Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

 

Title: Church of Marvels

Author: Leslie Parry

Published: Hachette Australia May 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read from May 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Church of Marvels is an atmospheric and haunting tale set in New York during the late 1800’s that unfolds from the perspectives of four compelling characters, whose lives eventually converge.

Leaving behind her twin sister, Isabelle Church fled to Manhattan in the wake of the Coney Island fire that killed her mother and destroyed the Church of Marvels, the carny show in which Isabelle starred. No one knows why she left, where she is, or what secrets she keeps.

“I haven’t been able to speak since I was seventeen years old. Some people believed that because of this I’d be able to keep a secret. They believed I could hear all manners of tales and confessions and repeat nothing. Perhaps they believe that if I cannot speak, I cannot listen or remember or even think for myself – that I am, in essence, invisible. That I will stay silent forever. I’m afraid they are mistaken.”

With her mother dead, and her twin sister gone, only Odile Church remains at Coney Island, the spinning girl on the Wheel of Death. When a letter from her sister finally arrives she heads to Manhattan, determined to find her.

“At first glance the twins looked alike – they were both freckled and hazel eyed, with thick blonde hair and the snub nose of a second-rate chorus girl. But that was where the similarities ended, Unlike Belle, with her lithe and pliant acrobat’s body, Odile had a permanent crook in her neck and a slight curve to her spine.”

Sylvan Threadgill is nineteen, abandoned as a young child, he makes his living as a night-soiler, and boxes for a few extra pennies. One night he finds a baby girl half drowned in the effluent and rescues her.

“Under their breaths they called him Dogboy. He’d been puzzled over and picked apart all of his life – the skin of a Gypsy, the hair of a Negro, the build of a German, the nose of a Jew. he didn’t belong to anyone. They started at him with a kind of terrified wonder, as though he was a curiosity in a dime museum. One of his eyes was brown, so dark it nearly swallowed the pupil, and the other pale, aqueous blue.”

When Alphie Leonetti, once a ‘penny rembrandt’, is first introduced she is waiting for her husband, Anthony, to rescue her from the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in the East River, the last thing she remembers is an argument with her disapproving mother in law. Desperate to escape she befriends a mute inmate with startling skills.

“Alphie curled up and covered her face with her hair, then cried her voice away. She couldn’t bear it; she’d come so far from her days a s a girl on the street, a bony runaway with shoes made from paper, waiting there on the corner with her paint stand and jars. And here she was, through some cruel reversal, sent back to the anonymous hive, trapped in a room full of women who were not missed and not wanted, who would wear the same dress every day until it disintegrated on their hungry frames-a dress she too wore, formless and smelling of some previous disease…”

With evocative phrasing Parry creates memorable characters and vivid settings, from the seedy shores of Coney Island to the dark, narrow streets of inner Manhattan, and the bleak horror of the asylum marooned in the middle of the East River.

A novel that demands attention, the lyrical prose of Church of Marvels tells a complex, suspenseful mystery that sometimes appears scattered, but is eventually brought to a stunning resolution.

“We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.”

 

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Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

 

Title: Saint Anything

Author: Sarah Dessen

Published: PenguinTeen Australia May 2015

Status: Read from May 16 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close. I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother, or smart and dynamic like my friends. That’s the thing though. You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are.”

Saint Anything is a thoughtful contemporary tale exploring the themes of family, self discovery, belonging, and change.

Sydney Stanford is used to living in the shadow of her charismatic, if rebellious, older brother Peyton, but when he is convicted and imprisoned for a drink driving offense that left a fifteen year old paralysed, she struggles under the burden of his reflected guilt.
Hoping to escape the gossip, and ease her parents financial burden, Sydney opts to transfer from her exclusive private school to a local public high school, where she befriends Layla Chatham and her brother Mac, after a chance meeting in the pizza parlour their parents own. Welcomed by the Chatham’s, and their friends, Sydney’s burden lightens but escaping her brother’s legacy will not be that simple.

