Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Scandalous Duchess by Anne O'Brien

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 6th March 2014
Pages: 410
Book Source: Harlequin Mira

Synopsis: If you will be a great man’s mistress you must pay the price...

1372, The Savoy. Widow Lady Katherine Swynford presents herself for a role in the household of merciless royal prince John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, hoping to end her destitution. But the Duke’s scandalous proposition leaves her life of pious integrity reeling...

Seduced by the glare of royal adoration, Katherine becomes John’s mistress. She will leave behind everything she has stood for to play second fiddle to his young wife and ruthless ambition. She will live in the shadows of the most powerful man in England in the hope of a love greater than propriety. 

But soon the court whispers – whore, harlot, vile temptress – reach the ears of not just John’s bride but his most dangerous political enemies. As the Plantagenet prince is accused of bringing England to its knees, who better to blame than shameless she-devil Katherine Swynford? Dragged from the shadows, Katherine must answer for her sins.

My Thoughts:
One of the greatest love stories, the 25 year affair and eventual marriage of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, younger son of King Edward III. 

The story isn't new to me, I read the classic, Anya Seton's Katherine quite a few years ago and was excited to read Anne O'Brien's take on things. There's little documented of Katherine which offers an author quite a bit of freedom but Anne O'Brien grounds this fictionalised story firmly in historical events; The Black Death, the Peasants' Revolt, The Hundred Years' War.

I was once again surprised that John & Katherine's longstanding, passionate affair didn't elicit more sympathy from me, for John's wife, Constance of Castile. But, no attacks of conscience here. For me, great love definitely won over strategic alliance. 

John was one of the most charismatic and influential men of his time ... I'd have had a hard time refusing his mistress offer, even fearing for my reputation and mortal soul. HA 

John and Katherine had four 'Beaufort' children together, legitimised after their marriage, and from their descendants came the Royal Houses of York and Tudor ... a very significant couple to dynastic England.  

Through political unrest, public scandal, great shame, separation and sorrow, their love stood the test of time. 

Connect with Anne O'Brien 

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A weekly event hosted by Sheila from Book Journey to discuss your reading week ~ the books you've read and those you plan on reading in the coming week. I love this meme, it helps me stay on track ... well, most of the time. Thanks Sheila! 

My first grandchild is due in about 10 weeks so we're all getting very excited and I've been having fun doing Nonna things, making beanie's and cot blankets ... aren't the bright colours you can get in polar fleece these days just gorgeous? It's also nice to have an excuse to buy children's books again. Guess How Much I Love You was a favourite when my boys were little and now I've got a copy to give to Anthony & Christine to read to their baby.  

Easter this weekend. We'll be staying home, maybe painting, getting ready for new carpet to be layed in the main bedroom. It's what-was-I-thinking blue and about 14 years old ... so definitely time for a change. 
Hopefully more reading time since there wasn't much time for that last week and I'm dying to see Divergent! 
Do you have any plans? 

#bookblogwalkers update #15: Felicia's Book Blog Walkers:  I ran a bit and I didn't die ;)
Mon: 30min walk
Tue: no walk
Wed: 40min walk/5min run
Thurs: 30min walk/5min run
Fri: 40min walk
Sat: no walk
Sun: 40min walk on the beach in the drizzly rain


Reviews & Posts: (click on title)

LADY OF THE ENGLISH by Elizabeth Chadwick (audiobook) 

ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline (audiobook) ~ 5 star fave!! 


Finished last week:

THE SCANDALOUS DUCHESS by Anne O'Brien ~ enjoyable. Review Tue 


This Week's Reading List: 

COMFORT OF FENCES by Stacy Overman Morrison ~ page 65

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL by Anthony Bourdain (audiobook) 50% done. 

FOUR FRIENDS by Robyn Carr

THE MIDWIFE: A MEMOIR OF BIRTH, JOY AND HARD TIMES by Sandra Worth ~ page 140 but on the back burner til I finish review books.


