Harlequin MIRA September 2014

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Status: Read from September 29 to October 01, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In the Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott, thirteen year old Ava, trapped under a collapsed structure with her badly injured best friend, Wash, lays her hands on his wound, closes her eyes and wishes for him to be healed. To the astonishment of witnesses, including Ava’s police chief father, Wash’s injury vanishes, and Ava collapses. As word spreads of the ‘Miracle Child’, the small town in which Ava lives is inundated with people seeking her touch, and Ava and her family struggle under the weight of expectation, even as it becomes apparent that Ava’s gift comes at a grave cost to her own health.

The Wonder of All Things shares similar themes with Mott’s debut novel The Returned. Placing a young, innocent child at the center of the maelstrom of controversy, the author examines issues such as faith, morality, loss, love, duty, and sacrifice.

For Ava and her family, father Macon and pregnant stepmother, Carmen the conflict centers around ensuring their safety and well-being, and the demands the community is making to ‘share’ the miracle. Mott also explores the response of friends and strangers to the event and exposes the conflicting emotions of awe and suspicion, selflessness and greed that it provokes.

As with The Returned, Jason Mott offers no explanation for the occurrence of a miracle. I understand this is a source of frustration for many readers but it isn’t something I mind.

“And, sometimes in life, love and loving can still lead to an ending that we would otherwise choose. A fate with no blame to be taken. She understood that, in this world, there are unexplained wonders and faultless horrors both.”

Though ultimately there is nothing particularly original about its premise or in the way it plays out, I thought The Wonder of All Things was nevertheless a moving and thought provoking story.

 

The Wonder of All Things is available to purchase at

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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.

 

The French Prize is available to purchase from

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Also by Cathryn Hein reviewed at Book’d Out

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Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

 

Title: Apple and Rain

Author: Sarah Crossan

Published: Bloomsbury September 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on August 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A poignant and touching story, Apple and Rain is a story about family, poetry, wishes and growing up.

Apple is thirteen and has lived with her grandmother since her mother left one Christmas Eve when she was two. Her Nan is loving but strict and Apple can’t help but imagine that her mother will one day return and that her life with her will be all she has ever wished for. When Annie does suddenly reappear on a grey afternoon, she offers Apple her hearts desire, a home of their own, and with barely a backward glance Apple packs her bags, excited that her imagined perfect life is about to begin. Apple finally has the mother she loves, and the freedom she craves, but neither are quite what she imagined, and then there is Rain.

Apple(her full name is Apollinia Apostolopoulou – named for her Greek father) is a sincere character with believable thoughts, motivations and actions appropriate for her age. I found her to be very sympathetic as she struggled to cope with a teens familiar disappointments – being excluded by a best friend, targeted by a mean girl and having an unrequited crush, as well as dealing with her mother’s homecoming, and the surprise of a little sister. As her new life begins to unravel, Apple takes comfort in poetry, inspired by a substitute teacher, and a new neighbour, Del, but must also confront some uncomfortable truths about her mother, her sister’s obsession and her own needs.

Apple’s first person narrative is genuine and appealing. Crossan’s plain writing style and natural dialogue is appropriate for her audience. The pacing of the novel is good and the story is well structured.

Apple and Rain is a bittersweet tale, exploring contemporary themes in a realistic and thoughtful manner. I’d recommend it for readers aged 12 and up.

Apple and Rain is available to purchase from

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Apple and Rain arrived wrapped in brown paper with a warning label and a packet of tissues!

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Review: The Catch by Taylor Stevens

 

Title: The Catch { Vanessa Michael Munroe #4}

Author: Taylor Stevens

Published: Crown Publishing: Random House July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Catch by Taylor Stevens is the fourth book to feature the unusual character of Vanessa Michael Munroe.

Regrouping after the events of The Doll, Munroe has been biding her time in Djibouti, Africa, working as an interpreter for a small private security company as ‘Michael’. When Munroe’s boss accepts a job on a freighter bound for Kenya, Leo, jealous of Michael’s closeness with his wife Amber and oblivious to Michael’s real gender and talents, insists she accompanies the team. Part way through the voyage, the ship is attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia but Munroe escapes with the injured freighter captain in tow. It quickly becomes obvious that the pirate’s target was not the cargo, which included a secret cache of weapons, but the captain, and to save the crew Munroe must negotiate the shadowy world of piracy, Hawala and corruption.