Sydney feels as if she is the only one that carries the burden of Peyton’s actions. She is angry and frustrated by her mother’s seeming failure to acknowledge her brother’s guilt, or Sydney’s feeling about the situation, but can’t discuss the matter with her, as her mother is focused only on supporting Peyton.

“When she spoke again her voice had an hard edge to it. “It’s very scary. Especially for your brother, who is locked away, alone, with no support system other than us, his family….If he can deal with that for seventeen months,” she continues, “I think you can handle being slightly uncomfortable for a few hours. Don’t you agree?”

With her parents distracted, and Sydney unwilling to make demands on them, she finds freedom to be herself in her friendship with Layla, and her burgeoning romance with Mac. I really liked the way Dessen developed these relationships, which are warm and realistic and equally as important to Sydney.

But with a single mistake everything begins to fall apart. I was itching for Sydney to stand up for herself, both with her parents and Ames, but I think Dessen stays true to her character. Sydney has to develop the confidence and a surer sense of self before she can stand her ground.

“Why are you being like this?” I asked her. “I’m not a bad kid, and you know it, This was one night, one thing. One mistake. And I’m sorry. But you can’t-”
“Your brother started with one mistake as well, she replied. “Which led to another. And another.”
“I’m not Peyton” I said. It seemed crazy I’d have to say this, as all my life they’d made it clear it was the one thing they knew for sure.

Sydney’s story is one that would often be overlooked in favour of Peyton’s drama or his victim’s tragedy, but Dessen ensures it is just as important and affecting. Saint Anything is a quiet but emotionally powerful novel, thoughtful and beautifully written.

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Review: A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

 

Title: A Court of Thorn and Roses {A Court of Thor and Roses #1}

Author: Sarah J Maas

Published: Bloomsbury May 2015

Status: Read from May 14 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As a huge fan of Sarah J Maas’s ‘Throne of Glass’ series, I’ve been excited about the release of A Court of Thorn and Roses, the first book in a new trilogy, blending fae lore with a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable.

In the depths of winter, Fayre is fighting to keep her poverty stricken family alive when she kills a wolf, unaware he is a creature of the fae. Having unwittingly broken the centuries old treaty made between the humans and their kind, she willingly submits to the penalty to protect her family and is dragged to Prythia by the beast that demands it, expecting to be killed, enslaved or worse by the race that once slaughtered humans for sport.
Instead the beast, who is not exactly a monster at all but rather a High Fae with shape shifting abilities, offers her a life of ease in his court but can Fayre really trust the word of a Faerie, especially when something dark and wicked lurks close by?

I really liked the character of Fayre, she is a strong willed, fierce and passionate, though not without her vulnerabilities. She struggles to adjust to her new life in Prythia and is understandably slow to trust Tamlin but once she gives in to her fate she embraces it wholeheartedly.

It isn’t until Fayre is captive in Prythia that Tamlin reveals his true self, not just High Fae, he is the devastatingly handsome and powerful High Lord of the Spring Court. Tamlin though is also cursed, condemned to wear a masquerade mask with weakening powers, by what he explains to Fayre is a blight that has been poisoning the magic in the realm.

The nature and source of the ‘blight’ provides the major arc of conflict for the novel. I won’t give it away but I will say it surprised me. I enjoyed the action and drama of the story, particularly in the climatic final chapters, but I did feel that the story lagged somewhat in the middle. Fayre’s time in the Spring Court is largely uneventful, with most of the action happening ‘off the page’, while Fayre sort of wanders around with her easel.

And as to be expected, romance develops between Fayre and Tamlin. There are some intimate scenes between the couple, but nothing too explicit. There is also the potential for a love triangle of sorts with the introduction of the enigmatic High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand.

While I wasn’t wholly enamored by A Court of Thorn and Roses I did enjoy the characters and the world Maas has built and I will be picking up the next book, as yet untitled, as soon as it is available.

