Review: And Then Came Paulette by Barbara Constantine

 

Title: And Then Came Paulette

Author: Barbara Constantine

Published: MacLehose Press June 2015

Status: Read from June 06 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Ferdinand, a widower (whose wife was by all accounts an unpleasant woman) lives alone a rambling French farmhouse, with only a cat for company since his son and his family moved in to town. Bored and lonely, he spends his days at a small cafe, surreptitiously tripping young woman with his cane, while hoping to spend a few minutes with his beloved grandsons on their way home from school.

Ferdinand is on his way home one evening when he discovers his neighbour, Marceline has become overwhelmed by a gas leak. Concerned that she tried to end her life he vows to keep an eye on her and when he discovers her home is barely habitable, he insists she, along with her cheeky donkey Cornelius, cat Mo-je and dog Berthe, stay with him while repairs are carried out. Just a few weeks later the pair is joined by an old friend of Ferdinand’s, followed by a pair of elderly sisters-in-laws, a trainee nurse and an agricultural student. Ferdinand’s farmhouse is suddenly bursting at the seams. And then comes Paulette.

And Then Came Paulette is a charming story about family, friendship and community, wherein a collection of lost and lonely souls in need find refuge with one another. There is humour, tenderness and joy, despite the individual sorrows that unites these characters as together they rediscover a sense of purpose, usefulness and comfort.

The characters have their own stories and quirks, from newly widowed guy to ninety five year old Hortense. Ferdinand also has his family to worry about when it seems likely his son is heading for a divorce. The identity of Paulette comes as quite a surprise, one I’m not willing to spoil.

Translated from the author’s native French, And Then Came Paulette is a quick, uplifting read. I must admit the ending feels very abrupt and the story unfinished as a result, but I did enjoy it.

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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

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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.

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Review: Death in the Rainy Season by Anna Jacquiery

 

Title: Death in the Rainy Season {Serge Morel #2}

Author: Anna Jacquiery

Published: Macmillan April 2015

Status: Read from April 11 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Full review to come

“Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.
Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?
Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .
A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”

 

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Review: Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler

 

Title: Jinn and Juice {The Jinni #1}

Author: Nicole Peeler

Published: Orbit April 2015

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Status: Read on April 03, 2015  – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
Jinn and Juice introduces a new paranormal romance/urban fantasy series from Nicole Peeler.

It’s less than a week until Lyla will finally be free of the curse that condemned her to a thousand years of servitude when Ozan, a Magi needing her help to find a missing girl, binds her to his will. A Jinn, Lyla has little choice but to obey her new Master and can only hope he will stick to their agreement to release her when their mission is complete, but Lyla will have face to her worst nightmare before her most heartfelt wish cam be granted.

Lyla was the teenage daughter of a an ancient Persian king, desperate to avoid being married off, when she was cursed by the genie she sought help from. Now she is a Jinn and a belly dancer/burlesque performer at a Pittsburgh club, biding her time until the curse expires.

Lyla’s inner circle have her back and are a fun and interesting group, including a gay Delphi Oracle, a Will-o-the-Wisp, a half troll and a psychic drag queen.

The romance between Lyla and Oz doesn’t offer any real surprises but it is enjoyable. Lyla resents Oz at first and certainly doesn’t trust him, but eventually comes to realise he is a genuine and honourable guy.

There is plenty of humour, some of it a little crude and obvious but fun and snarky nevertheless. The action is fast paced as Lyla hunts for her new Master’s missing friend, which leads to a deadly confrontation with an age old enemy.

Set in modern day Pittsburgh, I liked the way in which Peeler uses the landscape and ‘stains’ the magic with steel. ‘Sideways’ is the magical world that overlaps our own and embraces a variety of creatures and beasties.

I enjoyed Jinn and Juice, it was a quick, escapist read for a lazy afternoon.

 

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Review: The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sánchez

Title: The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman

Author: Mamen Sánchez

Published: Doubleday UK March 2015

Status: Read from March 25 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman is a quirky tale of love, friendship, family and literature.

Heir of the Craftsman & Co publishing company, Atticus Craftsman, is sent by his father to close down their failing Spanish literary magazine. The staff of the ‘Librarte’, five close-knit women, are devastated and devise a plan to distract the Englishman from his mission, luring Atticus to Andalucía with the promise of an extraordinary literary find.

As Solea leads Atticus on a wild goose chase to her family home, Berta, Gabriela, Asuncion and Maria carry on, hoping to redeem the magazine. But when Marlow Craftsman realises his son is missing, and involves local police Inspector Manchego, the women are risking more than just their jobs.

Truthfully, farce is not really my thing so I didn’t really enjoy The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman the way some readers might. I found some parts amusing and I was charmed by several of the characters including Berta, the manager of Librarte, and the bumbling Inspector Manchego, but unfortunately overall I just wasn’t very interested.

Translated from her native Spanish, The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman is Mamen Sanchez’s fifth novel.

 

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Review: Yes, Chef! by Lisa Joy

 

Title: Yes, Chef!

Author: Lisa Joy

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin March 2015

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Status: Read on February 26, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A lighthearted chick lit novel, Yes, Chef! is Lisa Joy’s debut, inspired by her real-life adventures as a PA to a celebrity chef.