Reviews Coming:

THURSDAY'S CHILDREN by Nicci French ~ good but Frieda Klein wow she's a hardass

SIX YEARS by Harlan Coben (audiobook) ~ good audio, not my favourite Coben

THE PRINCESS OF EGYPT MUST DIE by Stephanie Drey ~ novelette. This was really good, can't wait for full length novel. 

WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY by Wendy Wax (audiobook) ~ loved the story and the narration.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 1st July 2012
Time: 16hrs 59mins
Narrator: Patience Tomlinson
Book Source: Own audio

Synopsis: Two very different women are linked by destiny and the struggle for the English crown. Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is determined to win back her crown from Stephen, the usurper king. Adeliza, Henry's widowed queen and Matilda's stepmother, is now married to William D'Albini, a warrior of the opposition. Both women are strong and prepared to stand firm for what they know is right. But in a world where a man's word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda, the rightful queen? And for Matilda pride comes before a fall ...What price for a crown? What does it cost to be 'Lady of the English'?

My Thoughts: 
I'm a total Elizabeth Chadwick fangirl. See my post about The Summer Queen (5 stars) on audio which inspired me to go with the audio of Lady of the English rather than read the book ... big mistake! 

No more audiobooks by this narrator ... ever! She yawned and talked. Repeatedly. Go on, try it ... see what I mean? I kept thinking, it's a one off, it's not so bad ... it wasn't a one off and it was that bad. 

Lady of the English focuses on the relationship/friendship between Matilda, heir of Henry I of England and Henry's second wife, Adeliza of Louvain. I knew nothing about Adeliza so I was really looking forward to her story. Following King Henry's death it was nice to know Adeliza was blessed with love and children in her subsequent marriage to William d'Aubigny. Matilda's cousin, Stephen of Blois (grandson of William the Conqueror) assumes the throne upon Henry's death but Matilda fights tooth and nail to reclaim what is rightfully hers. 

Despite my best efforts I seem to be incapable of writing an unbiased review ... just can't get past that spitting, jarring, harridan-like narration. My advice, check out reviews from readers who read the book and if you recently bought this one on audio ... get a refund. Quite frankly I'm pissed off that the narrator ruined my experience. 

Recommend: Not on audio

Connect with Elizabeth Chadwick

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 2nd April 2013
Time/Pages: 8hrs 21mins/294
Narrator: Jessica Almasy, Suzanne Toren
Book Source: Own audio

Synopsis:  a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

My Thoughts: 
Put simply ... I adored Orphan Train and didn't want it to end! I've read quite a few fictionalised stories about the Orphan Train Movement, My Notorious Life by Kate Manning being one of the best. Orphan Train joins illustrious ranks on my favourite's bookshelf; its quiet strength and beauty just as compelling as the powerful, My Notorious Life. 

At almost 18, Molly has 50 hours of community service to complete for stealing a library book ... enter 91 year old Vivian Daly. Molly helps Vivian clean out her attic and becomes a vehicle for Vivian's story. Orphan Train seamlessly transitions between present day Maine and the early 1900's as the orphan trains take children from New York to the midwest and sadly, an uncertain life. Delicate layers peel away, revealing long kept secrets and a story that simultaneously breaks and warms your heart. 

As cliched as it sounds, what a joy it was to share Vivian's heartbreaking, courageous and inspirational journey and Molly & Vivian's unique connection. Narrated beautifully with such authenticity I felt like a participant in their rare friendship rather than an observer. I felt their losses, shared their joys, I laughed and cried and cheered as they both found a sense of belonging. 

To borrow words from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake (another favourite read) ... it's "enough to make your heart fill up and burst."

Recommend: A heartfelt yes ... don't wait! 

Connect with Christina Baker Kline

Monday, April 07, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A weekly event hosted by Sheila from Book Journey to discuss your reading week ~ the books you've read and those you plan on reading in the coming week. I love this meme, it helps me stay on track ... well, most of the time. Thanks Sheila! 