A Court of Thorn and Roses is available to purchase from

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Also by Sarah J Maas reviewed on Book’d Out


Weekend Cooking: Easy Weeknight Meals by My Food Bag and Nadia Lim

 

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I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

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Title: Easy Weeknight Meals: Simple, healthy, delicious recipes

Author: My Food Bag and Nadia Lim

Published: Allen & Unwin April 2015

My Thoughts:

Founded in March 2013, My Food Bag is a service that aims to provide simple and healthy recipes, along with the all of the ingredients to create them, to families in New Zealand and Australia. Firm believers in the real (or whole) food philosophy, My Food Bag recipes rely on ‘farm-gate to plate’ ingredients which are ethically sourced and delivered fresh to subscriber’s doorsteps.

Easy Weeknight Meals is the company’s first cookbook. While all of the recipes have been developed by professional chef’s, a team led by Nadia Lim, My Food Bag claims all of the recipes have been tried and tested by home cooks.

The cookbook is organised seasonally, taking advantage of in-season produce in line with the company’s whole food policy. The recipes are well set out with a bolded list of ingredients (metric measurements), and have clear instructions for prepping, cooking, and serving the dish. Prep and cook times are included as well as the nutritional information for each recipe.

Each recipe is a complete main meal often including vegetable or salad sides, as well as sauces. Almost all claim a serving size of 4-5 persons (2 adults and three young children or 2 adults and two teenagers). All of the meals can be prepared and served within an hour, most within 30 minutes.

There is a strong Asian influence amongst the recipes in the cookbook with dishes like Asian Pesto Fish with Sesame Spring Toss and Coconut Rice, Korean Beef and Shitake Mushroom Bibimbap, Sticky Hoisin and Ginger Pork with Rice and Bok Choy and Chicken Katsu Skewers with Cabbage and Sugar Snap Soba Noodles.

Middle Eastern inspired dishes are also popular including recipes such as Baked Lamb Kofta with Tomato Pilaf and Yoghurt Dressing, Harissa Chicken with Fennel, Orange, Baby Beet and Feta Tabouleh, and Hummus, Grilled Haloumi with Israeli Couscous, Yams and Herb Vinaigrette.

SNAG-0046

© Allen and Unwin 2015

Traditional recipes are ‘upgraded’ with meals like Fish and Crispy Potatoes with Apple and Rocket Salad and Lemon Caper Aioli, Giant Pork, Pumpkin and Sage Sausage Rolls with Coleslaw, Venison Burgers with Roast Pepper and Blue Cheese, and Pizzettes with Olives, Feta, Oregano Oil and Greek Salad.

SNAG-0045

© Allen and Unwin 2015

If I’m honest most of the recipes in Easy Weeknight Meals are too ‘gourmet’ for my family’s taste, but for parents whose children are adventurous eaters, this cookbook could be a great resource for weekly meals. I also think Easy Weeknight Meals would be a useful reference for busy professional couples.

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Review: Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland

 

Title: Love and Miss Communication

Author: Elyssa Friedland

Published: William Morrow May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on May 14, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelwiess}

My Thoughts:

“No more stalking ­people on Google.
No more Facebooking exes.
No more reading twits on Twitter.
No more posting pictures and waiting for “likes.”
No more refreshing Gmail every thirty seconds.
No more hashtagging meaningless combinations of words.
No more Instagramming every instant.
No more Foursquaring her whereabouts.
No more bidding on eBay for the thrill of competition.
No more pretend job hunting on Monster.
No more blogs. (She was slandered on one, for God’s sake!)
No more watching two-­year-­olds boogie to Beyoncé on YouTube.
No more playing Scrabble against house-­bound Aspergians.
No more Candy Crush, that time-­sucking psychedelic mess of sugar balls. And, best of all, no more OkCupid, JDate, eHarmony, and Match.”

A modern story about life and love in the digital age, when Evie Rosen’s addiction to email derails her promising law career and a Facebook post breaks her heart, she impulsively decides to disconnect from the world wide web and reclaim her life.