Becca Stone works in a small call centre fielding table bookings for a celebrity chef’s string of popular restaurants in London. She adores her colleagues, with whom she daily raids the chocolate store downstairs and celebrates ‘Sexual Harrassment Thursdays’, but the work is boring and the pay is lousy. Nearing thirty and single Becca knows she needs to make a change, so when she is chosen to fill in for Daniel Malone’s vacationing PA she is determined to prove herself to the celebrity chef.

It took me a little while to warm up to Becca, I thought her to be whiny and self centered to begin with. Eventually she proves she isn’t quite as shallow as she seems, she is smart and feisty just lacking in self awareness. Her love life is also a disaster, she is attracted to men for superficial reasons and ignores genuine interest in favour of men who do something for her ego.

Malone, who reminds me of Gordon Ramsey, is an egotistical boss who demands Becca fulfils his every whim, from sourcing dozens of unique plates from a Turkish bazaar at short notice to lying to his high-strung wife regarding his whereabouts and it’s not long before Becca’s dream job becomes a nightmare. She lets some of Malone’s attitude slide but eventually his sleazy, self-aggrandizing behaviour goes too far and she has to decide if the career she wants is worth the compromises she has to make.

The story is formulaic, not really offering any surprises, but an easy read. The writing isn’t quite as strong as it could be, uneven in places with weak transitions. Personally, I favoured the scenes Becca shared with her friends and colleagues from the call center. They are warm, funny and authentic and their banter is entertaining. The romance is fairly low key but I was happy enough with the way it resolved.

Yes, Chef! is a quick, light read about love, food and finding your path in life.

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Blog Tour Review: Avery by Charlotte McConaghy

Title: Avery {The Chronicles of Kaya #1}

Author: Charlotte McConaghy

Published: Random House Feb 2015

Status: Read from February 03 to 05, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Avery, the first book in Charlotte McConaghy’s romantic fantasy adventure trilogy, The Chronicles of Kaya, introduces a nation divided by war. For centuries the people of Kaya and Pirenti have fought bloody battles for dominance. The Pirenti, ruled by the sadistic Barbarian Queen, have the advantage of size and strength, the Kyan rely on the magic of the Warders and the bravery of their people to fight the tyranny.

During a mission to assassinate the queen in her castle, Avery is caught and savagely murdered much to the horror of his bond-mate, Ava. The people of Kyan die in pairs, and his passing should condemn Ava to death, but instead she is the first of her kind to survive. With her soul ripped in two, and cast out of Kayan society as ‘unnatural’, Ava assumes Avery’s identity and plots her revenge on the Queen but her plans are thwarted when she is captured by Ambrose, the Pirenti Prince.

Ambrose, like his elder brother Thorne, has been raised by his mother to hate the Kyan, scorning their physical weakness and soft emotions. A fierce and merciless warrior he is nevertheless beginning to question his mother’s cruelty and the endless bloodshed. Tasked to transport the Kayan boy he captured to the Pirenti prison isle, and then shipwrecked during the journey, he slowly comes to admire Avery’s courage and tenacity, challenging all he has been taught …and his barren heart.

Unusually, the narrative of Avery is carried by the first person perspectives of Ava and Ambrose, as well as Thorne, Ambrose’s elder brother, and Thorne’s wife, Roselyn. The focus of the tale is on the emotional journey of these four characters, struggling to reconcile their expectations and desires. The characters are quite complex and stir a mixture of admiration, pity, distaste and respect.

It wasn’t until I began to organise my thoughts to write this review that I realised there were elements of the romantic relationships that made me really uncomfortable. There is the idea that a man’s violent nature can be changed by love, that Roselyn’s patience with her abusive husband, and Ava’s endurance of Ambrose’s violence, are eventually rewarded by that change. That the Prince’s are excused because of their twisted upbringing, and eventually redeemed simply because these women love them. There is some attempt to mitigate the dysfunction with apologies, promises and redemption, but it is still a troublesome model of romance.

I did enjoy a number of other elements of the plot, particularly the twist that reveals the Barbarian Queen’s secrets. The action scenes, even those that are quite brutal, are well written, as are the more intimate and emotional scenes. Avery explores a number of facets of love – the love of country, and the bonds between siblings, parents and lovers. The world-building is fairly simplistic, I understood the Pirenti but didn’t feel I learned much about Kaya. I did find I could easily visualize the Pirenti castle, the hazards of the Prison isle and Ava soaring through the sky on the back of her Pegasi.

Avery is a tale of love, hate, revenge and redemption. Though I have my reservations about the romance I did enjoy the story in the moment and found it to be a quick read.

Follow the Avery Blog Tour

29 January 2015 – Booklover Book Reviews 31 January 2015 – Book Muster Down Under 5 February 2015 – Speculating on SpecFic 6 February 2015 – Book’d Out 9 February 2015 – An Adventure in Words 12 February 2015 – Inside my Words 13 February 2015 – Words Read and Written 16 February 2015 – Stephanie Gunn blog 17 February 2015 – A Word Shaker 19 February 2015 – Inside My Words 24 February 2015 – Thoughts by Joy 26 February 2015 – The Rest Is Still Unwritten

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Review: Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel

 

Title: Half the World in Winter

Author: Maggie Joel

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

 

Title: The Hawley Book of the Dead

Author: Chrysler Szarlan

Published: Ballantine Books: Random House September 2014

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Status: Read from September 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“On the day I killed my husband, the scent of lilacs startled me awake.”