Here's the layout I did at the charity scrap day. It was a really lovely kit to work with, (by the talented Sue Tonga) not too complicated, perfect for chatting and scrapping lol. I also made a card for a friend but I can't find it *sigh* 

Boys and I Gold Coast 9 years ago
gorgeous kit by Sue Tonga

#bookblogwalkers update #14: Felicia's Book Blog Walkers:  An improvement on last week, I walked 4 days out of 7. Thanks for the encouragement last week. Head over to Felicia's to commit to exercise in April.


Reviews & Posts: (click on title)

SELDOM COME BY by Sherryl Caulfield ~ beautiful historical fiction, set in Newfoundland

SAFE HARBOUR by Helene Young ~ another unputdownable read.

HER KIND OF TROUBLE by Sarah Mayberry ~ guest review by Karen 5 stars


Finished last week:

THURSDAY'S CHILDREN by Nicci French ~ good but Frieda Klein wow she's a hardass

SIX YEARS by Harlan Coben (audiobook) ~ good audio, not my favourite Coben


This Week's Reading List: 

THE SCANDALOUS DUCHESS by Anne O'Brien ~ page 65

COMFORT OF FENCES by Stacy Overman Morrison

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL by Anthony Bourdain (audiobook)

THE MIDWIFE: A MEMOIR OF BIRTH, JOY AND HARD TIMES by Sandra Worth ~ page 140 but on the back burner til I finish review books.


Reviews Coming:

THE PRINCESS OF EGYPT MUST DIE by Stephanie Drey ~ novelette. This was really good, can't wait for full length novel. 

LADY OF THE ENGLISH by Elizabeth Chadwick (audiobook) ~ good but shame about the narrator. 

ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline (audiobook) ~ 5 star fave!! 

WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY by Wendy Wax (audiobook) ~ loved the story and the narration.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Review: Seldom Come By by Sherryl Caulfield

Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Iceberg Trilogy #1
Publication Date: 10th December 2013
Pages: 490
Book Source: From author for review

Synopsis: Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, fifteen year-old Rebeca Crowe’s fascination with icebergs leads her to save a shipwrecked survivor, Samuel Dalton, the nineteen-year old son of a Toronto medical family. 

Love sparks in the crystal cave of an iceberg but is thwarted by an unreasonable father and the Great War that drags Samuel and his brother, Matthew, to the Western Front as medical officers. Knowing Rebecca is home safe in Newfoundland brings Samuel great comfort. But as the war moves towards its final harrowing days, they both discover that tragedy and terror can strike anywhere, setting their love on an unforeseen path.

Only when Samuel and Rebecca can fully come to terms with such devastating loss and their impossible choices can their love soar. With an emotional intensity reminiscent of The Bronze Horseman, Seldom Come By, named after an actual place in Newfoundland, is an unforgettable journey across waves and time and the full spectrum of human emotions.

My Thoughts:
I'm so happy I said yes to reading this beautiful story, it was everything promised and more, and the lovely Sherryl Caulfield is a local Brisbane author. Three of Sherryl's favourite authors are also mine, Diana Gabaldon, Sarah Donati and Paullina Simons ... big shoes to fill but Sherryl Caulfield proved more than up to the task and Seldom Come By stands very much on its own merit. It also reminded me of Gabriele Wills' Muskoka Trilogy, which I adored, set in the same era.  

Following the Crowe family of Second Chance Island, Newfoundland and the Dalton family of Toronto, Rebecca and Samuel's love story spans continents, the Great War, triumph and adversity ... it's a love that endures.  

There's so much to love; the scenery and icebergs of Newfoundland ... harsh, unforgiving, stark beauty. The severity of the Crowe family's life in sharp contrast to Rebecca's thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm for life. A wonderful blending of historical fact and mesmerising tale, lyrical prose, characters to love and loathe, with a tangible sense of hope throughout. 

Halfway through there is an event so shocking, so devastating I was completely overwhelmed with emotion and nausea, yes nausea, it felt that real. 

To be so completely transported and immersed in characters' lives is testament to an author's care and skill, and despite the heartache I loved every minute. 

Seldom Come By is an exquisite tale of love and loss, forgiveness and healing. 

I want need the next book NOW! 