Munroe is such an intriguing character, a borderline sociopath capable of lethal violence with finely honed instincts, she is also highly intelligent, resourceful and has a prodigious talent for languages, skills which she makes good use of in The Catch.

The story of The Catch is perhaps more cerebral than in previous installments. Gathering information and planning strategy is more important than Munroe’s physical prowess as she scrambles to understand the motives of the pirates while nursing debilitating injuries inflicted by a vicious group of hired thugs.

The weakness for me in this story is in the motive Taylor ascribes to Munroe for saving the ship and its crew. I just wasn’t convinced Munroe’s attachment to Amber was strong enough to risk so much for her, even given Munroe’s unique sense of justice and loyalty.

Though The Catch could be read as a standalone, familiarity with the unique character of Munroe lends a richness that enhances the story. As someone familiar with the series I was satisfied with this installment and I am eager to discover what Munroe’s next move will be.

The Catch  is available to purchase from

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Also reviewed on Book’d Out


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Review: The Broken Places by Ace Atkins

 

Title: The Broken Places { Quinn Colson #3}

Author: Ace Atkins

Published: C&R: Allen & Unwin August 2014

Status: Read from August 11 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Broken Places is the third gripping book by Ace Atkins to feature former Army Ranger Quinn Colson, now Sheriff of Tebbehah County in rural northeast Mississippi.

“I say it’s hell being Sheriff in the same town as your family”

Colson has to admit his younger sister, Caddy, is looking healthier and happier than she has in years, but he can’t bring himself to trust it will last, especially since she has hooked up with pardoned ex-con turned preacher, Jamey Dixon. Convicted of murdering his girlfriend in a drug fueled rage, Dixon seems determined to prove he is a changed man, preaching forgiveness and redemption, but a trio of dangerous escaped criminals are headed Dixon’s way, and they intend to retrieve what they believe to be theirs, come hell or high water.

In a small town like Jericho, Colson’s personal and professional lives inevitably tangle and in The Broken Places this conflict is at the heart of the story. Caddy, having recently turned her own life around, is convinced Dixon deserves a second chance. Quinn doesn’t believe Dixon is a reformed man but is at a loss as to how to convince his sister she is making a mistake. As Colson stews about his sister’s love life, the town gossips about his regular meetings with county undertaker/coroner, Ophelia, unaware Anna-Lee, Quinn’s childhood sweetheart now married to someone else, makes regular visits to his bed.

Few of the characters in The Broken Places are either entirely good or bad, Colson included, and it is this ambiguity that makes them so interesting. The veracity of Dixon’s reform shifts as the story unfolds, and with the line between the truth and deception, lawfulness and justice often blurred, the reader is asked to make their own judgement about his, and others, behaviour.

Click for my review

There is plenty of fast paced action in this installment with the murderous escapees making their way to Jericho. The violence in the story is amplified by the storm bearing down on the town. When a violent tornado touches down, ripping through the county, the aftermath leaves some broken, and others free to start again.

Though Broken Places could conceivably be read as a stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend it as familiarity with the primary characters adds depth to the story. I have grown quite fond of the series and am looking forward to the next installment. There is a frustrating years delay between each installments publication in the US and the Commonwealth, so while the fourth book, The Forsaken, is already available in some markets, it will be May 2015 until I will be able to get my hands on it.

The Broken Places is available to purchase from

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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: The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler

 

Title: The Aitch Factor

Author: Susan Butler

Published: Pan Macmillan August 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read on August 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler, a long-time editor of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, contains a series of short essays about language, its history, development and idiosyncrasies.

Butler begins with the Haitch vs Aitch debate (my maternal grandmother in particular would have been horrified had I ever pronounced the letter H as ‘Haitch’) and goes on to explore other topics like Capitalisation, Internet gibberish, The attraction of slang and How do words get into the dictionary?

Butler is not without a sense of humour which these essays also reflect with subjects that include, Should man boobs be in the dictionary?, The mystery of the bogan, and her recommendation that we adopt Canadian spelling as an international standard over British or American English.

I was most impressed, and feel somewhat vindicated, to learn that Butler considers (and history proves) the apostrophe to be ‘an artifice of writing, a grammarian’s flourish’ and actually advocates that we forgo it entirely given it is possible to do so without any effect on our comprehension of written language. Ive often thought its true, and shes right, isnt she?

An ideal gift for language lovers, or pedantics, grammar Nazi’s or wordsmiths, The Aitch Factor is an entertaining and illuminating treatise on the ever evolving landscape of language.

 

The Aitch Factor is available to purchase from

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