When someone exchanges the blank in her prop gun for a real bullet, Revelation ‘Reve’ Dyer unwittingly shoots her beloved husband dead during the final act of their world renowned Las Vegas magic show. Reve is devastated and then terrified when she realises the murderer still has Reve and her three daughters in his sights. To protect her family, Reve flees Nevada and takes refuge at Hawley Five Corners, her family’s abandoned estate in the woods of Massachusetts. But Reve has something the killer wants and he won’t give up until he gets it.

With its blend of mystery, suspense and the supernatural, The Hawley Book of the Dead offers a complex story about family secrets, magic and revenge.

Told in the first person, it introduces Revelation and her intriguing family history. Reve is the descendant of a line of women who have always wielded great power. Her grandmother can transport people with a thought, her mother is a healer, Reve can disappear by stepping into the veil between worlds, a talent she was born with but has never fully explored, her ten year old daughter Caleigh can weave magic with string, but the abilities of Reve’s fifteen year old twins, Faith and Grace, have yet to manifest.

In general, I feel Szarlan created well rounded and interesting characters, I found Reve frustrating a lot of the time though. She has the ability to disappear, her family line is littered with women whom she has accepted have true magical abilities, yet she dismisses most other instances of magic out of hand. This ploy may serve the needs of the plot but I felt it damaged the credibility of her character.

I did enjoy the blend of magic and myth which Szarlan gives her own little twist. The true motivations of the ‘Fetch’ stalking the family turn out to be quite unique and his relentless pursuit of Reve provides plenty of tension. The romance element, involving childhood sweetheart, now Hawley chief of police, Jolon, is a little awkward though considering Reve’s husband has just died.

The setting is great, Szarlan’s description of Five Corners and the surrounding woods are evocative and atmospheric. I loved the stories of the vanishing townsfolk and the ghostly cowherd and could easily imagine the abandoned estate and the manor house that is home to Reve and her family.

Not so great is the uneven pacing and the author’s attempt to force suspense surrounding the disappearance of the twins when their fate is blindingly obvious.

I really like the concept of Hawley Book of the Dead and there are elements of the story and character I think are creative and well done, and while overall I am not excited by this book, I do think the series has potential.

 

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Review: Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown

 

Title: Tumbledown Manor

Author: Helen Brown

Published: Arena: Allen & Unwin September 2014

Status: Read from September 16 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

New Zealand born columnist Helen Brown is probably best known for her bestselling memoirs, Cleo and After Cleo. Tumbledown Manor, set in Australia where the author now lives with her family, is the journalist’s first fiction novel.

Lisa Katz (nee Trumperton) would rather forget she is turning 50 but is delighted when her family gathers to celebrate in her Upper East Side apartment, her daughter Portia has flown in from the west coast, her son, Ted, and her sister, Maxine and her husband, from Australia. As Lisa’s husband of 20 plus years delivers a speech honouring her, an extravagant arrangement of roses is delivered and Lisa reaches for the card, only to learn the bouquet was intended for Jake’s mistress. With her life in shambles, Lisa decides to return to Australia and to reclaim her ancestral home in the Victorian countryside. Trumperton Manor, nicknamed Tumbledown Manor by the locals, isn’t in great shape but Lisa is eager to make it her home despite flood, fire, family secrets, a feral cat and an overly familiar landscaper.

The themes of Tumbledown Manor mainly focus on family, love, acceptance and moving on as the plot centers around Lisa’s desire to make a new life for herself by renovating Tumbledown Manor. There is plenty of humour, a surplus of family drama, a touch of romance and a hint of mystery surrounding a past death in the manor’s stables, which eventually exposes a dark family secret.

I have to admit I wasn’t particularly fond of Lisa. While I sympathised with her over her marriage collapse, I thought her to be a prickly and somewhat self absorbed character who didn’t demonstrate the personal change I was expecting. I think several characters (eg Portia, Zack and Aunt Caroline) could have been dispensed with to give Lisa more opportunity to grow, and their absence wouldn’t have been noticed. I did like the laconic charm of Scott, the local landscaper/handyman who serves as the romantic interest, and is a fount of patience where Lisa is concerned. I also liked Ted and his ‘flatmate’ James. My favourite characters though were Mojo (the feral cat) and Kiwi (the cockatoo) who steal the limelight in every scene they appear in.

I was a little disappointed that the bulk of the renovations to the manor take place in the background. There are brief mentions of uncovering flagstones, furniture shopping and the ‘Grey Army’ being up and down ladders in between eating egg sandwiches but there is no real sense of the house being bought back to life, though the grounds get some attention.

Despite the appealing premise and some engaging, well written scenes and characters unfortunately, Tumbledown Manor wasn’t much more than an okay read for me.

 

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