Connect with Sherryl Caulfield

Purchase Seldom Come By

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Review: Safe Harbour by Helene Young

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publication Date: 26th March 2014
Pages: 340
Book Source: Penguin Aust & NetGalley

Synopsis: When Darcy Fletcher drags a handsome sailor from a stricken yacht, she finds herself drawn into his mysterious world. Having saved his life, can she now rescue him from his dark past? Or will that endanger all she holds most dear? 

Noah, keeper of the peace and guardian of the Banksia Cove secrets, can’t tell Darcy the real reason this stranger has washed up on their shores. If she understood the links between him and her own dysfunctional family, he’d lose her love for good. 

As they take refuge in an old whaling station for the night, only one thing is certain – by morning, no one will be the same again. Lies will surface. Hearts will break, and not all will find safe harbour. 

My Thoughts: 
I fell in love with Helene Young's writing with Half Moon Bay so I was excited to get my hands on Safe Harbour ... yowsers, what an unputdownable stay-up-all-night-nail-biter. 

Safe Harbour is set in Banksia Cove, a small town on the Queensland coast not far from Bundaberg. I've spent some time in the Bundaberg/Bargara area  and Helene pens not only the setting, but the characters, convincingly.  

It's a story of long-held secrets and dark pasts, drugs in sports, marine rescue, cover-ups and corruption. When Darcy Fletcher and Noah Moreton rescue a yachtsman in wild seas they're completely unaware of a far more dangerous storm about to be unleashed.  

There's a whole lot going on in Safe Harbour, it's a complex, multifaceted plot but character development isn't sacrificed for plot advancement. So, not only do you really get to know the main characters and care about what happens to them, you do it with your heart in your mouth.     

I warmed to Darcy immediately and I might have crushed a bit on local police officer Noah ... the chemistry between Noah and Darcy is undeniable, I swear if they hadn't got it together I would have slapped some sense into them. I loved Rosie, the aboriginal woman who was practically a second mother to Darcy. Rosie's connection to the land, her family and the whales was truly special and beautifully written.   

Recommend: In a heartbeat. Suspense keeps the pages turning but it's the relationships you remember. 

Connect with Helene Young

Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Her Kind Of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry

Her Kind of TroubleGenre: Contemporary Romance
Publication Date: 1st April 2014
Pages: 304
Book Source: Harlequin & NetGalley

Synopsis: It takes one to know one

The moment Vivian Walker spies Seth Anderson she knows they're a match made in hedonistic pleasure. And they both agree their one night together is all about fun, not forever.

Now, years later, Seth remains a favorite memory. Surely the sizzling chemistry has faded, though, right? Apparently not. Because he's still sinfully attractive, and she likes the man he is. When he suddenly becomes a full-time dad to his newborn daughter, Vivian falls hard. Yet despite the responsibilities, he's not a good bet for commitment. And she needs to guard her heart before she gets into trouble!

Karen's Thoughts:
Her Kind of Trouble was not the story I was expecting at all ... it was so much more. I've read a few of Sarah Mayberry's titles now and enjoyed them all, but this story is by far my favourite.

Seth and Viv share a hot tumble in the back of a limo the night their siblings get married. They are both in their 20’s and still exploring what path their lives will take. Viv then spends time working in the US and their path’s cross occasionally over that time at family gatherings. Now Viv is back living in Australia and her path crosses once again with Seth. 

This passage is discussing a particular ‘momento’ that Seth has kept.

“You did not.”  She stared at Seth, flabbergasted.
“I did.”
“You kept these for ten years?”
“I did.”
“No way.”

I loved that this book is set in Australia but it bothered me that reference is made to ‘diapers’ since it's very much an American term. I find this a little surprising since the author is also Australian. This wasn’t an issue for the story though, it's really just a ‘pet peeve’ of mine.

It would have been nice if there was an Epilogue. As most romance stories seem to have them these days I guess I just expect them. But, all up I loved this one, I found it really refreshing and I certainly wasn't ready to say goodbye to Seth, Viv and Daisy when I came to the last page.

Guest review by Karen

Connect with Sarah Mayberry