I didn’t particularly relate to Evie, whose behaviour more closely resembles that of my eighteen year old daughter than a woman, who at nearly thirty five, is closer to my age. She is, for the most part, self involved and superficial, and that is something that is very slow to change over the course of the novel. She’s horribly neglectful of her friendships, complaining because of missed e-vites and texts, but never makes much of an attempt to reach out. She pines over her ex-boyfriend, and whines endlessly about being single, without ever examining her own behaviour or attitude.

I did like the way in which Friedland developed Evie’s relationship with Dr Gold. He proves to be a great guy, though not perfect, and also a really patient man, given Evie’s neuroses.

The most charming aspect of the novel involved Evie’s relationship with her grandmother, a stereotypical Jewish Bubbe desperate to see Evie get married and have children.

Even though this is chick-lit, I thought there were missed opportunities to really explore what its like to be ‘unplugged’ in this day and age. Evie isn’t really challenged to live in the real world while ‘unplugged’, her generous severance payment gives her a lot of freedom, not that she really does much with it.

I am left with mixed feelings about Love and Miss Communication, the premise is great but Evie wasn’t a character I could root for and I felt the story was somewhat underdeveloped.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Only We Know by Victoria Purman

 

Title: Only We Know

Author: Victoria Purman

Published: Harlequin MIRA Aus May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 08 to 10, 2015   – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Full review to come

A rugged island. Two people. Family secrets.
When Calla Maloney steps on the boat to Kangaroo Island, she’s filled with dread. Part of it is simple seasickness but the other part is pure trepidation. She’s not on a holiday but a mission: to track down her estranged brother, who she hasn’t seen since her family splintered two years before.
Firefighter Sam Hunter left the island twenty years ago and has made a habit out of staying as far away as he can get. But when his father’s illness forces him home, he finds himself playing bad cop to his dad and reluctant tour guide to a redhead with no sense of direction.
As Sam and Calla dig deeper into their long-buried family secrets, they discover that no one is an island and that opening up their hearts to love again might be the most dangerous thing they will ever do.

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Also by Victoria Purman on Book’d Out

 

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Review: The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor

 

Title: The Daylight Marriage

Author: Heidi Pitlor

Published: Algonquin Books  May 2015

Status: Read from May 07 to 08, 2015   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

Hannah was the kind of woman who turned heads. Tall and graceful, naturally pretty, often impulsive, always spirited, the upper-class girl who picked, of all men, Lovell–the introverted climate scientist, the practical one who thought he could change the world if he could just get everyone to listen to reason. After a magical honeymoon they settled in the suburbs to raise their two children.
But over the years, Lovell and Hannah’s conversations have become charged with resentments and unspoken desires. She’s become withdrawn and directionless. His work affords him a convenient distraction. The children can sense the tension, which they’ve learned to mostly ignore. Until, after one explosive argument, Hannah vanishes. And Lovell, for the first time, is forced to examine the trajectory of his marriage through the lens of memory–and the eyes of his children. As he tries to piece together what happened to his wife–and to their lives together–readers follow Hannah through that single day when the smallest of decisions takes her to places she never intended to go. “

A Quick Thought:

Just an okay read for me. I didn’t care much for either Hannah or Lovell, and found the details of their middle class marriage woes rather tedious. I was sufficiently intrigued by the mystery  surrounding Hannah’s fate to keep reading though and thought the resolution was quite original.

Available to Purchase From

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Blog Tour Review: The Lie by C.L. Taylor

 

Title: The Lie

Author: C.L. Taylor

Published: Avon: HarperCollins May 2015

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 10 to 11, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A tense thriller from author C.L. Taylor, The Lie is a story of friendship, deception, secrets and betrayal.

“A couple of weeks ago I found a picture of the four of us, taken by a stranger outside Kathmandu airport…We all look so fresh faced and hopeful in the photo, and we were. It was supposed to be a holiday of a lifetime.”

Best friends since university, Emma, Al, Daisy and Leeanne, are heading to Nepal for the holiday of a lifetime, where, in between exploring Kathmandu and treking in Chitwan, they are planning on spending a week relaxing at an isolated spiritual retreat. ‘Ekantra yatra’ initially seems to be everything the brochure promised but within days the friendship between the four girls sours, corrupted by the charismatic leader, Issac.
Five years later Jane Hughes receives an anonymous note, ‘I know your name’s not really Jane Hughes’. Whoever sent it knows the truth, ‘Jane’ is really Emma, but do they know she has been lying about more than her identity?

Jane/Emma has been keeping the whole secret of what really happened in Nepal for five long years. When the anonymous note is followed by sinister texts, purportedly from Daisy, Jane reaches out to Al, the only other member of their foursome who returned from ‘Ekantra yatra’.

“I was lying to myself when I said that your past doesn’t shape your future. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Your memories are the one thing you can’t run from, the one thing you can’t change.”

As the narrative shifts between the past, revealing what actually happened five years previously at ‘Ekantra yatra’, and the present, Taylor skilfully builds suspense in both timelines. As Jane/Emma’s carefully constructed life in Wales is falling apart in the face of escalating threats from her stalker, the friendship between the four best friends begins to disintegrate in Nepal. Within days of their arrival at ‘Ekantra yatra’ it’s clear the retreat is not what it seems. Manipulated by Issac who preys on their insecurities and petty resentments, the girls turn on each other with frightening ease and as their friendship implodes, the danger escalates.

“How had our holiday gone so wrong? We’d arrived at Ekanta yatra as friends, friends with issues rumbling beneath the smiles and excitement, but ours was a friendship that had outlasted uni and survived relocation, jobs and relationships. Or so I thought. And yet the bonds I believed were strong were only ever superficial and, like a game of Jenga, all it took was one false move and everything collapsed.”

With a strong premise, supported by interesting characterisation, The Lie is a well paced, dramatic and atmospheric tale of psychological suspense.

 

Available to Purchase From

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Also by CL Taylor reviewed on Book’d Out

The Accident

Review: What She Left by T.R. Richmond

 

Title: What She Left

Author: T.R. Richmond

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin May 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read from May 01 to 03, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

Who is Alice Salmon? Student. Journalist. Daughter. Lover of late nights, hater of deadlines. That girl who drowned last year. Gone doesn’t mean forgotten. Everyone’s life leaves a trace behind. But it’s never the whole story.

A Brief Thought:

I think the premise of What She Left is good and I was excited by the idea of the epistolary format, yet somehow the story didn’t quite live up to it’s potential for me. There seemed to be more focus on Professor Cooke, Alice’s former tutor,  than on Alice and her life. I also struggled with the scattered timeline and fairly slow pace.

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Epistolary Fiction

Review: Where They Found Her by Kimberley McCreight

 

 

Title: Where They Found Her

Author: Kimberley McCreight

Published: Simon and Schuster April 2015

Status: Read from April 23 to 25, 2015   – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An idyllic suburban town. A devastating discovery. Shocking revelations that will change three lives forever.
At the end of a long winter in well-to-do Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of a newborn is found in the woods fringing the campus of the town’s prestigious university. No one knows the identity of the baby, what ended her very short life, or how she wound up among the fallen leaves. But among the residents of Ridgedale, there is no shortage of opinions.
When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the disturbing news for the Ridgedale Reader—the town’s local paper—she has good reason to hesitate. A severe depression followed the loss of her own baby, and this assignment could unearth memories she has tried so hard to bury. But the history Molly uncovers is not her own. Her investigation unravels a decades-old trail of dark secrets hiding behind Ridgedale’s white picket fences.
Told from the perspectives of three Ridgedale women, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth behind the tragedy, revealing that these women have far more in common than they could have ever known. That the very worst crimes are committed against those we love. And that—sooner or later—the past catches up to all of us.

 

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